Is that all there is?

Australian families on TV: Packed to the Rafters, Neighbours, Home and Away, Offspring.

Is that all there is?

If you landed here from outer space (or worse, from overseas) what would your impression of Australian families be based on what’s offered by Australian drama?

We are middle-class, anglo-saxon, and mostly suburban.

A hug from Julie Rafter will fix what ails you. Wise words from Dr. Karl Kennedy will set you right. Alf Stewart will get to the point without any fancy words. And Darcy Proudman will remind you never to repeat his mistakes.

These are the dramas that currently represent us on the box.

The ratings for Packed to the Rafters will reiterate the power of the TV family. While we are surrounded by procedural dramas, all of which are on a slide, it is seeing ourselves on the screen that offers ratings gold.

The death of Melissa Rafter (Zoe Ventoura) reminds us of the way we invest in characters we love, and in this case it was in an entire family.

Nobody can deny the success of Rafters, now nearing the end of its third season. Yet there is an audience that wants to see another side to Australian contemporary life. Offspring is currently their other choice. The Proudman family is adult, imperfect and living under separate roofs.

Neighbours and Home and Away comprise blended families, the end product of cast members coming and going over the years. They are what they are and good luck to them.

But as I look around the box at a snapshot of Australian life, I find myself wondering where are the ethnic families?

Where are the working classes?

Where are characters who are struggling with their weight? Where are all the seniors? Where is the gay sibling who is comfortable in their own skin? Where are the families who struggle to show affection? The families whose lives are lived in the cracks of subtext? What are we saying about regional Australia? Where is anybody who, heaven forbid, lives outside of Sydney and Melbourne?

Britain gives us the Gallagher clan in Shameless, New Zealand has the Wests of Outrageous Fortune and America has the Whites of Breaking Bad.

Cinema audiences loved The Castle, but the nearest the small screen has come was Kath & Kim.

In Australia the most recent contributions to family life have been the Kovacs in Showtime’s excellent drama Tangle, and the Darlings in the quirky Spirited from Foxtel. Both should be applauded.

I am encouraged that ABC’s new drama Rake is a character-driven piece. But family life at the ABC is largely the domain of the genial Bed of Roses (at least it has rural and seniors represented), which returns next month (East of Everything had a valiant shot at coastal life).

The last family drama series SBS had was Kick, which certainly attempted to capture a multicultural slice of life (it even had Zoe Ventoura). Carla Cametti PD had some family elements, but was a legal drama. At least The Circuit took us to the outback. Meanwhile police drama East West 101 rightfully remains its pride and joy while its next drama Dusty wll be a detective series set in Darwin.

I am also looking forward to Showcase’s period drama Cloudstreet in Perth, based on Tim Winton’s novel, while Denise Scott and Francis Greenslade head up the Gross family in Seven’s forthcoming Winners and Losers.

The Nine Network is sorely lacking a melodrama, or a quirky drama -something that revolves around a family who aren’t rescuing people off cliffs or dealing in drugs under the noses of cops.

Worth a mention too are some family representations in kid’s dramas such as My Place and Lockie Leonard.

Which leaves us with Packed to the Rafters, Neighbours, Home and Away and Offspring.

Kudos to TEN for trying something different with Offspring. Congratulations to Seven for tugging the heartstrings, and delivering the numbers week in, week out with Packed to the Rafters. Long may they prosper.

I just hope we remember there are other families, and other ways of telling stories, that deserve to be seen on screen too.

29 Comments:

  1. Great read David, I share your frustrations. Probably the most realistic family I can think of on tv in recent times would be the Love My Way family. Although I think with families on Aussie dramas or comedies, they only come from both ends of the spectrum – there’s no real middle ground (or realistic interpretation). You’ve either got families that are overly complex and not light hearted enough or just dosile one’s that are happy all the time. Also, the lack of permanent gay characters on our soaps and dramas speaks volumes about the conservative nature of this country and the industry’s lack of vision or preparidness to challenge sterotypes and change culture. I think we were more ahead with gay characters in the early 2000’s when All Saints featured Tony, the gay (albeit stereotypically) receptionist on Ward 17. In actual fact I think we’ve now gone backwards with our representation of gay and lesbian people on television. A reflection of the Today Tonight/ACA approach being taken by production companies that bring us our scriped Aussie drama.

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