tv review: party tricks
Channel Ten’s new political drama Party Tricks opens with an uncomfortably familiar scenario: a public controversy surrounding comments made about a female politician who doesn’t have children. In this case, though, it wasn’t former Prime Minister Julia Gillard they were talking about— it was Kate Ballard, the fictional Premier of Victoria played by Asher Keddie in the six-part series.
As the series begins, the Leader of the Opposition makes the comments on radio and soon announces his resignation. His proposed replacement is announced as David McLeod (Rodger Corser), a former TV journalist whose popularity just might win the election for the Liberal Party. This announcement is concerning for Premier Ballard in more ways than one: not only does she now have a well-loved figure vying for her job, but that same figure happens to be the man she had a secret affair with some years earlier.
The Premier confides in her speechwriter Ollie (Charlie Garber) and they design a strategy for dealing with the fallout if the story does break. Ollie’s partner Tom (Oliver Ackland) is a local journalist, and Ollie must keep this secret from him as well as political advisor Wayne (Angus Sampson). Kate must also keep the secret from her loyal husband, Geoff Ballard (Colin Moody). On the campaign trail, it’s all about selling her policies and staying focused. While David McLeod’s golden boy status takes a few hits once his campaign begins, he looks to have a real chance of winning, especially with the sharp-minded Charlotte (Ash Ricardo) as his advisor.
So far, the show has explored some of the double standards female politicians must confront in public life. As well as the opening episode’s comments about whether Kate Ballard could really understand regular families as a woman without children, the most recent episode saw interim Opposition Leader Trevor Bailey (Adam Zwar) suggesting Victoria could find itself with a “pregnant Premier” if they re-elected Ballard. This led to one of Ballard’s best lines so far, said through fits of laughter: “I thought the issue was that I was too barren, now I’m too fertile?!”
But it’s not only Kate that must face public discussion of her private life. Another recent episode saw David’s teenage daughter Matilda (Kaiya Jones) at the centre of the media storm when revealing pictures she had sent to a classmate were posted online. Again, a scenario that is all too easy to imagine happening in real life, and another example of how the concept of privacy goes out the window in modern politics.
The show so far has been filled with subtle nods towards real-life events. If the story does break, it will be interesting to see how this affects Kate and David individually, and whether the typical double standards for female public figures come into play— will it be okay for David to have a sex scandal in his past, but not for Premier Kate Ballard?
Unsurprisingly, Asher Keddie demonstrates her range and prowess in this series. While she was much loved as the awkward Nina on Offspring, in Party Tricks Keddie is polished and poised, rarely showing a crack in her resolve (which makes the moments where she does all the more interesting). As Keddie solidifies her status as Australian TV’s favourite star, hopefully she paves the way for more interesting roles for Australian actresses (especially the ones over the age of 25).
At the centre of the show is the chemistry between Kate and David. They cross paths only occasionally on the campaign trail, but we see flashbacks from their affair at the beginning of every episode. Keddie and Corser make the tension between them seem very natural, which is actually a large part of what makes this show worth watching.
Party Tricks is not the most complex of political dramas— it’s more about personalities than policy. Female politicians do seem to attract a greater focus on their personal lives than their male counterparts, but it also reflects the current state of politics more generally. It would have been interesting to see Keddie play a Premier who is dealing with tricky policy issues and perhaps some old-fashioned political intrigue, but for a commercial network hoping to draw in a big audience, it’s hardly surprising that the show focuses more on the impending sex scandal than the ins and outs of state transport policy. Ultimately, it’s an interesting show that any Keddie fan or political tragic will no doubt enjoy.
Party Tricks airs 8.30 Monday on Channel Ten. Catch up on the series so far here.