You can take the girl you of Australia, but you can’t take Australia out of the girl…
It’s 1988 London when new ABC comedy Frayed begins.
Simone (Sarah Kendall) discovers her husband dies during a debauched scene with a prostitute and in doing so, leaves her penniless due to his debts.
Simone has no choice but to haul her two pale teenagers, Lenny (Frazer Hadfield) and Tess (Maggie Ireland-Jones), from private school and return to her home in Australia. Problem is, the life she has left behind -and the lies she has fudged- are soon impossible to ignore.
“I am not going back there. I’ve worked too hard,” she insists.
Famous last words. The contrast between cosmopolitan London and the ugly fringes of Newcastle could not be more stark. Episode 1 captures this perfectly when the trio unload from a bus into the dazzling glare of a Newcastle beach bus stop.
“Newcastle is sort of like a northern suburb of Sydney,” says Simone.
“That was a 3 hour bus ride?” asks Lenny.
“Yes, everything is larger in Australia,” she replies.
Enter indifferent grandmother Jean (Kerry Armstrong) from a Ford Falcon learn driver’s school who begrudgingly picks up her distant daughter and grandchildren. We soon learn Simone is actually Samantha, one of many white lies she has spun to distance herself from Antipodean roots.
“I’ve told some lies. But I have my reasons,” she will concede.
More family embarrassments will follow, including Chocco-bombs eating ocker brother Jim (Ben Mingay), ex-boyfriend Dan (Matt Passmore) and former class-dork Chris (George Hourvadas) whom she will turn to for a desperately-needed job.
“Girls like you did’t talk to guys like me,” he reminds her.
Samantha’s shell-shocked teens are struggling to deal with the culture shock and summery new school uniforms (“Where’s the rest of it?”) and unable to find the emotion to mourn the loss of their father.
“Welcome to Australia. Hot enough for ya?” asks one local.
Grandma Jean brings them all crashing down to earth every time with a dull thud, thanks to an earthy, straight-shooting gift of a role for Kerry Armstrong.
But it is the big-haired Sarah Kendall -as writer, creator and star- who shines in this wonderfully bittersweet comedy, which never drags in its 45 minute running time. She’s anarchic and colloquial, and finds plenty of subtext thanks to director Shaun Wilson. The production design by Fiona Donovan is full of awful 80s furniture and the soundtrack is punctuated by a-Ha, 1927 and the Thompson Twins (wait for the running gag).
Kendall has a great eye for Australiana that is not far removed from a universe adjacent to Muriels’s Wedding or The Castle. Here she forced to re-embrace it out of necessity in a co-production from Guesswork / Merman Productions that speaks cleverly to both British & Australian audiences. Look out for roles by Doris Younane, Robert Webb, Diane Morgan and Trystan Go.
We may be late into the year but ABC may well have kept the best new comedy until last.
Frayed airs 9:10pm Wednesday on ABC.