Leave your swords behind; Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger says these ladies won't take your head.
Our review of McLeod's Daughters: The Complete Second Season, published June 6th, 2007, is also available.
"Just wait till she has to gallop."—Claire, about her half-sister Tess
If all of the exclamation points and shouts of "FINALLY!" on the Internet are any indication, many people have been anxiously awaiting the DVD release of McLeod's Daughters. This popular South Australian series is like The Simple Life without the paparazzi factor. If you need to boost your Grrrl Power, this DVD set is for you. Just be prepared for some gotchas.
Facts of the Case
Tess Silverman (Bridie Carter, The New Girlfriend) arrives on the doorstep of her childhood home. Her half sister, Claire McLeod (Lisa Chappell, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys), is now in charge of the ranch after their father's death. Tess is a city girl with no farming experience, but she now owns half of the land.
When Claire fires the male staff, she faces a labor crisis. Housekeeper Meg (Sonia Todd, Shine) and her daughter Jodi (Rachael Carpani, Hating Alison Ashley) pitch in along with the town tart Becky (Jessica Napier, Cut). Can these women save the ranch in the face of financial difficulty, chauvinism, and their own conflicts?
The episodes include:
Because I'd never heard of this series, I first popped in the interview featurette to get a frame of reference. A lucid, engaging Posie Graeme-Evans informed me that her original television movie remains Australia's most-watched TV movie to this day. Less engaging interviewees (co-producer Andrew Blaxland and director Karl Zwicky) echoed her enthusiasm and discussed some of the challenges in making the series. Breathtaking clips featured rolling hills around the government-auctioned ranch. This interview was enough to provide context, and got me interested in this popular franchise.
So I looked for the TV movie that started it all, figuring I'd start where everyone else did. Disc One? Nope…all the way back on Disc Six. Odd.
In this enchanting movie, Jack Thompson (The Good German) plays Jack MacLeod while his daughters Tess and Claire are played by Kym Wilson and Tammy McIntosh (Farscape), respectively. Rife with cold shoulders and heated exchanges, this gritty, uplifting telemovie is a jewel. Its emotions are founded in real strife. Jack's girls live in constant tension, and face gut-wrenching prejudice from the men in their town. You can feel their pain and joy as though you were mustering cattle alongside them. McIntosh's dark, plucky intensity is a rich foil for Wilson's cold, haughty resolve. Jack Thompson is vivacious; Kris McQuade even gives the housekeeper Meg a wealth of backstory with complex facial expressions. By the time the movie ended, I felt a deep connection with the characters and their world.
With enthusiasm I turned to the first episode, "Welcome Home." Like Martin Blank says, you can't go home again. The rich, complex relationships forged in necessity and pain in the telemovie were but blithe footnotes in the series proper. The former cast's down-to-earth sensibility has been replaced by slick, beautiful people with broad smiles and lots of glistening, healthy skin. The bittersweet outcomes have been switched for glossy, predictable plots. It is as though cornfed changelings snuck into the nursery. I like cheesecake as much as the next guy, and Bridie Carter and Lisa Chappell handle their assigned roles with aplomb. But it was a disappointing step down in plot, characterization, and overall enjoyability.
"Welcome Home" had to modify the original's focus somewhat to set up a long-running series. Since it was the reintroduction of a wildly popular world, its wide net and low common denominator are forgivable. Sadly, "Ducks On The Pond" ushered in a pattern that would remain throughout the season. With plenty of toothy smiles, bared midriffs, and stop-motion photography, it became obvious that McLeod's Daughters the series is the beautiful-people version. Several minutes of the episode were devoted to sheep shearing, a trend that would be echoed in other farm tasks du jour in later episodes. Grim mysteries are resolved with unsurprising revelations, and the bickering sisters break the tension at the end with a hearty laugh.
"Ducks On The Pond" is also a poster girl for the set's technical flaws. While most of the episodes are in anamorphic widescreen, "Ducks On The Pond" is misflagged fullscreen. Willowy Tess looks like the "before" picture in a dieting ad, and Claire's stormy face is diagonally smeared into a parody of itself.
I was unable to switch audio tracks during the episodes, which isn't a huge deal, but it is annoying. Each episode is one huge chapter stop; not only can you not skip past the opening credits, but you can't skip anywhere into the middle of the episode. I can't count the number of times that I longed for subtitles. Whispered rejoinders in heavy Australian accents are often hard to hear the first time around.
The series maintains the movie's rich visual flair, although everything is given a glossy coat of paint. The plaintive music of the telemovie has been replaced with bland pop numbers from the latest album a la Dawson's Creek.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
If the telemovie hadn't existed, McLeod's Daughters would come off much more favorably. Bridie Carter and Lisa Chappell are watchable, even engaging, in their limited opportunities for complex emotional interaction. Tess takes a long time to reach any major decisions, so the pace is less hurried than in the movie. McLeod's Daughters is not bad, it just is a pale incarnation of the source movie. (A good geek analogy is that McLeod's Daughters is to the movie as anime series are to OVA's.)
McLeod's Daughters is a popular, long-running series in Australia. This boxed set has technical flaws that prevent full enjoyment of the show, but it is still worthwhile escapism. Just watch the show before the movie and you'll be fine.
A pleasant enough diversion, McLeod's Daughters are free to go.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
• Original 1996 TV movie McLeod's Daughters
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