The Shire: Where the Shit Is At

31 August 2012

The young man on screen drives a surfboard-loaded ute down a pier. Objectively speaking, he’s good-looking with his slicked-back hair and muscles. He starts narrating in an ocker accent: “Welcome to The Shire. We call it ‘God’s Country.’”

This is Mitch, one of the many rich and tanned kids that make up the cast of Channel Ten’s newest program, The Shire.

The Shire follows several young Aussies as they go about their “real lives” in and around Sydney’s Sutherland Shire. Ten has coined the term “dramality” to describe the show; in a bid to convince audiences that The Shire’s scripted content has “no actors and no scripts.”

Lo and behold, The Shire is far from anything remotely related to reality. Impeccably timed coincidences involve characters running into one another just as they were thinking/talking/narrating about them. Then there are the over-dramatised close-ups of iPhone screens displaying personal text messages.

In this respect, the show does what reality TV shows aim to do: exaggerate real situations. There’s nothing wrong with that; it’s a fair objective to have, given the success of American predecessors Laguna Beach, The Hills and later Jersey Shore and its British counterpart Geordie Shore.

However, The Shire’s bad ratings with less than one-million people tuned in to the first episode seems due to its deficiencies in two key areas: accuracy and interest.

The Shire is a horribly inaccurate portrayal of the Australian lifestyle. It tries so hard to be like The Hills that it has made concerted efforts to seek out a bunch of people who live large in Sutherland Shire—hardly Australian archetypes.

There are few twenty-somethings in Australia whose parents take them shopping for new Beamers every two months. Beckaa, The Shire’s resident Daddy’s Girl, spends on average $15,000 per month and has just come back from Dubai with new shoes, new handbags and a new nose. When picked up from the airport by her father (in a limo), he asks “Did you miss me?” “I missed your credit card,” she replies.

It replicates scenes from Laguna Beach: luxury cars wrapped in giant bows for sweet-sixteenth gifts and unlimited credit cards.

The show tries to take features of an Australian town and mould them into the model standardised by its American counterparts, à la Laguna, with wide shots of the city thrown in for good measure.

The second reason The Shire fails is because it just isn’t interesting.

It doesn’t engage audiences the way The Hills did for six whole seasons, even with extreme character changeovers—the show lost its central character partway through, but pulled a new one and kept going).

The reason The Hills was so scarily addictive because the majority of the time, the line between what might’ve been scripted (heh-hem, prompted) and what was real was so blurred it was impossible to detect. Close-ups of Lauren Conrad’s face as she faced boy problems and friendship feuds revealed deep-seated emotions that couldn’t have been faked by anyone but a trained actor.

Comparatively, the characters of The Shire are flat and far too self-conscious in front of the cameras.

Consider Gabby, Mitch’s still keen ex. In the first episode, during a party Mitch invited her to, she says, “I know that I want you and you’re what I want.” When he barely responds, she giggles and says “Shit. Awkward.”

This is the first of several instances where Gabby, faced with emotional difficulty, giggles. She is too self-aware that what she’s doing isn’t real, as her behaviour demonstrates.

Despite its flaws, The Shire still maintains a resemblance to reality in Mitch. Probably the only relatable character, Mitch is an easy favourite, given the contrast between his true-blue easy-going nature and the emotional drama related to Gabby. Though his acting style doesn’t differ vastly from the other characters—he won’t be nominated for any major awards any time soon—he does bring a genuine quality to the show.

The scene where he brings flowers to a dinner with his mum appeals to audience sentimentality, and the banter between him and his mates definitely reflects the Aussie bloke. Of all the characters on the show, he’s the only one that doesn’t seem to be acting out a grander scripted scheme penned by an ambiguous team at Shine Australia.

Bar Mitch, The Shire gives viewers little to stick around for. Whilst Ten keeps marketing this as one of their home-grown products, it simply doesn’t reflect our culture. Ultimately, it’s just a failed attempt at cashing in on the success of better international shows. Carn, Australia, we can do better!

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