The Heights

If The Heights becomes a legacy of Michelle Guthrie’s abrupt term helming ABC, it may serve as a sign of what could have been.

Produced in mid-2018, this ambitious project is a 30 episode serial drama filmed in Perth that ticks every diversity box on the list. And the good news: it holds up as an engaging slice of life.

It is multi-generational without teeny romance, picture perfect backyards or serial stalkers dominating the screen. But there is an abandoned baby left outside Arcadia Towers that ripples through this mostly working class community.

The towers, an eyesore housing commission building in inner Perth, are home to a cluster of neighbours surrounded by a nearby pub, Asian grocery, high school, and local hospital. The principal characters are predominantly resident in the towers or working nearby. The opening episode does an admirable job of introducing many of them, if somewhat overwhelming for viewers. But The Heights also drops us into its forward-moving world and asks us to keep up.

Marcus Graham plays retired ex-cop “Pav” a down to earth dad separated from lawyer Leonie (Sharri Sebbens) and his Indigenous teens Mich (Calen Tassone) and Kit (Siria Kickett). It’s Pav who finds an abandoned baby in the opening episode whom he rushes to the hospital where ER doctor Claudia (Roz Hammond) works. Claudia is single mum to daughter Sabine (Bridie McKim) whose cerebral palsy is refreshingly incidental to her place as a growing teen with needs and desires.

Hard yakka publican Hazel (Fiona Press) is calling last drinks on the pub her late father used to run, and looks ahead to retirement. But estranged son Ryan (Mitchel Bourke) returns home for the funeral, and the two do not see eye to eye.

Uni student Sully (Koa Nuen) is drawn to Iranian refugee Ash Jafari (Phoenix Raei) but while Sully’s mother Iris (Carina Hoang), who runs the local shop, is supportive of his sexuality, it’s a much bigger issue for the Jafari family and their Muslim faith.

The Heights also features maintenance man Mark (Dan Paris) and his family of 4, Indigenous elder Uncle Max (Kelton Pell) and several supporting players.

Writers Warren Clarke and Que Minh Luu have crafted an authentic, likeable, modern melting pot that is chockful of new faces and a contrast to commercial soaps. The tone of the show is more earthy -and dare I say, more British- than the aspirational Ramsay Street or Summer Bay blueprints. Giving it a Perth backdrop is an added bonus, whether from its cityscapes and spartan beaches to corner shops and local parks.

Embedding its clear diversity charter into the story as part of the fabric, rather than highlighting for drama, on the whole works well.

The biggest concern centres not around the content but the programming of a 30 minute serial as double episodes in an 8:30 slot. Traditionally a slot for crime and international dramas, this is a nonsense move by ABC and I fear detrimental to the mission. The Heights biggest challenge will be finding the audience it was intended for.

Hopefully that isn’t as tall as its towers.

The Heights dbl airs 8:30pm Friday on ABC.

23 Comments:

  1. And the July mid-season relaunch should be in a far better slot, although difficult when half the series has already aired.

    The best thing I’ve seen in years (apart from episode one).

  2. This show is a ripper. Let me start by saying that I don’t watch Australian drama or Australian films (my bad I know, but I find them cringeworthy). The Heights has me completely hooked. So much so that I am watching it in advance on iview (unheard of for me). It is intelligent, beautifully crafted, and totally believable and enjoyable. So good to see this sort of material being produced.

    The first episode was quite slow (and weak, save for the final scene) so I agree that airing it with episode two was the correct move. From there it just gets better and better. I am totally addicted. My only very real concern is in the scheduling. 8.30pm Friday is just totally totally wrong and I presume will crucify this excellent production. I just can’t fathom how it ended up in this slot. Hoping it gets plenty of repeat screenings on ABC’s other channels to attract a wider audience. And the…

  3. In some ways probably good it didn’t end up at 6:30pm, competing with the Neighbours audience

    8:30pm Friday is seen as one of the traditional homes for ABC drama, the more I see promos more I think that was an adequate timeslot to try. People always say that Fridays offer slim pickings, here’s a chance to prove the crave content.

  4. In some ways probably good it didn’t end up at 6:30pm, competing with the Neighbours audience

    8:30pm Friday is seen as a traditional home for ABC drama, the more I see promos more I think that was an adequate timeslot

    • Binge the first 16 episodes on ABC iview following the launch broadcast. Following the conclusion of episode 16 on Friday, 12 April, there will be a mid-season break with the series returning to ABC and iview in July.

  5. It looks interesting, although going by the picture, the colour palet of the show looks pale. Which is a shame, I don’t know why they don’t make these things more vibrant.

  6. David – I realise you may have only seen a short preview but was curious to know, hows the scripting and the dialogue? Always a weakness in a lot of Australian Drama, but did you find it okay? Other reviewers have commented on the extraordinarily long list of writers which can sometimes be a sign of problems in scripting and story telling. As you say – seems to revel in ticking every diversity box in the latest inclusion consultants powerpoint presso but I hope they remember to make it interesting and entertaining….

  7. David writes “The Heights … a legacy of Michelle Guthrie’s abrupt term” and “this is a nonsense move by ABC and I fear detrimental to the mission.” Sums it up pretty well.

      • David, I wasn’t disagreeing with you, on the contrary I think the current ABC management are trying to bury it ‘cos it was a concept commissioned under the ‘old’ management. It was an obvious choice for the 6.30 news lead-in, but that upset the lot that wanted to extend The Drum and give it that slot. The current “acting” management team don’t have the strength to resist the might of the news department so the ABC will continue to ignore its Charter unless and until someone with clout gets the MD position. Sadly, I’m not holding my breath.

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