“Jim from Neighbours” – The Busiest Actor in the World (perhaps)

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 3rd January 2012.

A long time ago, in an Erinsborough far, far away, the beloved Neighbours character Jim Robinson suffered a major heart attack and passed away on screen, right before a commercial break. This was way back in 1993, when people actually watched Neighbours and on-screen deaths were rare. Most departing characters simply moved to Brisbane to live with Scott and Charlene.

After eight long years of service to Grundy Television, Kiwi actor Alan Dale was departing the soapie, and a regular income, with his dignity intact and no embarrassing attempts at singing to speak of. Well, there was the dreadful 1989 Christmas With Your Neighbours album but being a Christmas album, it was meant to be dreadful (I hope).

Typecast as “Jim from Neighbours”, Dale found it difficult to get work in Australia. With nothing to lose, he relocated his family to the USA where there was potentially a need for fresh faces in the mature actor niche.

The rest, as they say, is pretty interesting. “Jim from Neighbours” managed to overcome the spectre of Australian typecasting and went on to appear in almost every US television show going as the “serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide.”

He was Caleb Nichol, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide in the hit series that introduced the world to talent vacuum Mischa Barton, The O.C. After his character was killed off with a heart attack, he went on to star in Ugly Betty as Bradford Meade, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide. After his character was again killed off with a heart attack, Dale went on to feature in the brain bending Lost as Charles Widmore, a serious looking authoritarian figure with something to hide but no known cardiac history.

There really was no stopping “Jim from Neighbours.”

Whenever you switched on a television, there he was in a guest role. His credits are pretty much the contents of my DVD shelf. E.R., The X-Files and its spinoff The Lone Gunmen, Torchwood, Entourage, NCIS, The West Wing, JAG, Californication and The Practice have all been graced by the authoritarian and secretive presence of Alan Dale.

He was even the Vice President of the USA in seven “hours” of the rather silly but fun 24. As Jim (not from Neighbours) Prescott, an authoritarian VP with something to hide, he mistakenly placed President Palmer under house arrest, based on false evidence. Playing the third most powerful man in the world (behind the American President and Batman) may seem  an honour until you realise that two years later on the same show, Vice President Mitchell Hayworth was portrayed by Aussie ex-pat and “actor” Cameron Daddo.

Not limited to the idiot box, Dale’s career has also expanded to the silver screen. Last week, I popped the sci-fi vampire action thingy Priest into my VCR to find “Jim from Neighbours” playing his usual character, but in a silly robe, in eye popping 3D.

Most impressive to geeks everywhere, Dale was also cast in two iconic film franchises. He pops up as General Ross in the mediocre Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and plays the Romulan Praetor Hiren in the so-so Star Trek Nemesis. OK, so they weren’t the best films in the series but how many Star Trek and Indiana Jones movies have you been in?

He even has his own trading cards. That’s right, on ebay there is brisk trade in Alan Dale signature cards from his Lost, Star Trek and Indiana Jones and the Blah Blah Blah appearances.

Later this month, Dale will appear on Aussie cinema screens as Detective Isaksson in David Fincher’s remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.

This year, all Australians (and New Zealanders) should celebrate the amazing career of “Jim from Neighbours” and his remarkable body of work, playing the authoritarian figure with something to hide, since shaking off the stigma of typecasting way back in 1993 when Jim Robinson of Ramsey St met his maker.


New Aussie Drama: Cops LAC SUX

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 9th September 2010.

In the same week that it was announced that perennial Australian soap, Neighbours, will be shafted across to new digital station, Eleven, next year, a plethora of new home grown drama has premiered on the idiot box. Cops L.A.C. (Local Area Command) is the latest in a long line of local police dramas, the first of which was Homicide which premiered in 1964, almost ten years after the introduction of television in Australia.

A starring vehicle for Kate Ritchie, most recently coming off a stint in radio with Merrick and Rosso, and prior to that, a short run on soapie Home and Away, the new series debuted last week to over 1 million viewers. Supported by the who’s who of Aussie acting veterans, such as Gary Sweet, Roy Billing and Denise Roberts, and a few new faces, Kate is miscast as Detective Senior Constable Samantha Cooper. Sorry Kate, I just can’t buy you as a hard-nosed cop. You’re just too nice, or wooden, or both. If she approached me with a gun and handcuffs, I think I’d give her a hug rather than running away.

The rest of the cast get an assortment of stereotypes to play. Gary Sweet plays the abrasive and cocky superintendent with a heart of gold. Denise Roberts portrays the hard working, no-nonsense inspector. A female head of detectives no less. Roy Billing gets the veteran old school cop, just three months from retirement. I bet his character dies sacrificing himself heroically just minutes before the end of his last shift. All we need is Colonel Mustard in the library with the candle stick and we’ll have the full set of standard police show characters.

The premiere episode centred on the first day on the job for rookie cops Priscilla and Daniel, whilst team Milko investigates a car accident that may be (yawn) a murder! Within minutes of starting in the morning, Daniel gets a milkshake thrown over him and at the end of the episode, which takes place that evening, he is still wearing his soiled uniform. I know the L.A.C. is under-funded but surely they have spare uniforms? 

The killer ends up being the first and least likely suspect, who in TV storytelling terms is actually the most likely suspect. Oh, and smug Detective Llewellyn, played by Martin Dingle Wall, hangs rookie Priscilla’s cap from the roof to teach her a lesson for forgetting it. What tension and drama! If I want to watch a show called Cops, it better be the one with the reggae theme tune and foul mouthed Americans getting arrested with blurry faces.

My verdict: Cops S.U.X.

Spirited debuted two weeks ago on pay TV station “W”. An eight part dramedy from the producers of Love My Way, Spirited stars Claudia Karvan as Suzy Darling, a dentist who leaves her arrogant husband (Rodger Corser from Channel Ten cop drama Rush) to move into a city apartment with her kids. In the apartment she encounters Henry Mallet (Matt King) who may just be the ghost of a pommy rock star. Only appearing to her, Henry and Suzy develop a friendship that might just lead to romance, but can love develop between our world and the spirit realm? Thousand of Michael Jackson fans say yes.

With a set of appealing lead actors, Spirited has a light feel to it that is a refreshing change from the standard teen soap or overacted police drama. Eight episodes is probably enough to sustain viewer interest with its high concept storyline which could go stale over more episodes. It may be a little too reminiscent of The Ghost and Mrs Muir but Spirited is worth a look.

My verdict: Spirited is ghostly good fun.

Offspring also premiered in Channel Ten last month. I’m yet to watch an episode but it looks like a quirky comedy drama about relationships and family. Hmm, that sounds original. Packed to the Rafters in Melbourne, anyone?

Bah humbug! Your Christmas Album sucks.

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 15th December 2009.

It must be Christmas. In the record shops, a plethora of greatest hits albums now adorn the shelves. Within this week’s top 50 albums, eight are greatest hits compilations. And there are plenty more now available, just in time for Christmas, many of them from artists who are no longer commercially or creatively active, such as Enya, Seal and Fleetwood Mac.

However, it is not just the ever expanding array of Greatest Hits albums that indicate the imminent arrival of Santa. There is a much more insidious threat to your wallet in the record stores each December. Beware of the Christmas album.

Usually recorded to fulfil a contractual obligation, or cash in on fleeting fame, by definition, the Christmas album is only useful for one month a year or so.

With money too tight to mention, here are some Christmas atrocities to avoid.

In 1989, Neighbours was the biggest show on television, both here and in the UK. With Kylie Minogue riding high in the charts with The Loco-Motion the year before, the cast of Neighbours at the time warbling their way through a few carols was going to be a sure-fire hit, right? Wrong. Christmas With Your Neighbours features Anne Charleston (Madge), Ian Smith (Harold), Alan Dale (Jim) and others massacring all your Christmas favourites. It will make you wish for a Silent Night.

Tiny Tim is best known for his ukulele playing and high falsetto which he used to great effect in his 1968 hit Tiptoe Through the Tulips. In 1993, he recorded Tiny Tim’s Christmas Album in Sydney. Backed up by a terrible heavy rock band, Tim rushes through an hour of Christmas standards in 30 minutes with his trademark looney tunes approach. Now a collector’s item, this cd is particularly hard to find on the second hand market, probably because no-one bought it at the time.

Cashing in by following your first (and perhaps only) hit album with a collection of Christmas songs must be one of the golden rules for boy bands  as this is exactly what ‘N Sync, New Kids on the Block and Hanson did. Merry, Merry Christmas by New Kids features the rather tedious original song This One’s for the Children which was obviously referring to their fans. Hanson’s Snowed In bubbles with youthful effervescence. Unfortunately, with this high energy comes very high pitched vocals which mean the album could easily be mistaken for a Christmas record by Alvin and the Chipmunks. And for the record, there have been 8 Chipmunks Christmas albums.

Happy Holidays by Billy Idol was released in 2006. With a stripped back sound, Idol croons his way through such fare as Frosty the Snowman, Silver Bells and, of course, Jingle Bell Rock. Sporting a cheesy grin and a suit and tie on the cover, Billy sets out to confuse his fans, who I’m sure would prefer he wear leather, growl the songs and then punch Santa in the nose.

Other notable Christmas albums to avoid include such dubious fare as A Romantic Christmas by John Tesh (of Entertainment Tonight fame), Christmas by Jim Nabors (of Gomer Pyle fame), These Are Special Times by Celine Dion, This Is The Time by Michael Bolton (of big mullet fame) and Mr Hankey’s Christmas Classics which features carols sung by an animated poo from TV’s South Park.

If you must buy a Christmas CD, may I suggest you purchase the annual Myer Spirit of Christmas album which raises funds for The Salvation Army or Phil Spector’s A Christmas Gift For You which features his famous Wall of Sound and is considered the greatest Yuletide album ever.

Published in: on December 15, 2009 at 08:01  Comments (2)  
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