“You’re born and then you nibble on a leg of lamb and then you die. And they chuck you in a hole in the ground and the worms eat you. It’s fucked, basically.”
This macabre proclamation is our introduction to Sergeant James Hayes (the unaccountably likeable Patrick Brammall), a local cop in ABC’s latest multi-platform drama series, Glitch. The show wrapped up on TV and iView last month in anticipation of the DVD release in October, but fingers crossed a second series is on its way, because Glitch is a refreshing departure from the Oz TV norm.
The first scene of Glitch opens in fictional Yoorana – “arse-end of the arse-end of the world” – where James delivers his speech to a crook dog. He shoots it to death moments later.
“But mate, you were loved,” he sighs.
Only, in Glitch’s world, being chucked in a hole isn’t quite the end of the story. The reality, involving seven howling, dirt-covered bodies clawing their way out of the earth, is accurately described as “fucked, basically”.
Created by Tony Ayres (The Slap) and Louise Fox (Love My Way), Glitch’s story of (un)dead Yoorana residents rising from the grave has drawn inevitable comparisons to TV’s ever-expanding zombie fare: including AMC’s The Walking Dead, with its unfathomable popularity; and Rob Thomas’ tongue-in-cheek undead spoof, iZombie. But Glitch, true Australian Gothic in the vein of Picnic At Hanging Rock and Wolf Creek, is something infinitely creepier than a zombie flick. The horror in Glitch isn’t mumbling monsters craving human brains, but flesh-and-blood people, supposedly at peace, dragged back into a life that has moved on without them.
Rather than zombie TV, Glitch is grief TV: where the pain of loss and the magnetic pull of ‘unfinished business’ inspires the kind of magical thinking that makes plausible the return of James’ beloved wife, Kate (Emma Booth), who died of cancer two years earlier.
The other returned in Grief are residents of Yoorana stretching back to the town’s first mayor. There’s an Italian prisoner of a World War II internment camp, a digger (the divine Sean Keenan), a sullen teenager from the 1980s, and a schoolteacher. And then there’s volatile John Doe (hunky Rodger Corser, appropriately shirtless), whose grave lies, ominously, just outside the bounds of the Yoorana Cemetery. With the help of the local doctor, Elishia McKellar (Genevieve O’Reilly), James scrambles to hide these risen residents from the rest of the town.
Glitch does share strands of DNA with Les Revenants (The Returned), a morose French series that’s also about departed loved ones making mysterious reappearances. One plot of Les Revenants follows a returned young girl as she tracks down her twin sister, only to discover that her twin has aged hideously without her. Their wails as they clap eyes on each other are the climactic end to that series’ first spooky episode.
However similar these shows are on the surface, Glitch is its own clever collision of Australia’s present and past, kicking around dusty go-nowhere Yoorana. The risen mayor, Paddy, buddies up with a local Indigenous kid, Beau (Aaron L. McGrath, a revelation). At first the pairing feels too on-the-nose, but as the show ticks on it becomes a welcome exploration of some uncomfortable truths about our country’s colonial history.
Glitch, true Australian Gothic in the vein of Picnic At Hanging Rock and Wolf Creek, is something infinitely creepier than a zombie flick.
Though slow to start, Glitch moves with increasing restlessness through its moody, captivating episodes. There’s a craving to reveal, to slot pieces together. Then there’s the friction of otherness: these risen residents no longer fit in Yoorana. The grief of losing that sense of belonging is what Glitch chews on.
Brilliant Aussie shows like Love My Way and Offspring have adroitely explored the world-rending effects of loss on a community (friends, families, workplaces); tying loss to history and belonging on Glitch is a neat logical step.
Much of the Gothic fodder is in the returned residents’ crippling selective-memory PTSD. They stop in their tracks as thumping flashbacks reveal, bit by bit, who these people are and why they might be back.
There’s also a decent serving of body horror. Kate looks in the mirror and sees her pre-death body scarred from cancer and surgery; she blinks, and she’s whole again. When James and Dr Elishia drive the returned to certain points in Yoorana, the returned choke and panic as blood streams from their eyes. The 1980s teenager immerses herself in a bath and invisible hands seem to hold her under the water.
There’s lots of Charlie Brooker’s mind-warping polemic, Black Mirror, in Glitch’s first six episodes. In Black Mirror’s haunting fourth episode, ‘Be Right Back’, a grieving widow (Hayley Atwell) attempts to bring her dead husband (Domhnall Gleeson) back to life through his online presence. ‘Be Right Back’ has the same sparse gloominess that hugs the frames in Glitch, each one well constructed by director Emma Freeman.
Both shows also seem preoccupied with the body’s relationship to land, whether natural or manufactured. In ‘Be Right Back’, Atwell rambles along picturesque cliffs chatting to her departed husband, using her phone lens to show his disembodied voice the view. In Glitch, bodies connect on the land: James and Kate lounge shoulder-to-shoulder on a rusting playground roundabout; dry grass brushes Paddy and Beau’s legs as they trek through a paddock.
Australians don’t seem very interested in their own TV. Some of the best Aussie series – criminally underappreciated gem Puberty Blues, for example – have struggled to find audiences. So after releasing Glitch all at once on iView, mimicking the streaming model of platforms like Netflix and Stan, as well as screening the show in weekly slots on TV for more traditional viewers, ABC is also preparing to make the series available on DVD.
Here’s hoping local viewers find room for Glitch: a formidable pedigree that breeds high production values, excellent performances and writing that feels lived-in. This quiet dive into the speculative genre delivers a distinctly Australian take on emotional storytelling around loss and landscape.