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Good Guys Bad Guys (1997 - 1998)

Drama series
27 episodes x 60 minutes

Series synopsis:

Meet Elvis Maginnis (Marcus Graham) – ex-cop, drycleaner, reluctant detective. Elvis was the white sheep in a family of criminals, especially after he joined the police. Being from the Maginnis clan, he didn’t fit in as a cop either. Now he’s out of the force and trying to mind his own business – literally. Elvis’s business is K for Kleen Dry-cleaning, staffed by no-nonsense Stella Kinsella (Alison Whyte) and livewire and Tourette syndrome sufferer Reuben Zeus (Travis McMahon).

Unfortunately for Elvis though, the sort of business he doesn’t want keeps walking in the door. Elvis is an unwilling private eye but unable to say no to the long-lost relatives, old associates, damsels in distress and local personalities who come out of the woodwork asking for help. At least he can stick with his own moral code, now that he answers to neither the Maginnises nor the police.

Curator’s Notes:

Simpson and Le Mesurier developed Good Guys Bad Guys specifically for Marcus Graham after he played a policeman in one of their Halifax FP telemovies (1994–2001). Initially, they devised a series featuring Graham as a ‘super-heroish’ police officer but, according to Le Mesurier, ‘it never gelled’. So they did ‘a complete about-face and came up with this grungy character who came from the wrong side of the tracks … At one stage we were hanging around in Richmond in a bar … and there were these guys there who were very lively but just on the make, on the edge. That was where it came from, that sort of feeling.’

In an interview with ASO, producers Roger Simpson and Roger Le Mesurier said they loved making Good Guys Bad Guys: it was refreshing and fun. These pleasures get passed straight on to the audience. The series is exuberantly playful, witty and offbeat. It populates a recognisable 1990s Melbourne with crime gangs, oddball villains and femme fatales that could have sprung from the pages of a comic book or old-school pulp novel. Marcus Graham’s Elvis Maginnis is a charismatic leading man, a tough guy with a dry wit and a bleeding heart.

Another flow-on from Halifax FP was the strong presence of Melbourne as its setting. According to Le Mesurier, making Melbourne identifiable in TV productions had been discouraged by networks and buyers in the early ‘90s due to fears it would alienate viewers in other locations. When production company Beyond Simpson Le Mesurier started making Halifax FP, however, they decided to make it ‘absolutely Melbourne’. This followed on into Good Guys Bad Guys, where the city became a character in the show.

The series hones in on the distinctive qualities of locales like Fitzroy’s Brunswick Street and the St Kilda foreshore and the particular energies of ‘90s multicultural and subcultural Melbourne. These locales are not treated with faithful realism, rather they are injected into an eccentric, heightened pulp fiction world. At the time, seeing the city this way on our screens was wonderfully refreshing and also somehow made sense, according to Le Mesurier.

Good Guys Bad Guys creates its heightened style and rough edges through production techniques as well as narrative. Shot on film, it is rich in colour and plays with transition effects like speeding up and slowing down film, crash zooms and freezes. Interestingly, while a viewer could easily assume these effects were added in post, many were created in-camera. Costumes and performances, particularly of the guest villains, tend towards the cartoonish. The lively soundtrack draws on local indie music acts of the time.

Good Guys Bad Guys’s opening telemovie was made with support from the Australian Commercial Television Production Fund, an initiative of the Keating federal government. According to Le Mesurier, this was ‘a really positive thing … it enabled a producer to get something going with a network without the network having to put too much money up for it, so that it let them off the hook a bit. With something as different as this it gave us a chance to show them what it was.’

Le Mesurier says explaining a crime series set in a drycleaners to conservative international buyers was a hard task. Nonetheless, there were overseas sales. The Nine Network also struggled with the concept: the series’s offbeat nature made it somewhat risqué for local commercial television at the time. Nine screened two seasons, which gained a strong following among younger viewers. Despite this, the team were unable to commit to a third season amidst network uncertainty and international job offers for star Marcus Graham.

The Good Guys Bad Guys pilot telemovie received 1997 AFI Awards for Best Mini-Series or Telefeature and Best Achievement in Direction in a Television Drama (Brendan Maher).

Titles in this series

Good Guys Bad Guys – Car Wars 1998

Elvis Maginnis (Marcus Graham) has found love in the form of bombshell lawyer Carmen Francis (Belinda McClory). There’s one small complication: she’s taking his dry-cleaning business to court on behalf of a disgruntled customer. A conflict of interest? Elvis doesn’t ...