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'Total Control' is an Australian Political Drama With a Global Feel
December 17, 2020  | By David Hinckley

You'd think the last four years would have inspired some top-line political dramas for television. For the most part, they didn't.

But here's a political thriller import that's pretty engaging: Total Control, a six-part 2019 Australian series that becomes available Thursday on Sundance Now.

Among other things, Total Control addresses how an ignored minority can try to get people's attention and spark remedial action through The System. As issues go, there aren't many that feel more universal.

Alexandra "Alex" Irving (Deborah Mailman, top) is an Indigenous woman from Queensland in the Australian Outback. She's a military veteran. She's also a single mother and a local councilwoman who's caring for both her young son and her aging mother, Jan (Trisha Morton-Thomas).

She finds ceilings and walls at pretty much every turn.

Then one day, a day that had already gone bad, she does something that fiercely straddles the line between brave and crazy.

The situation turns out well enough, so she looks brave, which draws the attention of Prime Minister Rachel Anderson (Rachel Griffiths). Anderson is battling for re-election while trying to keep her fractious and razor-thin legislative majority together enough, so it looks like she's getting things done.

With a Senate seat open due to an unexpected death, Rachel hits on the idea of appointing Alex. Proven heroine and all that.

She sells Alex with the argument that she can do more inside the system than criticizing it from outside. Everyone, including Alex, knows how specious that argument often turns out to be, but like so many before her, Alex decides to give the system a chance.

Upon arrival, unsurprisingly, she's considered a naïve rookie who can, by turns, be ignored, manipulated, and mocked.

Those taking a combination of those tacks include the aide assigned by the prime minister to handle her, Jonathan Cosgrove (Harry Richardson). When that's your theoretical ally, it's not hard to imagine what those on the other side will be saying and doing.

Alex has some tugs from back home, too, including her mother, her son, and her brother Charlie (Rob Collins), an activist for causes that include Indigenous rights.

Total Control, which was written by Stuart Page, Angela Bertzien, and Pip Karmel, doesn't limit itself to the political angle, though it does draw on dramas of the real-life Australian government.

Alex and her mother have intriguing backstories that reflect the Indigenous experience. Rachel Anderson's experiences and path reflect those of many women in politics or positions of power, in general.

We also poke into the extracurricular lives of various characters with the suggestion their conduct isn't always exemplary.

But the central focus of Total Control examines whether there really is a path by which a minority viewpoint can even be heard within the system, never mind bring about any meaningful change.

The writers give little away in terms of what may happen next as we go along, making Total Control reasonably intriguing to keep following. It's not The West Wing, but it feels like it puts you in the building.

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