OK, so this sounds like a pretty simple premise, right? Find some abandoned buildings, send up a drone, film some rubble, go for a skate and repeat. Sure, maybe I’m marginalising it, but let me be clear, the simple premise of Abandoned has delivered the best documentary I’ve seen in years.
Here's why I can't get enough of it...
It's about people
From Spacemen 3’s opening chord to Billy Bragg’s closing chorus, Abandoned is more than the sum of its parts. You see, it’s the people, not the places that ultimately bring this series to life. Much of this comes down to the effortless style of presenter Rick McCrank, a Canadian pro-skater.
I don’t know much about this guy, but nothing feels contrived with him at the helm. If the idea was for McCrank to just go to these places to shoot an elaborate skate video, then the script was thrown out somewhere along the way. The skating is great, but McCrank instead spends most of his time uncovering a sense of community among the shared experiences of people living on the fringes. He offers no judgement as he navigates a seemingly endless list of desolate locations.
Notions of nostalgia don't go unchallenged
Look, it’s easy to buy into nostalgia. I know I found myself thinking about my own misspent youth, whether it be hanging out in stormwater drains as a teen or watching my housemate scavenge, build and deconstruct skate ramps in countless backyards throughout my twenties.
But early in the first episode, we are vicariously reminded that nostalgia isn’t always a shared emotion. And, after watching 10 hours, this is the scene that stuck with me the most. It comes when McCrank is talking to two guys about an abandoned shopping centre. They talk with all the emotion of jilted lovers as they reminisce about hanging out at the mall, the classic suburban stereotype. But again, no judgement.
However, McCrank does share, at least to camera, a brief glimpse into his own childhood. He talks of his disdain for malls and the consumerism they represent. As a poor kid, malls were a symbol of what he couldn’t afford, rather than what he could achieve, a kid gravitating to car parks, not food courts. This juxtaposition is important. It sums up the show, for me at least.
The abandoned buildings have something to say
These buildings talk more to the disposability of modern society than anything else. They are the antithesis of grand designs and mega structures. And it is here where the journey comes full circle. Abandoned doesn’t wallow in the despair of ruin porn. Sure, there are some sophisticated ruin porn images if that floats your boat, but I guarantee you that by the final episode you’ll find more to like in the people who stayed than the debris left behind by those who didn’t.
Watch all of 'Abandoned' season 1 at SBS On Demand. Watch the first episode here: