Completely Round The Twist Review
Kids love bums. And the bigger the bum the better. And bare bums. Not to mention boobies, blood, burps, bogies and botties. Farts, frogs, freaks and follow-through. Knickers, knackers, knockers and wee, willies and winkles. Pants, bras and an old pair of Y-fronts left hanging on a line. And jobbies. Ghosts, vampires, spooks, zombies and monsters. Spots, droppings and smelly socks. Big hair, little hair or no hair at all. Sheep, goats, cats and dogs. Make-believe, make-up or throw up. Dead men walking in the dump, skeletons on the dunny and ghosts in the loo. And exploding mushrooms that giggle and fart!
Such a shame, then, that only one television show has properly understood all of that, which, over four series, has gone from ghosts, photocopiers and shrinking magic pants to Lady Godiva, the Viking Book of Love and a magical land that whisks the adults out of Port Niranda. In between, there's a pint-sized superhero named Skunkman, the ghost of a fox that's looking for its eyes, a lot of kissing, a pregnant boy, a Mongolian Copy Cat Hat and a werewolf. And, "Without my pants!" That show is Australia's Round The Twist and it may be, at least in its first two seasons, one of the very best shows produced for children. It is spun through with a remarkable amount of imagination, a little frightening and is, more often than not, very, very rude. How else to explain the sight of Bronson licking a very full fly swatter, allowing his feet to fester in the same pair of unwashed socks for months on end and breaking open goat shit in search of an opal. For once, even the rest of his family are disgusted. It is for all of that, or maybe because of it, very funny and able to charm without a great deal of effort.
Round The Twist was originally made in 1990 and featured dad Tony and children Pete and Linda (Sam Vanderberg and Tamsin West), who are twins, and Bronson Twist (Cameron Nugent) moving to the small seaside town of Port Niranda to live in the lighthouse. Tony is an artist and has moved to take advantage of whatever inspiration the sea air will bring whilst the kids make do in new schools, with new friends and, through their dad, being looked upon as being the new and very odd kids in the class. Worst of all is that their new home would appear to be something of a bargain, one that local businessman and Conservative Party councillor Harold Gribble won't let them forget as he dabbles in deeds to get rich quick and, if he can, to get the Twists out of their the lighthouse. And as Tony must pass each day with Harold, so Pete and Linda must get through each day at school in the presence of Gribble's son James and his friends Rabbit and Tiger, one his father's son, another tending to commentate on every event no matter how small and another who's, well, really very stupid.
But soon after moving in, the Twists find that Port Niranda is a quite magical place. For a start, the lighthouse is haunted. Or not the lighthouse but the outside toilet, or dunny. During a midnight visit to the loo, Pete thinks he sees a ghost. The next night, all three Twists are sitting on the toilet waiting for the ghost...but find, as they always seem to do, that such spooks aren't anything to worry about, more that they need a helping hand or six. But things get even more strange the longer they stay in Port Niranda. In trying to keep a place for Nell, Pete and Linda come under attack from a flock of seagulls and end up coated in the white stuff, whilst their accepting a dare from Gribble leaves them collecting a skull from a rubbish tip at night and attracting the attentions of Old Man Chompers. "Me darlins!" Things take a turn for the very peculiar when Bronson finds a real-life cabbage patch kid, the Twists meet Santa Claws - and, no, that's not a misprint! - and Bronson finds a remote control that works on real people, rewind, fast-forward and pause. Just in time for the school Spaghetti Pig Out! Pete has pants on his mind - wonderpants and being, "without my pants" - whilst both he and Linda are in love. One is helped by a magic lipstick and the other by a photocopy but neither finds that it's what they really want. Finally, the Twists figure out what that music is that they've been hearing throughout their stay in the lighthouse and why the ghosts are unhappy as Gribble attempts to demolish their home.
The show's second season returned with a new cast for Pete, Linda and Bronson (Ben Thomas, Joelene Crnogorac and Jeffrey Walker) as well as, due to its success, a bigger budget. With Paul Jennings continuing to write the scripts, it opens in fine form with Linda hypnotizing Pete to act like a chicken for ten seconds anytime someone says, "Now"! Going to school, everyone realises just how much fun there is to be had saying, "Now!", especially Gribble, who remembers that chooks eat worms...and so might Pete. With the Copy Cat Hat causing problems with the annual Birdman contest, Bronson struggling with a water spirit during a school pissing contest, Pete and Gribble find themselves in trouble with the headmaster when they fight off a couple of thieves armed with an odd-looking machine. Meanwhile, Linda falls in love with a merman, Pete attracts the attentions of lot of junk and Bronson doesn't attract anyone what with his very smelly feet. But he does save a turtle. A park is also in need of saving when Harold Gribble plans on building a casino on the site but two Lindas (and a lot of Yuckles) aren't enough when young Gribble, Tiger and Rabbit think they've killed her. Pete comes the rescue of a not-very-good ghost, Linda helps a fox, Bronson searches through goat shit and everyone comes together to help ghosts Matthew and Jeremiah and the ghost ship that's sailing towards the rocks. Will they get the lighthouse lit during the storm to save it this time?
After the second season, Round The Twist took some time off the air as writer Paul Jennings left the show and took the rights to his stories with him. But five years later, it returned with an almost entirely new cast and Esben Storm not only directing but also providing the story for many of the episodes. It's not quite as good nor as memorable as the Jennings episodes but it is Round The Twist and largely feels right. It does begin memorably enough, though, with Pete being made pregnant by a beautiful tree spirit. And love is in the air in Port Niranda when Viking chief Snorri and his son Snorrison travel through time with the Viking Book of Love. Anyone who reads one of the poems therein has another fall in love with them...Fay leaves Tony for Mr Snapper, Gribble falls in love with Linda and Pete falls in love with...himself? Meanwhile, Bronson swallows a Whirling Derfish and gets a whirling willy, Pete and Mr Gribble swap brains and Linda finds a truth microphone. Somehow, you just know she'll end up interviewing Mr Gribble. Bronson learns a terrible lesson when he starts shaving with the family razor, Pete surfs with a ghost and Linda can't get away with from a very odd doll. There are also visitors to Port Niranda, one a rainmaker and the other an ice-cream man, one of whom is keeping the mysterious Giorgio prisoner in his caravan. Finally, the Viking Book of Love reveals the curse behind it as Helga shows up, takes all of the adults back to the 8th century and threatens to leave them there. But...shouldn't that be a good thing?
The fourth and last season opens with Snapper putting a play into production to celebrate the bicentenary of Port Niranda. Unfortunately, the ghosts of the von Clapp family, who never got to take their final bow on the Port Niranda stage, would like the starring roles. Only the Gribbles stand in their way. Back at the lighthouse, Bronson becomes a big of a fighter, not only in his struggles with a Lint Monster but also as Skunkman, who aims to silence Gribble's punk band with some very noxious odours. Meanwhile, Linda shows off a good deal more than just a smile in Linda Godiva, Pete turns into a werewolf (and falls in love with an Alsatian) and all three get sucked into the television, finding out that their TV heroes really aren't all that. Pete and Linda get to spend the night in a cemetery, Linda's new hairstyle finds her listening to people's thoughts and Pete falls in love with a beautiful new girl at school...who just happens to be a frog. With Bronson being followed by a boy-faced Bird and Linda's shadow telling her just how dull she is, Pete finds out who that mysterious girl is who's been crashing into his life. Princess Ariel of Atlantis is looking for a husband on the Isle Of Dreams and it would appear that Pete is her chosen one. But are they ready to go if it means that they can never come back? Do they like Port Niranda that much or are they happy to leave their father and Fay behind just as she goes into labour?
As with any relatively long-running series, particularly one in which the cast changes regularly, every viewer will have his or her favourite. Most will, I'm sure, prefer the first series simply for it being the first on air, for Tamsin West being a familiar face from Neighbours and for throwing up a fair selection of great episodes, including A Good Tip For Ghosts, Wunderpants, The Copy and Without My Pants. But that first season also brought the idea of a story arc in a children's show that would remain through each of the later three seasons. Each episode had the Twist kids hear music coming from the attic, which was, in the show's last season, revealed to be a family of ghosts who'd also moved into the lighthouse.
Good though that first season is, though, my own favourite is the second, where the effects were better, the writing was funnier and move inventive and the three Twist kids were better actors, particularly Ben Thomas, who brought a touch of teenage oddness to Pete. On the whole, though, the episodes were just that much better, particularly Copy Cat, Little Squirt and Yuckles. Nails showed that Linda could do both love scenes and comedy - "Remember when we pissed on the cold ear?" - while Quivering Heaps brings big laughs when Pete's useless ghost invades Snapper's school play and strips Gribble, Rabbit and Tiger of their clothes in front of the entire school. There are some yucky moments with Bronson - licking the fly swatter, his smelly socks and his poking about through goat droppings - whilst Dad gets stuck into some dog food and James Gribble buries his face in a steaming pile of fresh horse pooh! Finally, there's a marvellous final episode that ties up the season's story arc, one about ghosts Jeremiah and Matthew making up for their falling asleep one hundred years earlier and letting a ship crash on the rocks.
With Paul Jennings leaving, the third and fourth seasons are good and are clearly Round The Twist but Jennings' inventiveness is gone whilst Esben Storm, who carries on in familiar territory, tries hard but isn't ultimately as successful. But it's also worth mentioning the cast, who aren't at all bad but Ebonnie Masini is no Tamsin West nor Joelene Crnogorac whilst Rian McLean has an awful mid-Atlantic accent - or, more likely, a mid-Pacific one - that was last heard on various commercial radio stations dotted about the UK, which is cheesy enough to bring with it a hint of Roquefort. And there is always the sense that these two seasons are Esben Storm doing a Paul Jennings without it ever coming naturally. That and some awful storylines, such as those with the Lint Monster, TV Or Not TV, Radio Da Da and The Big Burp. Then, though, it comes up with Skunkman and the Skunkman Rap and it all comes good. Gribble says that it's great to see the kids expressing themselves. That is quite true, not only in seeing Skunkman but knowing that with its filthy gags for the under-tens, Round The Twist finally gave the kids the chance to laugh out loud at the kind of thing that they'd been giggling at in silence for years. And never more so than at the many, many mentions of pants (without my pants)!
Whilst it would be wonderful to say that such a great series arrives on DVD with an equally great transfer, I'd be lying if I did so. Unfortunately, each series, and there's very little to distinguish them, looks noisy, gritty and with the appearance of having been squeezed onto the discs without very much regard for what they might look like. Where this might, in the hands of another distributor, left Round The Twist looking very soft, this release looks to have a lot of mosquito noise about the image as though it were mastered via an S-Video lead rather than anything that might enhance the picture. And as bad as it is during the daylight scenes, it's much, much worse at night with the picture being awash with spots and noise.
Sadly, as with so many of the release of great shows on television, this is very much a case of it being nice to have the show on DVD rather than it being a great example of what can be done for the format. The audio track, like the picture, merely does the job but it does sound much better than it looks, never using the rear channels but managing to keep the dialogue clear of the music and effects without doing anything to ruin it complete. Finally, there are no subtitles on any of the four seasons.
There's a set of extras spread across each two-disc set, which rightly implies that these were released individually prior to this boxset. Hence, each set has much in common with all of the other ones but for completeness, here are the entire list of bonus material broken down per season.
Season One: Beginning with an Episode Synopsis for all thirteen episodes, this first set carries on with Twist Shoots, which is a three-page text guide to the making of the series, and a Paul Jennings Biography that takes the writer from his birthplace in London to Australia, his training as a lecturer and the release of his books Unreal! As well as a playing of the Round The Twist Theme, there is a list of what was hot in 1990, the year in which this first series went out. That same year, you could have watched Mr Bean, played with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, danced to MC Hammer - you can't touch this! - and waited for Nelson Mandela's walk out of prison. Finally, there's an advertisement for other releases from Revelation, including Dogtanian, Around The World With Willy Fog and The Shoe People.
Season Two: As well as an Episode Synopsis for the thirteen episodes in this season, there's a photo gallery, or Bronson's Twists given how they all feature the youngest Twist, and another playing of the Round The Twist Theme Tune. Once again, there's a chance to wallow in nostalgia for 1993, such as knowing that Mr Blobby was the Christmas Number 1, that Beavis And Butthead first appeared this year and Jurassic Park hit the cinemas. Finally, there's the knowing what the cast of, oddly, the first season are up to now, being Sam Vanderberg, Tamsin West (in London now!), Rodney McLennan (now 21!) and Cameron Nugent.
Season Three: Still displaced by one season, we now find Where Are They Now for the cast of the second series, being Ben Thomas who's now working in New York, Joelene Crnogorac (still acting in Australia), Jeffrey Walker (now directing!) and Richard Young, who would later return to Round The Twist as a policeman in the fourth season. There is also a chance to Meet The Cast of the third and fourth season - Rian McLean, Ebonnie Masini and Matthew Waters - as well as the Episode Synopsis. With Pete's Twists giving us a photo gallery of Rian McLean, it's left to the Nostalgia Page to remind us what was big in 2000. Denmark won the Eurovision, Scary Movie tiptoed into cinemas, there was a global shortage of Tracey Islands at Christmas and those Budweiser frogs appeared on television. And to think I'd forgotten about them until now.
Season Four: We still have the Episode Synopsis and, continuing the series of photo galleries, Linda's Twists. The Nostalgia Page reminds us that in 1991 Emma Bunton once hit Number 1 outside of The Spice Girls, S Club 7's Don't Stop Moving was in the charts, Dennis Tito was in space and the XBox and the Playstation 2 were under the nation's television sets. Finally, there's a Promotional Brochure for the fourth season.
There is a way to sample Round The Twist at the moment with Five currently in the middle of broadcasting the fourth season on a Sunday morning. Unfortunately, that's not the best season to begin with but does give a flavour of what the show is like, being a lot of jokes about willies, bums and pants with added ghosts, monsters and the island of Atlantis. Whether you catch that showing on Five or not, Round The Twist remains one of the very best shows produced for children, being funny, sometimes filthy and, for a younger crowd, a little scary. Unfortunately, this DVD release, in spite of containing all four seasons over eight discs, looks terrible and sounds only a little better. The extras go only a short way to making up for it leaving the value of this box being the getting of all fifty-two episodes in a single set. Good, then, but not as great as it could have been.