Set in post-WWII Australia, in a dusty former military station called Beringa, Bordertown focuses on the intertwined lives and hopes of a very diverse group of people who have left their old lives, and often their families, behind in order to start again in a new world. The characters range from optimists to pessimists, from hard workers to scoundrels, but all are united by a common desire to make new lives for themselves.
I found the premise to be interesting, but the material never rises as high as it could have. A certain lack of context made the first few episodes difficult: there's little indication of exactly when the story takes place or what the details of the situation are; those who are more familiar with Australian history will obviously not have as much difficulty, but I did wish for a little more background information on the series' setting.
Bordertown is halfway between being an episodic television show and a true miniseries: the ten fifty-minute episodes are mostly self-contained, with no larger story arc, but there is a sense of continuity from one episode to the next. A central core of main characters appears throughout the series, most notably Guiseppe, or "Joe" as the English speakers call him (Joe Petruzzi), his crazy brother Nino (Mitchell Butel), young Louise (Christine Tremarco), her father, the resident English teacher (Hugh Weaving), and Bev, the assistant administrator of the camp (Linda Cropper). Other characters have supporting roles, appearing off and on in all the episodes or sometimes only in a few.
Speaking of notable actors in the cast, the DVD edition of Bordertown ventures well into the territory of "misleading advertising" with its promotion of Cate Blanchett as a major actor in the program. Both her name and her picture appear prominently on the DVD cases; in fact hers is the only face on the front cover, and Hugh Weaving is the only name to share billing with her. What's misleading about all of this is that Blanchett has a fairly minor role in the series: out of ten episodes, Blanchett appears in only three, as a guest star (she plays an albino Italian, oddly enough). That's hardly enough to merit splashing her name and face on the package, but clearly BFS is trading on her fame as an actor to call attention to this set. Therefore, fans of Cate Blanchett should be aware that she is not actually a major figure in Bordertown, despite appearances to the contrary.
In terms of the actual stories of Bordertown, they're competently handled, with each episode focusing on one or two of the characters or a new situation in the camp. A few interesting directorial touches, such as including flashbacks to "the old country" in sepia tones, add a distinctive flavor to the overall production. The main issue that prevented me from fully engaging with the story was that the characters' motivations and interactions are often quite obscure. Just when I'd think that I understood why someone was acting the way he or she was acting, there would come along a scene that was obviously supposed to be significant, but that made absolutely no sense to me. The teenaged daughter of the camp's English teacher provides an occasional narrative voice-over, commenting on the events and people in the show, but her comments are generally couched in overly flowery language and muddy the waters more than clarifying them.
Bordertown is presented in its original television 1.33:1 aspect ratio. All in all, it looks respectable for a DVD transfer of a television show. The main image quality issue is noise, of which there's a fair amount. Apart from that, the overall image looks good: colors are natural-looking and contrast is handled well.
The Dolby 2.0 soundtrack of Bordertown doesn't quite live up to the demands of the material. Nearly every character has a very strong accent, from Italian to Scottish, and the track was not quite clear enough to do justice to their dialogue, leaving me with unclear words fairly frequently. Along the same lines is a slight issue with the music balance at times, in which background music is played at a volume just a bit too high in proportion to the dialogue. Since there are no other problems with the sound quality, Bordertown ranks about average in that department.
Bordertown is presented in an attractive three-disc boxed set. Disc 1 of the set has cast biographies and filmographies along with three episodes; disc 2 likewise has three episodes, with disc 3 containing the final four.
Bordertown's merits lie in its original setting and generally solid acting. I found it mildly interesting to watch, but not compelling enough to want to watch it again, so I'd recommend that viewers rent it before buying.