It’s been a long time between soaps for Nine.
The last time it had a long-running melodrama based around a family was McLeod’s Daughters. Decades earlier The Sullivans was a superb soap. Others such as Chances have been less successful (it began with one premise then ended as something extraordinarily different). Paradise Beach and Pacific Drive were also short-run soaps.
While Nine has been dominated by procedural and event dramas, Seven and TEN have forged success with Packed to the Rafters and Offspring respectively. Both also have soaps revolving around families that have endured for decades and screened around the world.
This week the network unveils a shift back to the genre, of sorts, in Tricky Business.
At the centre of this 13 part series is the Christie family in Wollongong, running a debt collection agency. It’s great to see a change from the usual backdrops of Sydney and Melbourne on screen (ominously it didn’t serve Seven’s Headland very well). The locale allows for plenty of surfside shots, with a bright and breezy feel and characters sporting plenty of primary colours.
But a debt collection business hardly seems like a logical backdrop for sympathetic characters.
Kate (Gigi Edgley) is the focus of the first episode, a spirited young woman confident in her job, alongside partner Rick (Kip Gamblin). In the first scene they are tailing the driver of a car that must be repossessed. These two believe that people in debt are usually “Good people who make bad decisions,” and where they can they are here to help. I doubt that philosophy meets with much welcome.
Entering the fray in the first episode is rival operative Matt (Antony Starr). It isn’t long before a romantic triangle begins to form with Kate at the centre.
On the fringes of the first episode are parents Jim (Shane Bourne) and Claire (Debra Byrne). Casting Byrne is the boldest move in the cast -while she has been concentrating on theatre, it has been years since she has had an ongoing primetime role. Bourne and Byrne make for a promising pair. Two seasoned actors who look like they will be bouncing off one another in episodes to come. They don’t do much yet.
Chad (Lincoln Lewis) also assists in the business with Lily (Sophie Hensser).
There are backstories for Gamblin’s character, and trust issues for Edgley’s. One peripheral character tells us “Tricky business, debt…. we all owe someone something. But how we acknowledge that and how we pay for that, that shows character.”
The biggest surprise for Tricky Business is that it isn’t purely a melodrama. There is a procedural case to solve, while the family deal with their own set of dramas. It’s an each way bet and I’m yet to be convinced it is a natural fit. But first episodes are a tricky business themselves, perhaps once the set-up is out of the way it will have a clearer vision.
The script by Screentime’s Greg Haddrick is occasionally pedestrian (including the odd clunky line, “You’re about as square as a butterbox”) and lacks an inciting incident to grab our attention. It sorely needs some humour which both Rafters and Offspring juggle with success. Perhaps if this had aimed at being an offbeat drama, such as Starr’s former series Outrageous Fortune, it may have fallen into place with ease, but it leverages sentimentality and earnestness.
But I am pleased Nine is detouring down this path. It’s not all about Underbelly adventures and telemovies. Nine is also cleverly launching it off the back of The Voice, although it does feel more like an 8:30 rather than 9:30 show.
Tricky Business has a tough time setting up its ensemble characters and establishing backstories. While I would have preferred it to be a straight-up-and-down melodrama, I suspect things will improve in coming episodes.
Lastly, does anybody else see the irony in Nine producing a series about debt collection at a time when it is itself up to the eyeballs in $2.7b in monies owed? Maybe it’s just a good network that has made some bad decisions?
Tricky Business premieres 9:30pm Monday on Nine.