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.