TV Review: Wasteland Panda

TV Review: Wasteland Panda

Friendship found in wasteland

By Mark HadleyWednesday 1 Oct 2014TV and StreamingReading Time: 3 minutes

Wastelander Panda … your tax dollars hard at work.

TV Review: Wasteland Panda 
Wastelander Panda was originally a concept developed for the Internet by South Australian film students Marcus McKenzie and Victoria Cocks. It centres on the relationship between a 7-foot Panda called Isaac and a human girl called Rose in a post-apocalyptic world devastated by famine and overrun with bandits. This is science fiction so Isaac walks and talks, wears clothes and has a penchant to swear when things don’t go his way. 

Isaac has been cast out of one of the last strongholds of humanity, a community called Legion, because he allowed a woman to die. The loss of ‘potential breeding stock’ is going to result in his execution but the surly panda offers to go into the wasteland to retrieve a replacement girl, and is exiled in the company of his brother and mother until he makes good on the promise. Our furry outcast initially makes a deal with human traffickers to steal Rose away from her family. But as their journey across the wasteland continues his brother Arcayus comes to realise the little girl might be Isaac’s path to redemption.

“She gave him a purpose I couldn’t … a chance to do something right. So he lost his own brother to help find hers.”

Wastelander Panda is a bold concept … perhaps too bold. It’s being celebrated across the Internet because it’s one of Australia’s first web-generated productions. iView is running with this web theme, releasing the 10 minute episodes en masse so that Australians can binge-view the series. Given the integration of iView with almost every digital player, it’s certainly a sign of the shape of TV to come.

McKenzie and Cocks apparently built the series from the title up, a catchy phrase that occurred to them during a boring film lecture. However clever the idea, though, this reverse-engineering of a television show only serves to highlight the concept’s limitations. The story is balanced on the thin, unsupported premise that its human characters aren’t surprised by walking, talking pandas, so neither should we. And matters aren’t helped by its execution.

Live action dramas that have successfully employed anthropomorphic creatures (like the animal characters in The Chronicles of Narnia) manage to overcome our disbelief by deploying significant special effects budgets. Wastelander Panda, by comparison, looks like the poor offspring of Mad Max and Here’s Humphrey. Despite the fact the panda actors are equipped with large, expensive headpieces employing animatronic eyes and snouts, the overall effect is still more like a man in a bear suit. Things aren’t helped by laboured acting on the human side and fight scenes that resemble five year olds greeting a party-hire character. I couldn’t help thinking the idea would have travelled so much better if the producers had opted for animation. 

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Wastelander Panda’s redeeming factor though is one that predates post-apocalyptic storylines. Like all classic redemption myths, Isaac begins his story careless and the cause of grief to others. And, like those arcs, he sets out on a journey of personal suffering that will somehow lead to his redemption. The Bible similarly offers several redemption stories to consider – Jacob the deceiver, the Prodigal Son, Saul of Tarsus – to name a few. But the difference in each case is not what they do, but what is done for them. Jacob benefits from God’s enduring patience, the Prodigal Son gains from a father’s generosity and Jesus transforms Saul so that he becomes the Apostle Paul. And we might add our own redemption stories here, were we to trust in what Jesus can do on our behalf:

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.”  

The difference for Isaac the Wastelander Panda is that he will set about the infinitely harder task of trying to redeem himself. And anyone who has seriously attempted that task will acknowledge that’s the point at this series really embraces myth.

Rating: PG
Distributor: ABC2

Release Date: iView (Available till October 20)