The Seven Network was rather late in joining the trend of event television. Even when its commercial rivals, the Nine Network and Network Ten were airing feature-length biopics, Seven saw no need to produce its own. Ratings success with dramas like Packed to the Rafters and Winners & Losers had made it Australia’s most popular network, so it had little to gain from creating a mini-series. Its first foray into event TV was Never Tear Us Apart, a dramatised biography about rock-band INXS, which aired in 2014. Three years later, it has produced another drama about an entertainer affectionately known as “Hoges”.
To many, Paul Hogan is best known as Mick Dundee, the fish-out-of-water protagonist from the Crocodile Dundee movies. But in his native country, he’s a pioneer of the Australian television industry, and one of the nation’s greatest comedians. And in Australia, there’s no better way of honouring such a figure than with a two-part TV mini-series. Given his legacy, it’s a surprise that Hogan’s life hasn’t been dramatised before now. But after viewing both episodes, one will understand why that’s the case.
Hoges: The Paul Hogan Story begins with its namesake (Josh Lawson, Anchorman 2) hosting “An Evening with Hoges”, addressing the audience as if they’re attending a university lecture. Riveting. It then flashes back to a younger Paul (Sean Keenan) in his teenage years, when his hilarious antics are able to catch the attention of Nolene Edwards (Marny Kennedy as a teenager, and Justine Clarke as an adult). The two marry at the age of eighteen, living in government housing and struggling to make ends meet as they raise their family. Paul gains work as a rigger on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and it’s here where he begins to hone his skills as a comic.
Hogan’s tomfoolery on the bridge delights his workmates, who encourage him to audition for a TV talent show. His stand-up routine is a hit with audiences, drawing the attention of talent manager John Cornell (Ryan Corr) and leading to a weekly variety show with Channel Nine. The Paul Hogan Show makes Hoges a household name across the country, yet Cornell is convinced that he can achieve success internationally. Using all the nous they have, Hogan and Cornell produce the film Crocodile Dundee, intended as a vehicle to showcase Australia, and Hoges, to the world.
Crocodile Dundee goes on to become a commercial hit in the United States, even earning an Academy Award for its screenplay. It’s at this point where Hoges becomes less investing, its rags-to-riches story turning into a soap opera. Devotion to work and time away from home sees fractures grow in Hogan’s marriage, exacerbated by rumours of an affair with his co-star Linda Kozlowski (Laura Gordon). As Hogan and Kozlowski spend more time on the press tour, they find themselves developing a relationship, threatening the former’s image in Australia.
One of the major problems with Hoges is its unrelatable protagonist – there’s little here to connect his character to the viewer. Hogan may have started life as a working-class Dad, but he possesses talents which most of us don’t have, and has lead a life of luxury since his tenure on The Paul Hogan Show. As for his romance with Linda Kozlowski, this is as clichéd as one could possibly imagine. Sure, their relationship was genuine, but it’s by no means unique – there are countless examples of celebrity courtship which follow a very similar story to theirs.
As unrelatable as Hogan is, there’s no denying his character’s charm. Although Josh Lawson isn’t a dead ringer for the real-life figure – in fact, most of the actors don’t even share a passing resemblance to the people they’re portraying – he does carry across Hoges’ loveable persona, and his mannerisms. In terms of the other performances, the one that stands out most is Justine Clarke as Nolene. Her work in other projects often goes unappreciated, so it’s good to see her in a leading role. There is a warmth to Clarke’s performance, all while conveying an underlying sense of sadness.
Perhaps if the story had given more focus to Nolene and her struggles, there wouldn’t be a sense of emptiness felt in the second episode. No such troubles are had with the first half of the mini-series, due in part to the humble beginnings of our protagonist. In this age of YouTube and reality television, it is interesting to see how Hogan got his start in show business, and how his early life influenced his comedy. Some aspects of his career seem a bit far-fetched (doing a tourism campaign free of charge, for instance) but artistic liberties like that are to be expected in a programme like this.
While Hoges: The Paul Hogan Story isn’t essential viewing, and certainly isn’t the best example of TV drama, its fine performances make it more engaging than most. However melodramatic it becomes, the story is always interesting and at no time is ever dull. Even though Hoges’ life doesn’t make for great television, as far as tributes go it’s pretty good.