Sydney, Australia. Famous for everything it’s famous for. But the real story happens down the road… Welcome to The Shire.

Vernesa & Sophie – God’s gift to reality television producers

Given the controversy surrounding the production of The Shire the premiere was always going to be highly anticipated, though even Channel 10 could not have expected the intensity of interest the show experienced last night. From the opening bars of Paul Kelly’s “Dumb Things” (a more apt selection for the opening titles could not have been found) The Shire delivered everything it promised to be and more. So very much more.

Set across the 2011/2012 summer in Cronulla, a picture perfect Australian beach day is presented as our ‘hero’ Mitch receives a call from his mate Simon (pronounced ‘S-eye-mo’) encouraging him to get down to the beach for a surf and a perve. How could The Shire’s everyman knock back an offer like that? Mitch is straight down to the beach and straight in for a surf with his mate.

Along the way we divert to meet Gabby, Mitch’s ex-girlfriend who thought it was a great idea to break up with him but now she really regrets it and wants to make him hers again (the heart wants what the heart wants). By far she was the nicest of the characters we met tonight – a natural beauty who very clearly loved and respected her Mum. The sad thing is it’s obvious she’s headed for heartbreak.

We also meet Sophie & Vernesa (‘Vanessa’) – the most orange girls in the world – who are very clearly the comic relief of the series – referring to them as vacuous is an insult to all those who’ve previously been branded with the title. They’ve fake boobs and are botoxed to the eyeballs (“The Doctor told me I shouldn’t get any more botox in my top lip – it’s almost touching my nose as it is”) and are unapologetic about their views on “self-improvement”. If they weren’t serious they’d be the best comedic characters of all time. OF. ALL. TIME The line of the week was Vernesa’s, responding to Sophie who’d said the botox needle in her forehead was just going to be a little prick: “I wish that was the first time I was getting a little prick.”

There’s Rif Raf, still living at home with his Mum in their palatial canal-font mansion though pretending to visitors at his party that the house is the spoils of his burgeoning hip-hop career. Most outrageously there’s Beckaa (‘Becka’), fresh back from rhinoplasty and a shopping trip to Dubai. She lives on Daddy’s dime while spending most of her time (and daddy’s money) on whatever she wants – which seems to mostly be shopping and entertaining her repellant, leech-like gay BFFs Stace & Kris.

Opinion from barraged social media networks like Twitter and Facebook was split into two clear camps: a) those that hated the show and all it stood for, declaring it the downfall of television/society/decency; & b) those that were amazed at the characters that played out in front of them, many offering they spent most of the episode laughing at the show and its folly. There were many variations on the theme questioning the location of Hobbits or Gandalf the Wizard – some more humourous than others.

You may not like the cast/characters in The Shire, but there is no question they present a compelling reason to watch. Will Gabby get her man back? Will Rif Raf continue to grow his career as a rapper who looks more like a preppy school boy? What will Sophie & Vernesa do and say next? How much more spoiled can Beckaa be? It’s far from high drama (which it never pitched itself to be) yet the tension surrounding each of the characters is enough to ensure the audience returns to settle into the escapism the show offers. As a unique side-benefit it also allows the viewer to feel better about themselves for not being as spoilt/dumb/privileged as those they’re watching on screen.

While most sane viewers would never open their lives to the kind of scrutiny that comes with being on a dramality (drama/reality) television series, those that have should be at the very least encouraged, if not applauded. Most people wouldn’t have enough happen in their lives over a summer to fill the first ad break of the first episode, yet these people are willing to have their relationships and lives laid bare for all to see and have the remains poked through with a big stick. For the sake of your entertainment.

As a first episode, The Shire ticked all the boxes. It established the characters well (in that we all know what to expect from them in future episodes), set out the premise of the show quickly and offered tidbits of insight into the relationships between the key players. The show was easy for the audience to invest in and will build a strong audience keen to see more in coming episodes. The Shire certainly wasn’t mentally taxing viewing…

And I’m hooked. So very, very hooked. Judge me if you must.

The Shire – Mon 8pm, Ch10.