The Time of our Lives

ABC finally opens the door to a series about a modern Australian family, and its best urban drama since The Slap.

7toolSeven has the Rafters, TEN has the Proudmans and Nine has the Crabbs and their pals.

So why on earth has it taken the ABC so long to have their own ‘network family?’

The Time of Our Lives introduces us to the Tivolis, a contemporary, inner-Melbourne clan of 30 and 40 somethings and their senior parents.

There are two brothers Matt (William McInnes) and Luce (Shane Jacobsen) who are married to Caroline (Claudia Karvan) and Bernadette (Justine Clarke).

The parents / grandparents Ray (Tony Barry) and Rosa (Sue Jones) adopted Chai Li many years ago, a Vietnamese-born girl now played by Michelle Vergara Moore. Stephen Curry also plays Herb, a friend of the family.

Writer / Producers Judi McCrossin (The Secret Life of Us, Tangle, The Surgeon, Beaconsfield) and Amanda Higgs (The Secret Life of Us, East of Everything, Bed of Roses) propel us into the story with an inciting incident being the wedding of Chai Li, who is jilted at the altar by her partner (Michael Dorman).

Cleverly, this device brings the family together so we can see how they interact, and the various reactions to this devastating news tell us more about their personalities and inner hierarchy.

Stephen Curry’s character, meanwhile, is opening a new stand-up comedy venue which should serve as a necessary public meeting place for the clan. He appears to have designs on Chai Li, readily comforting her in her despair.

But The Time of Our Lives appears to be about the minutiae of suburban life, with much of its story falling in between the cracks.

Luce and Bernadette are battling the bills and dealing with an ex-wife, Caroline’s character is and unable to cope with anything other than raising the perfect child (the relentlessly named ‘Carmody’), Matt is a man suffering within his marriage.

Much of this story is tackling the changing shape of Australian families, how we co-parent with ex-partners, what do we do when we’re in an unhappy relationship?

In the opening episodes the female characters make their mark, with Justine Clarke glowing as a mother juggling work, family and her partner’s ex-wife (if you didn’t see her work in Tangle prepare to fall in love all over again). Claudia Karvan is impenetrable in her strive for perfection. It’s taken too long to give Sue Jones an on-going role in a broadly-appealing drama. But William McInnes will also remind us why is he one of the country’s most consummate actors.

McCrossin has a knack for dealing with the fragility of life, and playing with a tapestry of flawed characters bodes well as a plot engine. After the establishing episode is done and dusted, prepare for real stories, real dialogue, real people. Unlike the free-to-air families, there is no necessity to keep clamouring back to light humour just to stop you from switching channels.

If, like me, you’ve been waiting for ABC to come up with a successor to The Slap then this is about as close as it gets right now.

The Time of our Lives premieres 8:30pm Sunday on ABC1.

26 Responses

  1. The constant negative comparison of Australian drama to US series is tiresome. Breaking Bad apparently plot an episode over many, many weeks. That luxury is not afforded here where writers typically get two days of plotting, if that. When we can sustain and invest in longer development processes, then perhaps comparisons can be fairly made. Until then, it’s no contest.

  2. Oh good grief!!!…People….get over yourselves…
    It is just TV…. I have just watched this show on Iview…and loved every minute of it…and everything about….great TV….no not an intellectual epic….just an enjoyable watch…looking forward to more,,,

  3. The definition I use to define what is and isn’t melodrama is “undermotivated action”. You can sell any action if you understand why the character is doing it. Fingers crossed this series is as good as Love my Way and Tangle which has gone before and set the bar so high.

  4. Looking forward to watching this as I really enjoyed watching Justine Clarke in Tangle on Foxtel. Miss that show but hopefully this will be good too.

  5. McCrossin is reported in The Guide as saying that they had to fight the ABC over Caroline. The ABC didn’t like a controlling stay at home mum as a character.

  6. @victor – don’t get me started on musical montages! Whenever you see them it means the writer has run out of ideas (Bikie Wars anyone?).

  7. @JimboJones, I wholeheartedly agree, particularly with your take on Breaking Bad and why it’s great. Australian drama lacks invention and it’s an effort to watch.

  8. The ABC’s role is to provide programming which is otherwise unavailable on commercial networks, to create work which is innovative and original and to not be driven by ratings. This show doesn’t look like it fulfils the bill, another inner city white bread melodrama with a predictable cast, though there does appear to be at least one token gesture to ethnic cast. The best American, British and European dramas are driven by a very strong story engine and an aversion to clichéd characterisation. This one looks like yet another piece of languid, meandering and dull Aussie drama. Love to be wrong but contemporary Australian drama seems to be stuck in a kind of dull naturalism and the ABC seems to be part of the problem. Or the writing is just dull, lazy or trivial masked behind a wall of music, montage and fast cutting as was the case with the recent Paper Giants -Magazine Wars.

  9. @Belinda – OK, there is one co-incidence, where Walter meets Jane’s father in a bar, but that does not affect the plot. Apart from that, there are no co-incidences. Everything that happens is the direct result of Walter and Jesse’s actions, even though it may appear a co-incidence. That causality and interconnectedness is what makes a great show. It’s hard to write TV at that level (by the way, I consider Breaking Bad to be the best written TV show of all time – the scripts are worth studying). Where you just throw in a bunch of random hokey stuff the audience can see that for what it is – soap opera.

    I know I keep banging on about this, but it’s one of the contributing factors to why Australian TV is so crappy. And our movies tend to suffer from this problem as well.

  10. @bigev, one of the songs is Ho Hey by The Lumineers. But there is another ad using a different song that I don’t know.

    @JimboJones, I love Breaking Bad, but season two’s conclusion was all about coincidences

  11. Sorry to butt in. Can anyone tell me the music they are using in the promo for this show? I can’t find it using google no matter what u search!

  12. Pertinax/David

    Breaking Bad is not a soap opera or melodrama. Notice how every single thing that happens to Walter White is the direct or indirect result of his actions? There are no co-incidences or random acts of god. He is an active character who drives the plot (drama) as opposed to a passive character who is driven by the plot (melodrama). His cancer is incidental; it is merely a catalyst for his embarkation on a life of crime. It could have been any number of other things of a financial nature that lead him to become a drug manufacturer. The writer happened to choose lung cancer. It is never dwelt on in a sentimental sense.

    There is a lot of dramatic structure to Breaking Bad. Every episode is dramatic in the sense that Walter White and Jesse Pinkman create situations for themselves which then usually turn bad, thereby leading to even more drama as they try to extricate themselves. This sort of thing is what gives dramas their energy. In a soap opera a bunch of random hokey things would happen, and the characters would react or not react to them,usually with a lot of histrionics and sentimentality.

    Yes, the Yanks invented soap opera, but they learnt to keep soap opera as a separate entity, distinct from drama.

    1. I don’t view melodrama as just daytime serials such as Bold & Beautiful, but I throw Desperate Housewives, Lost and Mad Men into the same genre albeit with vastly different tones. Then there are procedurals: NCIS, House, SVU, CSI. Just about everything else is a variation thereof: drama (melodrama) and issue-based drama (procedural). Some dabble with both (Grey’s Anatomy but as a medical we would put it into procedural). In this sense Australia and the UK are exactly the same as the US, but we do focus on different sensibilities using different budgets. And yes I’m aware Housewives was entered into Comedy at the Emmys.

  13. Melodrama is just a style of drama that relies heavily on sensation to invoke strong emotional responses in the audience in order to engage them in what is happening.

    Breaking Bad is one long arc over 5 seasons for Walt’s character. The individual episode have virtually no dramatic structure, and even the seasons little. It makes a lot of use of melodrama with life threatening illnesses, miraculous cures, lies, betrayals, brutal murders, ruthless actions and narrow escapes. It adds up to an interesting character portrayal and Bryan Cranston gives an excellent performance though. Melodrama,done well, has its uses.

    A procedural is an episodic drama that relies on the standard legal procedures to provide dramatic structure. A crime, investigation, interviews with suspects and finally the discovery of the truth ,usually with a confession, in the case of a detective show. Or a case, the exposing of truths and lies at trial and a verdict for a legal drama. They are easy to write.

    Sometime the standard medical problem, diagnosis and cure is called a procedural. They are medical detective shows, an idea taken to the logical extreme with House.

    There have been many other types of episodic shows: action shows, Westerns, war stories, commercial law, medical dramas and things like the Star Treks. Star Treks have their standard rescuing a colony, transporting someone somewhere or diplomatic stories, but also encounters with deity like beings, detective stories, medical stories, holodeck stories, war, and dream sequence based episodes etc. they varies from episodic with NG to serial with DS9 which was set mostly in one location in the aftermath of Bajoran/Cardassian conflict and then conflict with the Dominion.

  14. TV drama can be dramatic in the classical sense — having a plot that drives the story towards a conclusion and which conveys some meaning. Many TV dramas are versions of classic dramas.

    Even serialisation doesn’t mean that something can’t be dramatic in structure, Dicken’s novels were originally published as serials.

    A US commercial dramas are usually designed for 24 episodes a season for 5 to 10 seasons so they are written to be basically continuous.

    They tend to be based either around the interaction of the main characters. Here there is limited range for things to believably change or happen. So they tend to have slow moving plots, often repetitive, and are like the old soap operas (radio and later TV dramas designed to run for ever and sponsored by soap manufacturers).

    Or they are episodic where each episode has a separate plot with an ending.

    Most shows have some combination. Parenthood is based mostly around character interactions. Law and Order around episode plots with limited change in the characters. Something like ER, though has ongoing stories about the hospital staff that ran in arcs of several episodes to several seasons, with a couple of episodic medical stories about patients each week.

  15. @David – even when we attempt to do “proper” adult drama, we always seem to end up with soap opera. Redfern Now being a case in point. I define soap opera as emotionally manipulative (lots of people yelling at each other), dramatically inert (lots of passive, reactive characters) melodrama (people getting cancer, going to jail, being mentally ill, being abused, etc) which rarely rises above mundane domestic situations.

    The American stuff isn’t better because it has bigger budgets – it’s better because it consciously avoids the tropes of soap opera. This is a skill our screenwriters don’t seem to have developed.

    1. Huh? America invented ‘soap opera!’ They don’t avoid it, they lead the way. And then they go and remake others like Shameless anyway. What the hell is Parenthood? Rafters American style. And isn’t your description of melodrama practically Breaking Bad plot?

  16. Jimbo: I was always taught adult drama is either melodrama or procedural in varying degrees and in my experience that’s pretty much held true. Procedural basically breaks down into 3 sub-genres being law, police or medicine. America also adheres to these but with bigger budgets that allow richer backdrops. X Files may be sci-fi, but it’s sci-fi police. Dexter is Police. True Blood is (vampire) soap. Game of Thrones is period soap because it is about warring families.

    I do think people overlook a lot of our earlier content when period dramas were all the rage. Look at the Kennedy Miller dramas like This Dismissal. Look at Blue Murder, Brides of Christ, Water Under the Bridge. More recently Wildside, Love My Way, Redfern Now. Australia has also done high concept, just not particularly well. Networks want weekly dramas with ongoing plots if they are spending the money to establish them and these are generated through melodrama or procedural cases.

    And America is now taking Rake from us.

  17. Why, oh why on Sunday!? I watch H H on 9, record A Place.. on 7 and now will have to watch ABC on catch up, I guess. Thursday and Friday on the other hand, ‘there’s nothing on worth watching’.

  18. I’m willing to give this a go. It certainly has some acting cred. I’m hoping it’ll be something like Secret Life of Us ten years on.

  19. I think the ABC may have missed the bus with this one. Do we really need another family drama? Besides, the Blighs seem to have Sunday sewn up at the moment easily accounting for the Crabbs & the Boling/Kings.

  20. Is it my imagination, or is all Australian TV either a soap opera or a soap opera dressed as drama (eg. The Slap)? Will we ever produce a decent genre TV series in this country?

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