Andrew Mercado on TV: ABC’s Riot telemovie

‘What a joy it is to finally see these two in leading roles’

In the lead-up to the 40th anniversary of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, ABC has commissioned a local telemovie Riot about the first parade back in 1978.

The story actually starts six years earlier to explain what a long fight it was for recognition, not to mention lesbians and gay men in-fighting with each other.

TV history gets a look in here too, with mentions of Chequerboard and Number 96, and a sequence that will hopefully clear up once and for all which Australian show featured TV’s first gay kiss (hint: it wasn’t 96). The script can be fascinating and funny but quickly turn shocking whenever it shows police brutality and discrimination of the day, which was once considered the norm.

The cast of Riot is headed by Damon Herriman and Kate Box, and what a joy it is to finally see these two in leading roles, given both so regularly play supporting characters. A hospital bedside scene between them should be used to highlight both performances when it comes time to hand out awards in acting excellence this year.

All of this serves as a warm-up to SBS’s coverage of this year’s parade, which will air on Sunday March 4. While it is sad not to see former host Julie McCrossin in the mix, given she was one of the original 78ers, let’s hope she was at least asked and perhaps has chosen to be in the parade, alongside the other 78ers.

Instead, the gravitas will be supplied by host Magda Szubanski after her popular and leading role in last year’s same-sex marriage campaign. She will be joined by Urzila Carlson, Joel Creasey and The Feed’s Patrick Abboud, whose pre-recorded packages have always been excellent. Breaking from the parade for Abboud’s poignant stories has often made up for previous hosts, some of whom have been over-excited and not really qualified. Last year, Em Rusciano was there because she was a “gay man trapped in a straight woman’s body who looked like a lesbian”. Um, that’s as big a stretch as much of the lycra parading past so hopefully this year’s hosting lineup is more authentic.

Urzila Carlson has been killing it on TV recently with some hilarious appearances on Have You Been Paying Attention? and Hughesy, We Have A Problem. But can we pay attention to a problem in that she appears to be Melbourne-based? Has she ever attended the Sydney event before? There is nothing worse than a commentator squealing about being a “Mardi Gras virgin”.

Then again, everyone is an expert on TV these days and experience is rarely a requirement. But at least TV gays are no longer restricted to just being Hollywood gossip queens. Will & Grace is back on Stan, Queer Eye has been re-booted for Netflix and Family Guy’s Stewie could be about to come out in a special two-parter featuring Sir Ian McKellan. There is also – finally – going to be a gay in Summer Bay and even Alf is flamin’ happy about welcoming a flamer into the show. So let’s hope The Daily Telgeraph, which famously torpedoed a H&A gay kiss back in 2009, might be too busy this time being “shocked” about a one-year-old gay baby on Family Guy. Sounds like it could be time for another Riot.

Photo: Damon Herriman and Kate Box

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