There’s something eerily ominous about a new climate change drama premiering on Stan while bushfires ravage the nation and smoke envelops the eastern seaboard.
But Australia’s current emergency is far more compelling than anything attempted in the first two episodes of The Commons.
Having served up some terrific original pieces including Bloom, No Activity, Wolf Creek and Romper Stomper, this 8 part Stan drama from writer Shelley Birse is the first that feels like it is crumbling under its own lofty ambitions.
The action takes place in Sydney’s near future, a city subject to high temperatures, erratic weather, low water, acid rain, and CGI-city zones that appear to have ditched the light rail a long time ago…. Everybody’s lives have to adjust to the new world rules in what is undoubtedly the cautionary tale of this Playmaker series.
Eadie (Joanne Froggatt) is a neuropsychologist hoping to bear her own child as she approaches her 38th birthday. While she is stepmum to teen Ivy (Inez Currò), it is her partner Lloyd (David Lyons) with whom she desperately wants a successful and radical IVF pregnancy. Never mind that it’s a pretty crappy world in which to bring a newborn, but that’s one of the show’s better dramatic questions.
Lloyd is a frontline biologist who works in a lab with bad-boy pal Shay (Ryan Corr), who regularly flirts with Eadie when they aren’t trying to uncover the next scientific breakthrough.
Meanwhile Eadie’s job sees her assisting local Border Authority Officer Ben (Damon Herriman) with a case of the bad traumas, much of which involves a mix of memory recall and VR. Also featuring are Eadie’s brother first-responder Dominic (Rupert Penry-Jones), his wife Francesca (Simone McAullay) and young family.
In order to sidestep a failed IVF, Eadie will make a deal with Shay behind her husband’s back all while the mercury is rising and the mayor is giving press conferences about a disastrous storm about to hit (I guess the PM is in Hawaii?).
Dilemmas over motherhood and healing are contrasted by uncontrollable nature in the script by Birse, all while I was hoping for a good ‘ol CGI storm or tsunami to smash into the Opera House just to hold my interest. I’m presuming that may come later but viewers will need to be prepared for something far more introspective than Stan’s sexy marketing pitch of a looming disaster.
I also struggled to like the central character here. Froggatt, best known for Downton Abbey, and her on-screen brother played by Penry-Jones, feel like they have been cast principally for marquee appeal. The story didn’t particularly justify why having Brits in the roles was so necessary and I found Froggatt fairly cold and clinical in a drama about global warming. Ryan Corr brings a bit of spark but not even the fine talents of Damon Herriman could inject sufficient drive.
Visually the show adds some rich colour, in a city where everything looks like an overgrown property development or abandoned shopping mall. Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
I get that The Commons (sorry what does the title refer to, anyway?) isn’t looking to be The Day After Tomorrow or The 5th Wave, but I’m reminded that back in 1977 The Last Wave managed to be smart and scary, all without any CGI and dulling the senses.
Stan is doing a fine job in committing to local drama, and taking a risk on a high concept drama (Bloom being a perfect example) while Free to Air prefers domestic melodrama. But not all of those will hit their target and right now The Commons is just a lot less scary than the 6pm news.
The Commons begins Christmas Day on Stan.