The Family Law


SBS keeps the summer treats comin’….

The Family Law is warm, awkward and quintessentially Australian. Its key point of difference to similar coming of age nostalgia tales (The Wonder Years, Beautiful People) is that it it told from a Chinese-Australian perspective and is set on Queensland’s Sunshine coast.

Based on Benjamin Law’s book of the same name, this has had something of a modern update. No longer set in the 1990s, it has a present-day upgrade yet is deliberately surrounded in costumes, props and locations that feel like a decade ago.

14 year old Benjamin (Trystan Go) portrays the young Law (blink and you will miss the author’s appearance as an extra), who -like most teens- is embarrassed by his own family.

“For a long time I thought mum didn’t fit in because she was Chinese,” he says, “Then I realised she was just mum.”

Benjamin aspires to more than his middle-class status. After all he can play a mean clarinet, has a knack for manipulating adults and is a far more free spirited than the affluent neighbours across the road, the Thompsons.

But as a 14 year old middle-child, it’s kind of hard to rise above your station. Keeping him in his place is mum Jenny (Fiona Choi), dad Danny (Anthony Brandon Wong), big brother Andrew (George Zhao), big sister Candy (Shuang Hu) and sisters Tammy (Karina Lee) and Michelle (Vivian Wei).

Chinese-born Jenny rules the Law house with her exuberant personality, forever speaking her mind however inappropriately. But she is notoriously short-tempered and struggles to keep up with wealthy ex-Chinese socialites. Jenny is also frequently locking horns with husband Danny who is so busy running the Happy Dragon restaurant that he neglects his role at home.

In the first episode Benji has his sights set on a school talent quest with friend Melissa (Bethany Whitmore), who dons a pair of old-fashioned leg braces and suffers from a pigeon phobia. But there is some serious competition from the Thompsons and dad Danny isn’t sure he can leave work to attend the big night.

The rift between mother and father reaches a crisis when Jenny throws Danny out of the house -a turning point that will underpin the first season. Dealing with separation becomes a learning curve for our young optimist.

Wedging a hefty slice of East meets West humour into a hot Aussie summer, The Family Law breezes along. At one point Benji teaches his mother the meaning of the word ‘Deadbeat’ whilst he is sewing a costume, and the mother-son relationship forms the heart of this series. Trystan Go is outstanding as the goofy but loveable young Law, while Fiona Choi brings dark humour to her role. The script by Benjamin Law and Marieke Hardy directed by Jonathan Brough, is joyfully awkward from start to finish (I was pleased it was spartan in narration). Designer Roslyn Durnford has done a splendid job of cluttered kitsch without rooting this into a specific time period.

There are hints of Benji’s emerging sexuality -he spies on hunky neighbour Klaus (Takaya Honda) without really understanding why and he brushes off female interest. More of this is expected to develop as the series progresses.

I had a bit of difficulty reading a few English subtexts against white backgrounds but the two episodes I viewed were an impressive debut for a writer as young as Law.

The Sunshine Coast may be perfect one day, embarrassing the next. After all how can you not love a series with a local talent agent named Beryl Streep?

The Family Law premieres 8:30pm Thursday January 14 on SBS (Facebook premiere 5pm Friday Jan 8)


  1. I would say this show is closer in style and temperament to Moone Boy rather than The Wonder Years. Jenny is clearly the star of the show (I think she has quite a cult following already). More amiable than laugh-out-loud funny, but very enjoyable nonetheless.

  2. I have to completely disagree with JimboJones, the pilot was amazing. The entire cast was on point (particularly Tristan Go and Fiona Choi, as your review stated David…in which I think was a brilliant review btw), at times I thought it was side splittingly funny but was underpinned by heart, not too soppy either. In my opinion, it was one of the greatest Australian pilots that I’ve ever seen, and no I don’t think I’m overstating it by making that big of a call… I absolutely loved it!

  3. Maev....Sydney

    I just watched this again….even better the 2nd time around….
    1,066,337 views on FB…..not bad….not bad at all….
    I went through a range of emotions…

  4. I just watched this on Facebook. It’s pretty ordinary, isn’t it?

    The sole attempt at humour was people falling over at the recital. There was no actual comic dialogue or action, which makes me wonder why this is being marketed as a comedy.

    In terms of plot, it makes Please Like Me look like an action-packed roller-coaster fun-ride. It takes a whole lot of time for nothing to happen. Really, the whole episode was just a set-up for the mother throwing the father out, which was done in classic soap-opera fashion, with lots of shouting.

    The year is off to a bad start comedy-wise. Here’s hoping the ABC’s six sitcom pilots deliver the goods.

      • Everything gets good love on social media – you can’t use it as a yardstick for success.

        The last Oz sitcom I laughed at was Utopia, but even that descended into formula. We haven’t done any “out there” comedies for a long time. Has there been any Oz comedy as inventive and funny as The Last Man On Earth, Party Down, Brooklyn Nine Nine, Peep Show (to name a few recent offering from overseas that pushed the comic envelope)? You have to go back to Summer Heights High to get that originality (I also recall it was the last Oz sitcom to rate over a million viewers).

        The problem with most Oz sitcoms is that they are just dressed-up soap operas. There was nothing in The Family Law that resembled a comic situation. Nor were there any characters that could be considered comic. The tone was not comic either. Where were the setups and payoffs? Where was the jeopardy? Where was the farce?…

  5. Yes, but is it funny? I’m a little worried that you used the word ‘awkward’ twice. The last ‘awkward’ comedy on TV (not mentioning any names) didn’t go down too well.

    Remember that it’s being marketed as a comedy (ie. something that’s supposed to make you laugh). And if a comedy ain’t funny then people won’t watch it.

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