Almost everywhere we see Australian drama lately it comes with a uniform: police, nurses, emergency workers. They dominate issue-based dramas. The presence of the Australian family is diminishing, save for the earnest, sometimes knockabout, affairs of the family Rafter. Even on Neighbours and Home and Away the nuclear family is disintegrating. Any hope of seeing ourselves, let alone actual domesticity moves further and further from our grasp. Despite this, lobby groups that wave the family flag aim their arguments at issues of classification rather than representation.
In Tangle, the latest drama about to unfold on the Showcase Channel, suburbia is placed front and centre. Parents and children are clearly divided into small armies all striving for individuality and the meaning of life, each with a cause as valid as the other.
This is an ensemble drama that hones in on contemporary Australia for its strengths and weaknesses.
After 15 years Ally (Justine Clarke) is trying to keep up with motherhood and her two teenage children Gigi (Eva Lazzaro) and Romeo (Lincoln Younes). Husband Vince (Ben Mendelsohn) is a successful but short-tempered builder / developer. When Ally’s reckless sister Nat (Kat Stewart) returns home from the UK to reunite with her estranged son Max (Blake Davis), she splinters a fragile universe. Max is the son of state politician Tim (Joel Tobeck) who had an affair with Nat fifteen years ago. But it is Max’s stepmother Christine (Catherine McClements) who resents Nat’s return most, fearing the son she has raised will turn from her affections.
The personal agendas do not end there.
Add to the mix infidelities, petty jealousies, racism and failure, and you have a labyrinth of possible plot points from which to unravel this emotive soul. Fittingly, one of the publicity stills for the 10 part series sees the characters separated by the walls of a hedge maze.
Despite the plot possibilities, Tangle is driven by character, and more particularly by flawed characters. These are suburban parents trying to find meaning from everyday life. There are birthday parties to organise, grandparents to appease, teenagers to keep underfoot, employees to fire, relatives to collect from the airport, church to attend, books to read and private time to be cherished. It is a fight just to keep life on track.
Their teenagers are emerging from childhood into adolescence, sharing romance, rebelling from rules, building self esteem and living life on the edge.
There are no comic characters here, no veering into yobbo-land. The tone is intelligent, the performances believable.
When the teenagers find a dead body in the nearby parkland, they share a secret that brings them together. Meanwhile Nat drives a wedge through a family party that embarrasses Christine and infuriates peacemaker, Ally.
Later, Vince’s best friend Gabrielle (Matt Day) returns home from working as a volunteer doctor in Moscow, unable to hide his emotions for Ally. The series also includes a supporting role by the late Frank Gallacher, very possibly his last screen role.
Under director Jessica Hobbs, Tangle is a considered piece. It is unafraid in taking its time to set up its house of cards, before slowly removing each support. Scenes thrive on conversation and subtext, complemented by introspective music and a filmic visual language. In the hands of admired actors, several of which first appeared on Australian television as teens themselves, this is a quiet eruption.
If there are any weak points, it is the likelihood that the discovery of a dead body, could remain a secret for so long. This impacts on the credibility and the sympathy for the young friends.
Otherwise this is a first-rate showpiece, produced by John Edwards (Love My Way, Rush, The Secret Life of Us, Dangerous) and Imogen Banks (Dangerous), who co-created with writer Fiona Seres. Also co-writing is Tony McNamara with Matt Saville and Stuart McDonald directing later episodes.
Many are branding this as pay television’s successor to Love My Way, and it is hard not to feel its DNA running through its veins.
Tangle puts Free to Air Television to shame. Australian drama desperately needs more voices that emanate from truth.
Tangle airs 8:30pm Thursday on Showcase.