Upright is Unreal

There are any number of performers who seem to think a joke is funny simply because it rhymes.

Tip for new players (and, sadly, some old players) – a joke is only funny if it’s funny. Don’t expect me to laugh at non-funny jokes just because you’ve put it to music.

That said, I was always quite a fan of Tim Minchin – a superb satirist, sceptic and cabaret performer – who took the funny song schtick to a level rarely traversed in Australia. He was genuinely funny and very clever. He was also fearless enough to take on anyone claiming authority or power based on the unprovable, including the various churches, George Pell, alternative medicine and anyone stupid enough to believe in their so-called remedies.

Thumbs up Tim.

But he lost me. I was one of maybe seven people in the entire world who hated – that’s right HATED – Matilda the Musical. I suspect Roald Dahl may have hated it even more.

Every song sounded the same, even though the lyrics were impossible to hear when sung by so many screeching children. (What was WC Fields’ advice on that?) But most of all, I simply didn’t believe that anyone could be so deliberately cruel as Matilda’s parents. I haven’t read the original story, but I’m guessing there was a lot more subtlety and apparent justification. For me, the musical was unwatchable.

So I went off him. I guessed that maybe someone had driven a dump truck full of money up to his house and asked him to take on the work – what else could explain it?

When I heard he had written and starred in a new TV miniseries, I was not much interested. Naah, Minchin’s a sell-out, was my view. Nothing to see here.

Well, the ads for Upright did look interesting, and then my sister (who tends to have very different taste from mine) told me it was the best thing she’d seen in years. She even compared it with Breaking Bad, so grudgingly I gave it a go.

My wife and I were hooked from the opening minutes and binged the whole eight episodes in a few days.

This was seriously good Australian drama. Well written, brilliantly acted, gorgeously shot, full of layers. On one level it’s a standard road trip / mismatched buddy story and could easily have wallowed in cliché, as so many Australian productions have done before.

Minchin’s talent and sensibilities however allowed him to lasso the cliché beast and turn it to his own will – driving the conventions down different paths and defying the jaded expectations of those accustomed to standard tropes and resolutions.

It was witty, clever, unpredictable and simply wonderful.

I don’t want to say too much about the story for fear of spoiling, but I cannot recommend Upright highly enough. I’ve no doubt it will win numerous awards, not least for young Milly Alcock whose portrayal of Meg was jaw-dropping to say the least. She is certain to be a major star in the next few years.

Every featured character was interesting and drove the story and despite the occasionally OTT or surreal moments, the series never jolted you out of your suspended disbelief. And I do get my sister’s comparison with Breaking Bad – not that Lucky Flynn has anything in common with Walter White, but the lush desert scapes and the sheer intensity of Upright will have others make the same comparison.

Upright will massively increase Tim Minchin’s standing across the board – showcasing all his talents as writer, performer and musician – and take him to a whole new level as a multi-faceted polymath of the performing arts.

So Tim Minchin is restored in my eyes, which I’m sure will allow him to sleep much more easily.

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