Is it just me? I keep sensing a decided familiarity in the promos for TEN’s new drama series, Sisters. More 30-something Melbourne women, with complicated families, struggling to keep it all together….
This time it’s a brunette, with Julia Bechly (Maria Angelico) as a lecturer and carer for her dying father Julius (Barry Otto), a former IVF pioneer who drops a bombshell before shuffling off this mortal coil. Having sent a letter to a newspaper editor, Julius confesses to having used his own sperm with his fertility clients, secretly fathering a family tree that beggars belief.
As the news hits the media, others whose history traces back to IVF, realise the repercussions. They include unbalanced children’s TV performer Roxy (Lucy Durack) who is sent to drug rehabilitation by her parents (Magda Szubanski, Roy Billing). The other is combative lawyer Edie (Antonia Prebble), going through the throes of marriage counselling with partner Tim (Daniel Spielman).
Meanwhile Bechly Institute’s current boss, former protégé Dr. Isaac Hulme (Charlie Garber), is in damage control as he struggles with the impact of Julius’ confession.
But at the centre of it all is Julia, reeling from a sudden identity crisis, family secrets, a dying father, and the revelation she has a small army of half-siblings. So she invites all of them to a gathering at which she learns there are over 100 half-brothers but just 2 half-sisters, Roxy and Edie (with whom, it turns out, there is already awkward personal history).
Over the course of a double-episode the girls find themselves thrust together, while Julius’ health wavers and Isaac attempts to fend off the fallout and a malpractice suit.
Maria Angelico is one of several new primetime faces in this melodrama, and there are hints of earthiness, especially in her wardrobe and home interior, yet the script and direction aim to keep the ball in the air, tonally. Things get even lighter with the irritable Roxy, despite a brief (and implausible) rehab story, albeit balanced by the serious domestic dramas consuming Edie.
It’s wonderful to see Barry Otto back on screen, stealing scenes with his fragile, nuanced father and Catherine McClements who totally owns her supporting role as the mother of one of the girls.
Yet while I was pleased to see some fresh faces on screen, dramatically things dragged in the middle of an unnecessary double premiere.
With Julia coming to terms with the full family picture, I couldn’t help but be reminded of Nina Proudman discovering her real father and subsequent half-brother in Offspring. Dysfunctional families, indeed messy families with a clumsy, self-deprecating woman at the centre, are so common that it must be justified by a unique voice and likeable characters -it’s hard to pinpoint the unconditional love here.
The touches I appreciated -diverse casting, select performances, cameos by Remy Hii & Joel Creasey- are not yet enough to replace Offspring, which I feel this is desperately trying to do (the production includes many of the same creatives). But even that was a show that found its voice well after its ‘mad-bomber’ pilot.
Sisters will need sufficient time to demonstrate why I should accept these new siblings.
Sisters premieres 8:30pm Wednesday on TEN.