License article

Wednesday, June 20

Free to air

Dumb, Drunk & Racist, ABC2, 9.30pm

Australia's reputation in India has been thoroughly trashed following a spate of attacks on Indian students, so in this six-part series, journalist Joe Hildebrand invites four Indians to Australia to decide for themselves whether we are, in fact, stupid, sozzled bigots. The four articulate, educated, middle-class volunteers are law student Amer, education consultant Radhika, newsreader Gurmeet and call-centre worker Mahima. The last three come on-board with fairly fixed opinions but Amer is simply curious.

All this is tidily covered in the first five minutes or so, then our crew arrive in Sydney and embark on their adventure, and when Hildebrand introduces his guests to some of the less-tolerant members of the population, it makes for deeply uncomfortable viewing.

Sometimes Hildebrand's a bit too much with the ''Ha-ha-ha, look at how outrageously racist we are!'' when what's at issue needs to be taken a bit more seriously. But it's hard to imagine how else you could approach this subject without repelling viewers in droves.

Luckily, his four companions are likeable, intelligent and engaged, giving us something to hold on to during what's a sometimes gruelling, sometimes excruciating, but always compelling ride. - Melinda Houston

Louis Theroux: Law and Disorder in Johannesburg, ABC2, 8.30pm


A South African farmer pays a private security company a monthly fee to protect his cattle from thieves. He knows perfectly well the techniques the security enforcers-turned-vigilantes dole out to keep his property secure. It is, the white farmer concedes, ''an African solution for an African problem''.

Louis Theroux certainly earns points for intrepidness in this disturbing report on how communities in one of the world's most violent cities deal with law and order. He joins the nightly rounds of security operators, witnesses the horrific retribution served upon suspected criminals and talks to hardened sadists who will do anything for the contents of someone's wallet. It makes for disquieting and chilling viewing.

Life's Too Short, ABC1, 9.05pm

Critics overseas complained that this latest offering from Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant is too similar to their previous Extras and The Office, which is a bit like accusing the Beach Boys of sounding too much like the Beach Boys. This takes up where those other shows left off, a cringe-inducing, mockumentary-style take-down of a day in the life of a struggling actor, who happens to be a 106-centimetre thespian and the go-to guy for casting dwarfs.

Sure, Warwick Davis may be a down-on-his-luck outcast, but he is also a thoroughly obnoxious and obsequious fellow whose self-delusion and vanity, rather than victimisation, evoke our sympathies. Here, as elsewhere, Gervais, Merchant and Davis refuse to soften the edges of their politically incorrect satire. Tonight's episode starts out flat, but has a priceless scene in which actor Johnny Depp confronts Gervais about the insults he dished up while hosting the Golden Globes.

RPA, Nine, 10pm

It's something of a surprise to discover that Channel Nine's observational documentary series has evolved into the terrain we associate with the ''shockumentary'' genre. While its focus remains the stoic and brave patients facing difficult medical problems and uncertain futures at the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, much of tonight's episode consists of footage not for the squeamish inside the operating theatre.

Modern medical imaging means audiences can now watch the brain surgeon as he slices through the jelly-like grey matter of a patient in the search for a millimetre-thick blood vessel, or a scalpel cutting through the deformed foot of a young African girl so she can be fitted with a prosthesis. Unlike the ''extreme surgery'' shows that proliferate on pay TV, RPA never lets us forget that the patients, their families and compassionate carers are human beings like the rest of us. Still, you might find yourself averting your eyes more often than you should.

Paul Kalina

Pay TV

Full Metal Jousting, A&E, 8.30pm

It's funny how TV trends take off. One year it's shows about cakes, the next it's pawn shops, the next it's full-contact heavy-armour jousting. Coming hot on the heels of Knights of Mayhem is this bone-crunching reality competition in which 16 novice jousters compete for a $100,000 prize. It's no canter in the park - being unhorsed at high speed and crashing head-first into the dirt wearing 40 kilograms of steel armour turns out to be quite painful. It's surprisingly engrossing, especially when visors are opened to reveal faces drenched in blood.
Brad Newsome

Machete Maidens Unleashed!, Studio, 10.30pm

In the early 1970s, deep in the Filipino jungle, a band of renegade filmmakers discovered the secret to schlock success - busty babes, karate-kicking midgets, swamp mutants and high explosives. Made with no budget, no plot and - more often than not - no clothes, Filipino genre movies including Beast of Blood and The Hot Box took exploitation to a glorious new low, transfixing thrill-hungry drive-in audiences with what became known as ''the filler from Manila''. This lovingly made documentary from director Mark Hartley (Not Quite Hollywood) captures not only the no-rules tone of the period but the blood-spattered modus operandi of some of its biggest talents, including Roger Corman, Eddie Romero and John Landis. ''In the Philippines you got jungles, you got girls,'' Landis says. ''And it was cheap!''
Tim Elliott

Brad Newsome


The Mermaid Chair (2006) Seven, noon

Jessie Sullivan (Kim Basinger) decides to go home to her seaside community when news arrives that her mum has deliberately chopped off one of her fingers. Taxi! Jessie's marriage to shrink Bruce Greenwood isn't exactly morbid but there are unresolved matters from her childhood that demand attention. Her mother could count them on her good hand. So Jessie heads to the coastal town where, within seconds of her arrival, she experiences decidely warm sensations in the presence of Brother Whit Thomas (Alex Carter), a hunk of a monk from the nearby monastery. Why did he choose a life of celibacy and contemplation? Who cares? The pivotal fact is that he hasn't yet been ordained, so a legover (aka the congress of the white pelicans) is not entirely out of the question. Oh, delicious temptation! The singing mermaids? Lorelei meets Lady Gaga, perhaps, or local superstition concocted by the priory to concentrate the minds of novitiates as they do God's work repairing fishermen's nets. A deeply dubious morality attends this froth.

Aballay (2010) SBS One, 11.05pm

Aballay is a gaucho with a quick temper - el hombre sin miedo. He feels no remorse in dealing with enemies; they are simply problems to overcome. But when he kills a guy during a stagecoach hold-up, Aballay sees the look of terror in the eyes of his victim's son, Julian, and realises he has become too savage for his own good. Years pass and the expression on the boy's face stays with the gaucho, haunting him and slowly bringing him to the realisation that one day, when he has grown up, Julian will come looking for him - just as he would in a Peckinpah western. Sure enough, armed with sketches made from memory and a selection of pistols made by Samuel Colt, Julian arrives in the town of Malaria where the yummy Juana catches his eye. She fancies him, too, but this doesn't go down well with psychopathic outlaw leader El Muerto, who has earmarked Juana for himself - bum-marked, actually, for he has branded the letter M on her buttocks to signify his ''ownership''. Choice! Hasn't he heard of Diamond Traders? El Muerto belts up Julian and stakes him out for the buzzards but Juana rescues him and takes him to a holy hermit renowned for his saintly ways. Yep, it's Aballay - now a disciple of St Simeon. Violence, retribution and atonement ensue in a lather of gore.

Doug Anderson