Thursday, March 19, 2009

Burying Brian

Burying Brian: A Comedy About Death

As hard as it might be for some of us to believe, or atleast admit in the company of others, death, is funny. Its like the punchline to a timeless cosmic joke, thats why there are so many movies, and television series done, where death is the focus, and though some are funny for just how unrealistic and bad they are, like say, the Weekend At Bernie's movies, which exspect you to think that rigor mortis didn't set in for atleast two weeks, where in lackluster, even for the 1980s, hilarity attempts ensue, or to the early years of the series 6 Feet Under before it got all pretentious and post Allen Alda behind the camera M.A.S.H like, there are countless others in the same vain, attempting to make a comedy out of the idea of death, one of those such things is the New Zealand television series Burying Brian, which I had the pleasure of sitting down and watching straight through recently. To be fair though, to say that Burying Brian is a dark dramatic comedy about death isn't exactly true. Its a dark dramatic comedy about death, love, friendship, family, devotion, new beginnings, and putting Asian thugs in jail for a very long time.

The story focuses on the Welch family, Brian, the father, former rock star who's prise possession is his gold record from when is band was “world famous in new zealand” as they say there, he now spends his time at home doing computer programing work, getting drunk and getting high, and sometimes recording new songs he writes on his min-DAT and producing them on his computer. Brian is depressed given that his life isn't what he expected it to be at almost 40 years old, with a family, a wife, and as he puts it, the most boring job in the world, this is the reason he's constantly drunk and high, to deal with his depression over what never was, this ofcourse leads to problems with his family, most often his wife, Jodie, who feels she has to not only raise their two children Josh and Kendall, but her husband too given that he has shown no effort to so much as clean up the house while Jody is gone during the course of the day. Jodie, Brian's wife is an overstressed mother who feels trapped and that she's slowly loosing control of the things in her life, between keeping her children on the right path as well as having to care for her husband who she feels is ungrateful for all she does, she has very few outlets for which to escape from what she sees as an overwhelming amount of things to deal with alone, she keeps to just her three close friends; Gerri, Theresa, and Denise, whom she has known most of her life, they mention as far back as upper middle school but its implied they've known each other longer then that, and sees her once a week nights out with them as her only means of an out from what she deals with at home.

The series starts with Jodie coming home to from her night out with some friends, she's lost her keys and has to break into her own home through a window after finding that no one's answering the door, she climbs in through the kitchen window, which wakes up Brian, who is hugging his bong on the couch, he's startled, Jodie starts to yell at him for doing nothing while she was gone, they get into an argument, and Jodie finally kicks Brian out of the house, she claims she can't take life with him anymore, he says that she's not a joy to live with either, and then, all the frustration she feels inside is let out as she starts to toss things at Brian, a coffee cup knocks his bong out of his hand and breaks it on the floor behind him, after Jodie runs out of things to toss at him, she grabs his prised gold record off the wall and tosses at him, as he catches it, he slips in a puddle infront of the refrigerator door that he'd left partly open, he spins around and lands neck first on the shattered bong, killing him.

Jodie panics and flashes back to the start of the night, when she was getting ready for her night out, which leads to an argument when she yells at Brian for leaving their refrigerator door open, leaving a small puddle on the kitchen floor that she slipped and almost hurt herself in, this argument continues until Jodie runs out the door for the cab she's called, then it goes to her meeting up with her friends, they are the real core of the cast, as they talk about everything from sex to marriage you find out about their lives and their relationships with each other. Gerri is a high level advertising executive who, unless reminded seems to never really have time for anyone, she's single and makes no real issue of it, she's also known to sleep with certain people to get ahead in business, she has an assistant who is trying to ruin her out of jealousy. Theresa is a school teacher and wife of a high level detective, she's the mother of a teenage girl named Alex who, unknown to her parents is dating Jodie and Brian's son Josh, Theresa's husband Pete, is moody and abit headstrong do to his frustration on trying to put away a local drug dealer who murdered one of his friends, Theresa claims they have the perfect marriage. Denise is the quiet one who stays in the background, For most of the series her friends even admit they don't really know anything about her, they haven't met her husband, or her children, or even really been to her home, she is a hair stylist who works out of her home, she has afew children and is married to a parking control officer named Warren, who we find out later in the series, after she can't take the stress of hiding her life from the others, beats her, controls her and demeans her any chance he gets.

As their night goes on, they get onto the subject of if they could, would they end their relationships, after a lot of joking around Jodie says “well the only way I could get rid of Brian is to kill him..”, she then explains how logically the only way she would be able to survive with out him would be if he was dead, because she wouldn't stand the idea of him with someone else, and she would never wish the problem that he is on anyone else, so she says again, “the only logical answer, would be to kill Brian...” to which everyone laughs, she then, under the influence of abit to much alcohol she says “I wish he was dead” rather loud, well loud enough for everyone in the bar to hear her. Soon after, they all decide its time to leave, and after Jodie is dropped off at her house, is where the story picks back up to current speed...

In a panicked state, believing anyone that heard her state she wished her husband dead or how the only way to get out of her marriage would be to kill him might speak up if it was ever reported he died and that she could go to jail for murder, despite the fact it was an accident, Jodie calls her friends, of who all but Gerri show up, and after some very funny scenes of them attempting to dump the body in afew different locations near by, they finally find the only place they can bury him is the common area behind the house. The next morning Jodie realizes that she can see where they buried him from the kitchen window she'd had to break into the house through the night before. Soon her friend Gerri arrives, and the four of them work out a plan to make it seem as if Brian had left with another woman, a plan that actually fools the police, including Theresa's husband Pete.

From there the series spins between funny, dark, dramatic and meaningful, you find out the whole story of their lives and how they intertwine, how the stress of their secret almost pushes them apart forever, With out giving away to much of it, you see how one secret can bring to light many dark little secrets that are kept between friends, and how even though them coming to light can cause anger and friction and distrust, in the end, when the only real family you have to speak of are your lifelong friends, you do whats right and you stick by them. Jodie speaks of that in the final scene of the series when they finally have a funeral for Brian, she speaks of how she realized that though she at times hated him, and what he'd become, she realized just how much she missed him, and that she was glad that in the end, she had learned to be a better person, a better mother, a better friend, and that she was going to make the most of her new chance at life. They all walk out together, eluding to the fact they are all bonded tighter then before and that from Brian's death, a new beginning was ready to take place. In a sense, the circle of life, from death, brings destruction, from destruction, comes rebuilding, and from that comes a new start. I think that is what one takes away from this series, that life is, in a sense, a circle, that keeps spinning around it doesn't matter if its a boring circle or not, all that matters is no matter what, in the end, you start at the beginning again, sometimes with a new life, thats better then the one before, but what you make of it is up to you.

As for production, its rather high end, but not much different from the stuff you find in countries outside of the united states, sets are actual homes, other locations are filmed on location, gives you that sort of, happening in real life vibe which I love so much about foreign television and we lack here in America. The cast is very enjoyable together, though they would probably be completely unknown to you unless you were someone that kept up with international television, or were originally from or living in New Zealand or the countries that they share programs with, Shane Cortese, who some will know as Hayden Peters on the slowly becoming an international cult series Outrageous Fortune, plays Brian, who you actually start to kind of like and understand through the flashback scenes, a sort of “likable jerk” if you will, and well, you kind of chuckle at just how good of a dead body he plays for 90% of his screen time. Jodie Dorday played Jodie rather well, its very hard to play a person thats slowly going out of their mind but doesn't realize it even though everyone around them does, she's a perfect match for the role and complements the rest of the cast well, to show just how geeky I am, I instantly recognized her from her days of playing Solari on Xena Warrior Princess and from when she played Maddison McGuire earlier in 2008 on the aussie mock reality series Mark Loves Sharon, which I loved immensely, she also played Kentucky Sue in the shortlived Bruce Campbell and Angela Marie Dotchin series Jack Of All Trades, but apparently I'm the only one on the planet that remembers that show. Carolyn McLaughlin, who plays Theresa Donnelly does such a good job in the role that you wouldn't really be aware that its her first starring role and only her second actual acting job, she mostly does Sound editing for a living apparently, I'd have never actually known that had I not looked it up, she's a very good actress, its very hard to play the emotional and rational center of a series, its one of those jobs no one really wants, she does it effortlessly. Ingrid Park, who has been acting off and on for afew years though this is her first starring role, plays Denise Crowley very well, she has the whole repressed and ashamed of her life thing going on, and when Denise finally snaps, she plays a very good crazy, which like I said earlier, is hard to play right. Rebecca Hobbs rounds out the core cast as Gerri Marchand, the somewhat easy fast living one who has her life flipped upside down by the end of the series, she as well hasn't really done a lot of acting but seems to be very good in the role and a good fit in the cast. Stand outs on the secondary cast are Craig Hall as Pete Donnelly, who I recognized right off as Nicky Greegan from Outrageous Fortune and from an obscure NZ comedy called “The Strip” from afew years back that just knowing of proves how big of a geek I am, he plays Pete as a mix of bad cop and awesome cop that knows sometimes you gotta work outside the system you work for to get anything done, he also has that “don't piss me off or I'll kill you” thing going on, he interacts really well with the other stand out of the secondary cast, Joshua Leys, who plays Josh Welch, the oldest of Brian and Jodie's two kids, through the whole first half of the series Josh is made to seem like your average loner pot smoking teenager who doesn't really care about anything, and by the end you see that its all a cover as he states that with his dad gone, he has to be the man of the family now, you also see how adult he can be when he deals with Pete, who wants to kill him for sleeping with his daughter, but in the end comes around to him, I found the interaction between the two to be some of the highlights of the second part of the series, infact the scene where they're trying to write out a “Break Up Letter” from Josh to Pete and Theresa's daughter Alex after Pete finds out about them sleeping together is hilarious.

I guess this series on some level could appeal to all, its got enough comedy to make you laugh, enough drama to make you care, and enough of everything else to keep those who aren't into laughing or feeling ways about stuff happy, so I'd say give it a try if you feel up for something different. However, you will have to download it, or buy the dvd and ship it to you, given its limited episode run, only 6 episodes and only one series, its very doubtful that anyone would pick it up and air it here on the other side of the world, but if you're in the know on where to watch or attain television from around the world give it a try, you might enjoy it. If nothing else it'll give you a laugh or two.



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