In the sea of reality television and imported drama currently on Australian free-to-air television, not to sound like a pretentious jerk, is Glitch, set in the fictional Victorian country town of Yoorana where a group of dead people inexplicably return to life, and what happens after that.
One of the writers and producers behind Glitch, Lou Fox, is taking a Friday afternoon walk in the park when I ring her, and graciously lets me talk her ear off about how much I loved the show. Like many other dramas, Glitch is a longer story-telling experience, comprising six hour-long episodes (it’s available to binge-watch right now on ABC iView). The rising popularity of streaming services can be partly attributed to the move – people are getting their entertainment from on-demand services rather than from free-to-air TV now. Fox concurs, noting that she only knows a handful of people who actually watched Glitch free to air.
I’m just delighted to be working as a writer in this period.
Streaming services like Netflix, Stan and iView offer more content that can be accessed at any time, and while the ABC has obviously been creating content for a while, Netflix and Stan have recently stepped up to the plate – Netflix has consistently created intriguing hit shows like Orange is the New Black or House of Cards, as well as more niche, but just as intriguing shows like Bojack Horseman and Sense8. Netflix worship aside, that has opened up the television game more. “I’m just delighted to be working as a writer in this period. I think it’s a cliché now to say that it’s a ‘golden age’ of television and TV is the new novel – it’s true, but it’s also been true for 10 to 15 years now. I think what we have now is a huge variety of television. There’s just so much content – I defy anybody to find nothing they like.”
It’s no secret that Glitch isn’t the only story about the dead rising – apart from the entire zombie genre, there has been a French film, a French show and two American shows with very similar premises. It’s a long story, but in short, it’s like a sort of creative multiple discovery, like when two different inventors in different parts of the world come up with the same mathematical formula. First came the French film (Les Revenants), which the 2012 show The Returned, or Les Revenants, was based on. Fox admits that she only watched about five minutes of the film (because there were no subtitles) By the time the Glitch production team had arced out their first season, the series was already out, and Fox remembers thinking: “We’ll probably be okay, because it’s a French show and no one will see it.”
I feel like they’re my favourite ensemble on Australian television; I’m in love with them all.
It became a worldwide hit, with a second season coming in the next few months, and an American show based off it (also called The Returned, but different from other American show Resurrection). “That was total zeitgeist, there were three shows in various stages – of course the Americans got their show out really fast because they had money behind them, the French took a while, and we were the slowest, because we’re so under-resourced. At one stage, I did think: ‘Oh my god, it’s going to be impossible to make Glitch now, because there are so many other shows like it in the world,’ but the ABC were like, ‘no, this is the Australian version.'”
Even the name is a departure from the more gothic, old-school names favoured by the French and American productions. The word ‘glitch’ conjures up images of computers and technology, but at its most basic, it simply tells you that there’s been an error. “We really looked for another one, but we couldn’t find anything that was in some ways as blank as ‘Glitch’. Every time we put another title on, it was just too heavy-handed and it loaded the show up too much.”
The pre-production might have been slow, but the entire show was filmed in just over nine weeks, which is staggering. Fox speaks glowingly about director Emma Freeman, “a real maestro”, as well as the dedication of the entire cast (“I feel like they’re my favourite ensemble on Australian television; I’m in love with them all”) and crew. There’s a real oppressive, tense urgency about Glitch, and that’s not due simply to the intense shoot, but the material, the ambition, the look, the performances and the music (by composer Cornel Wilczek). “There was always the ambition for that tone of something gothic, something eerie going on within the world, but the world being very, very real and very true.”
There’s a hunger for the finish of this story.
That sense of truthfulness pervades Glitch, from the script to the locations. It’s that sense of truthfulness that Fox hunts for, and why there should be more narrative TV and less reality TV in Australia: “It’s not just about popularity, it’s also about the national culture, it’s about quality, it’s about the impact of the show. It’s storytelling, but I don’t find it particularly truthful, and they’re the only two things I look for in drama: is it speaking some kind of truth? It doesn’t have to be real, but some kind of wider human truth. And is it doing it in a surprising way? If it’s not doing those two things, I get bored.”
What audiences recognise as Yoorana is actually mostly Castlemaine: most of the exterior shots were filmed there. “It’s got an amazing history, all the old goldfields. It kind of felt like the characters; there was a 19th century building, and then a 1930s building, and then a ‘70s building, and they were all next to each other.” That sense of history is also present in the ensemble of characters: the dead include a 19th century Irishman and a World War I veteran, as well as more modern, recently-dead characters.
Glitch ends tantalisingly, with the perfect set-up for another season. It keeps a whole host of questions dangling while providing some sort of closure to the events in Season 1, and that’s the way Fox likes it. “We’ve got a solid cosmology, so the mythology that underlies everything in the show has been there for years. And look, to be honest, I could write the last scene of the show now, I know where it goes.” The inner circle all know where it’s going too, she adds, and I contemplate interrogation or bribery to get the ending out of her. “I really want to know!” I half-complain, and Fox laughs. “It’s good that you want to know, and it’s good that people have theories. It’s about the hook, really. I mean, television is about trying to get you back next week and continue with the story,” and at the same time, delivering something that wraps everything up and speaks broadly to the themes of the show. “It’s going to be a challenge, and ambitious, but I feel up for it.”
The real question now isn’t who or what raised the dead, or how or why they did it, but whether the show will be renewed. It still hasn’t been confirmed yet, but in an ideal world, Fox would like three seasons to give the story its due. “There’s a hunger for the finish of the story. I want to finish this story, I’m not done with it yet, and I don’t think the audience is yet. I really hope we get that chance.”
You can watch the entire season of Glitch on ABC iView now until August 27th.