Party Tricks gives Asher Keddie and Rodger Corser a chance to shine

Rodger Corser and Asher Keddie in <i>Party Tricks</i>.
Rodger Corser and Asher Keddie in Party Tricks.
Rodger Corser on the campaign trail in <i>Party Tricks</i>.

Rodger Corser on the campaign trail in Party Tricks.

The cast of Ten's new political drama, <em>Party Tricks</em>, starring Asher Keddie and Rodger Corser. Photo: Supplied

The cast of Ten's new political drama, Party Tricks, starring Asher Keddie and Rodger Corser. Photo: Supplied

Yes, there's sizzle. Part of the considerable appeal of the six-part romantic comedy and political drama Party Tricks, which premiered on Monday, is seeing the sparks fly between its stars, Asher Keddie and Rodger Corser.

There was an indication of how good this pair can be onscreen together during the second season of the police series, Rush, when Keddie appeared in a seven-episode arc as spirited journalist Jacinta Burns who has a fling with Corser's straight-arrow cop, Lawson Blake.

But in Party Tricks, the personalities are flipped. Keddie's Victorian state premier Kate Ballard, facing her first election, is introduced as the by-the-book one: a politician keen to run on her record, avoid cheap shots and resist cheesy photo opportunities.

By contrast, Corser's confident rising star, David McLeod, parachuted in to lead an ailing Opposition, is the more smoothly assured and agile one. He's a seasoned TV journalist, a charmer, someone comfortable with schmoozing the top end of town. It's clear from early on that, whatever else she might turn out to be, Kate Ballard isn't a natural schmoozer: she's serious and strategic.

And they're dynamite together. But without some clever thinking, the structural problem for the series' creator, writer and co-producer, Michael Lucas, was that, as leaders of opposing political parties during an election campaign, Kate and David would, logically, not often be seen together on screen, unless their characters were facing off in the public arena. It's fine to have actors with great chemistry, but you need to get them in the frame together, ideally often, to make the most of that magic.

Lucas has nimbly negotiated that potential obstacle with a series of prologues. The flashback sequences open each episode and chart the history of Kate and David's relationship before the election pits them as political adversaries. And buried in that past, Lucas has set a time bomb: a secret affair. The question of who might reveal that incendiary information, or when it might burst into the headlines, ticks away beneath the surface, lending a potent tension to their interactions.

Beyond the attraction of the central couple, Party Tricks' promising debut also owes much to the vibrant community of characters assembled around the leaders. Producers John Edwards and Imogen Banks (Puberty Blues,OffspringTangle) have rightfully earned a reputation for their clever casting and that skill is again evident here.

Ballard's support crew features a beautifully drawn contrast between veteran Labor true believer and campaign manager, the bearish Wayne Duffy (Angus Sampson), and speechwriter Oliver Parkham (Charlie Garber). The latter represents the world of new media and is Kate's trusted confidant, even though his partner, Tom (Oliver Ackland), is a political journalist.

On McLeod's team is the savvy, eminently capable and visibly pregnant PR dynamo Charlotte Wynn (Ash Ricardo), and Trevor Bailey (Adam Zwar), who makes his first appearance in the second episode as the resentful deputy who publicly plays at being an ally but really wants the top job. As well, there's widower McLeod's teenage daughter, Matilda (Kaiya Jones), and Ballard's husband, property developer Geoff (Colin Moody).

In addition to the well-drawn and populated contest established in the opener, Lucas has enhanced the sense of authenticity by sprinkling the fictional landscape with events culled from recent Australian politics: debates about the development of road and rail infrastructure currently dominate the Victorian election campaign; McLeod's shock installation as Opposition party leader mirrors the pre-election entry of Queensland's Campbell Newman; and the attacks on Kate Ballard for being childless, and therefore out of touch with working families, recall the barbs directed at Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

Given the recent confirmation that there will be no sixth season of Offspring, Party Tricks offers another chance to see the impressive Keddie in action and, in Corser, she has a charismatic screen partner. But beyond that, the series represents an opportunity for the struggling Ten Network to introduce a new local drama and hopes are high behind the scenes that viewers will warm to the series and that the battle between Kate Ballard and David McLeod will continue beyond a single campaign.

Party Tricks screens Mondays on Channel Ten at 8.30pm.

This story Party Tricks gives Asher Keddie and Rodger Corser a chance to shine first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.