(Channel 7 Mini-Series)
Ian “Molly” Meldrum named his house “Luxor” and hung out with cross-dressers. But Molly was also a brawler and a football fan. While having a genius for television, he could barely string two words together. These contradictions raise questions about this quixotic man, but there was no question for those of us who grew up in the Countdown days. Watching Countdown for 25 minutes on the ABC was what you did on Friday, and then Sunday evenings. Young people today won’t believe it if you tell them that until Countdown, the only tv music shows for the young were occasional all night “Rockathons”* which my brother and I were allowed to stay up to watch in our sleeping bags. Then Molly brought Countdown to the ABC and we could see “film clips” and live music every week..
This two-part biography of Molly concentrates mainly on the genesis of Countdown and its early years. It’s all there. The riveting but painful Prince Charles interview (real footage and a re-enactment). Renee Geyer and John Paul Young both belting Molly in the face. Molly on air somewhat the worse for wear.
This is entertaining and either nostalgic or revelatory, depending on the viewer’s age. But it is bland and predictable in the way of Australian mini-series made for prime time. Like Peter Allen – Not the Boy Next Door), it follows the predictable story arc from early loss through the struggle to be recognised despite evil conservative forces, to the end of it all, via uplifting moments, success and a few silly bits (Molly chasing a train in his underpants). It also, unnecessarily, uses the time-worn devices of depicting the past in sepia tones and of having our subject relive his life life-story while in a coma – although the hallucinations set in the hospital involving Olivia Newton-John, Freddie Mercury and John and Yoko are effective.
Samuel Johnson as Molly is good and uncannily like him, despite the bad wig, one of several. (Again see Peter Allen – Not the Boy Next Door.). Another stand out, Ben Geurens, does not resemble Shirley Strachan at all but leaves us in no doubt that Shirley was unpleasant. Obviously the gloves are off now that Shirley is dead. Perhaps in the interests of delicacy, because Molly, although fragile now is still with us, certain important aspects of his life are glossed-over. Were Molly and Charlie “Caroline” Jenkins (an excellent Ben Gerrard) a couple? That is never clear. What was Molly’s involvement in Caroline’s brothel? We see Caroline planning suicide and then she simply disappears.
Those of us who can still hear that drum roll and “Count dow-own!” remember the countdown of the top ten songs with which every episode ended. That was the highlight and kind of the whole point. Recently, when I returned to the home of my teenage years, I was surprised to see that there was no rut in the road between my friend’s house and mine. I was sure that we had worn one over the years of Sundays when we’d just finished tea and were allowed to watch the top 10 together (as I remember, it was always Bohemian Rhapsody anyway). But the actual countdown is barely mentioned in this series.
Molly is not riveting television, but it’s worth watching, to see The Windsor Hotel in Melbourne (pretending to be in London), to at last learn the truth about the lip-synching, and to see Mr Squiggle (albeit briefly – he had to get back to the moon). Certainly it does leave one with the feeling that being involved in Countdown must have been more fun, a lot dirtier and less morally uplifting than it appears here.
See our review of the Channel 7 follow-up “Molly: The Real Thing” here.