LifeStyle

Private Sydney: Aussie TV still stuck in the past

Ah, breakfast television. Long may it continue to scale new intellectual heights.

Visiting actress Kristin Davis was more than a little miffed at having to reprise her role as Sex and the City's Charlotte York during a tense and awkward appearance on Channel Seven's Sunrise program.

Not happy, Sam: Kristin Davis.
Not happy, Sam: Kristin Davis. Photo: Channel Seven

And fair enough – the UN ambassador is in the country to discuss the plight of refugees, not to play dress-ups.

"You guys have seriously lost your mind," she told host Samantha Armytage, who was busy reliving the '90s in a Carrie Bradshaw wig. Let's remember: Sex and the City went off air in 2004.

Kristin Davis was forced to play along as <i>Sunrise</i> stars paid homage to <em>Sex and the City</em>.
Kristin Davis was forced to play along as Sunrise stars paid homage to Sex and the CityPhoto: Channel Seven

For her efforts, Armytage found herself dumped as MC of a $200-a-head fundraiser with the actress at Sydney's Ivy Ballroom on Friday.

Davis found a better reception on Ten's The Project and from the ABC's Virginia Haussegger. Indeed, Haussegger was "spitting chips" at the Sunrise segment, calling it "pathetic" and a disservice to feminism.

"It was a real low point for all the women on that show," she told PS. "A shining example of breakfast television at its worst."

Indeed, when Davis appeared at the launch of the Sydney Mardi Gras Queer Thinking program on Friday night, one audience member felt the need to apologise to her on behalf of the country. "I'm sorry you had to be subjected to Australian breakfast television," he said.

One reviewer described <i>Here Come the Habibs</i> as a "ham-dripping, ham-fisted, clichéd minstrel show".
One reviewer described Here Come the Habibs as a "ham-dripping, ham-fisted, clichéd minstrel show". Photo: Channel Nine

Over at Channel Nine, we were being taken even further back in time with Here Come the Habibs, a "sitcom" about wealthy white people struggling with the arrival of newly rich Lebanese neighbours.

It's one of those delightful Australian things where the premise is all there in the title: they're different, and they're coming here.

The chattering classes have been in a flurry about The Habibs for weeks, and once the first episode aired the hot takes spewed forth – mostly from white people, of course.

Some rushed to warn us how terrible it was – most memorably Elle Hardy writing in The Spectator Australia, who beautifully dubbed it a "ham-dripping, ham-fisted, clichéd minstrel show".

Others stamped The Habibs with their "not racist" seal of approval. Critic Luke Buckmaster thought it was a "funny, well-made" and punchy show, declaring the "outrage apparatus" had spoken prematurely, while cultural attache Kyle Sandilands attested to the program's visual accuracy: "Every Lebo I know looks like they're on that ad."

It was interesting to note the more sensitive responses of people of colour, such as journalist Rashell Habib, who felt the program that bears one of her names was funny, harmless and equal-opportunity comedy. "For Channel Nine to take a chance on this locally produced show is something to be admired," she wrote.

Or Osman Faruqi, son of Australia's first female Muslim MP Mehreen Faruqi, who lukewarmly endorsed the program as "not as racist as it first appeared" but not all that sharp, either.

Debating whether things are racist is one of the great Australian pastimes, especially when it comes to TV. It was quite a few years ago that another American visitor, Harry Connick jnr, was aghast to find himself judging a blackface skit on the reprised Hey Hey It's Saturday. The world was pretty shocked, too – but plenty of folks Down Under were prepared to defend the segment as a harmless example of "Aussie humour".

No doubt one of the reasons a show like The Habibs commands so much attention is because it involves the rare incursion of non-white faces into the land of commercial television. Any show about a minority or marginalised group carries that albatross around its neck; the hopes and dreams of anyone with a stake in Australia's cultural landscape.

Flick the dial one notch and you'll be in the wonderful world of My Kitchen Rules, where – shock horror – the vast majority of contestants are white. Not that it's harming the ratings: MKR has been smashing its competition, with 1.5 million viewers in the capital cities. Of course, there ain't much in the way of diversity on I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here either.

We probably shouldn't be surprised. I raised the subject with my Asian-Australian housemate, who looked at me blankly before reminding me we are living in the Netflix age. "Of course," commercial television is full of white people, he said. "Only white people watch commercial TV anyway."