1 9 9 9 (Australia)
13 x 26 minute episodes
Written by Australian playwright David Williamson (with his wife, Kristin) and produced by Hal McElroy for the ABC, Dog’s Head Bay was marketed as a comedy series (but wasn’t at all funny) blended with soap (that was devoid of suds and riddled with 1970s and 1980s cliches about class rivalry and morality). It was one of the year’s biggest disappointments.
Alex Santorini (Gary Sweet) was the son of dirt-poor Italian migrants. But he defied his background and made it big in the world of law. His wife, Vicki (Susan Lyons) was a snooty society lady who threatened to leave him when Alex was caught having an affair.
He bought her forgiveness by acquiring a swish holiday home in the sleepy seaside town of Dog’s Head Bay. It was hardly Palm Beach or Portsea, but Alex couldn’t afford any better because Vicki was spending most of the $5,000 he earned each day as a hotshot Sydney criminal lawyer.
On arrival, they discovered that their neighbours are the family of Vicki’s long-lost – and least favourite – cousin, Jenny Grant (Sarah Peirse).
Jenny, her husband Bob (Shane Withington) and daughter ran the general store and were the heart and soul of the town. Unlike the Santorinis, the Grants were battling yokels who found joy in humility and had a monopoly on morality. They were also fierce environmentalists.
And that was the basic premise: a tried-and-tested clash of cultures. Rich versus poor. City versus country. Conspicuous consumption versus the eternal struggle to make ends meet. Social climbing versus social consciousness.
It was nothing new and the squabbling that developed broke no new ground.
But this was supposed to be a comedy, and that is where Dog’s Head Bay fell in a screaming heap. Action hero Gary Sweet was a ham-fisted comic. Susan Lyons did better but her character was so mono-dimensional that once we grasped the fact that she was an avaricious bitch there was not much more to learn.
The Grants were nice folk but provided little more than an audience for Alex and Vicki’s constant bickering and foils for Vicki’s twitching snobbery.
There was soap – the Santorinis teenage son, Nicholas (Sebastian Goldspink) was attracted to the Grants’ teenage daughter, Amanda (Rachael Coopes) – but it was as artless as Home and Away. Overall, Dog’s Head Bay was a dog’s breakfast of genres that looked and sounded painfully contrived.
Almost everything was taped on five indoor sets, and shots using cheap props (like the in-car scenes) barely even bothered to mimic reality. Coupled with poor camerawork, lighting, acting and direction, it’s little wonder that co-star Shane Withington later called the show “the worst piece of television in the history of Australia”.