The idea of casting Jessica Mauboy (The Sapphires, Bran Nu Dae, Australian Idol) in a rural drama called The Secret Daughter sounded to me like a good idea: a perfect chance to explore our stolen generation in a broadly-appealing TV series.
But I soon realised I had to put that ideal aside. Screentime’s new 6 part drama is closer to a family secret than it is to stolen generation.
The opening act of this drama introduces a lot of players, but the central character is Billie (Jessica Mauboy) a country pub singer with a reckless father Gus (David Field) who owes money to a trio of local hoods, led by Bruno Rossi (Salvatore Coco).
In the big smoke of Sydney wealthy ageing hotelier Jack (Colin Friels) leaves a video message explaining that he has to find his missing Indigenous daughter. He flies off, piloting in his personal helicopter, leaving his family, including wife Susan (Rachel Gordon), sons Jamie (Matt Levett) and Chris (Jared Turner) and granddaughter Harriet (Jordan Hare), largely oblivious to his absence.
But Billie and Jack will have a chance meeting in which he shares his quest, while the local mobsters are closing in on her own father. Meanwhile Jamie sets off to find his Dad, under pressure from his brother to avoid a new-found family member diminishing their inheritance.
This is an uneven work with a very busy set-up too eager to create momentum. David Field’s Gus is reduced to comedic chase scenes (with Billie ludicrously turning into a getaway driver), when he is capable of better material. The thugs led by Salvatore Coco are cartoon-like in an overt sub-plot which exists seemingly to propel Mauboy’s character towards the Norton family and Sydney.
As she has proven in other screen dramas, Mauboy is very likeable. I don’t need to hear her singing in order to appreciate her appeal. The music performances feel like an add-on to the narrative rather than being at the heart of the story in the same way they were for INXS: Never Tear Us Apart or even Molly. But at least its best attribute is front and centre.
Elsewhere Matt Levett shows likeable promise while Colin Friels, who manages to bring some gravitas, is featured all too briefly. Former Neighbours star J.R. Reyne makes a return in a supporting role but Bonnie Sveen brings little I haven’t seen her do before, at least in the opening episode.
Some of the dialogue by writer Justin Monjo is clunky, and I wasn’t buying all of the logic, especially that surrounding the central meeting between Billie and Jack. And where are the other Indigenous characters for this mob? Instead it’s a town of white fellas and Mediterranean mobsters.
The Secret Daughter is a bit of a missed opportunity which might have opened more confidently with a stronger foothold in either melodrama or comedy. Instead it launches with an each way bet, with music thrown in as insurance.
With an abundance of drama right now that’s a hefty risk.
The Secret Daughter premieres 9pm Monday on Seven.