For a few years I’ve been quietly suggesting to SBS that while their local dramas are of a consistently high standard, they are frequently a bit of a downer. What about embracing diverse storytelling with a lighter touch?
My prayers have been answered with the arrival of the rather outrageous new series, The Unusual Suspects.
Given an inspired Australian – Filipino perspective, this is set in the glossy, wealthy world of high-end Sydney properties. Amongst several Filipino maids working for rich Australians is Evie (Aina Dumlao), who has left behind an 8 year old daughter with her father, to try and earn good money. Her employer Sara (Miranda Otto) is a self-obsessed online entrepreneur, amassing thousands of followers to her ‘Beautiful Beastlies’ brand which she hopes to sell to an American corporate.
“I caught them. Now you’re going to gut them, skin them, and mount their heads on our wall,” Sara declares.
She is married to Garth (Matt Day) but rekindling romance with former flame, artist Nick (Peter O’Brien) and hoping her secret doesn’t leak. That’s the least of her problems.
Meanwhile affluent cosmetics boss Roxanne (Michelle Vergara Moore) is married to businessman Jordan (Toby Leonard Moore) who is about to be busted for fraud. Maid Amy (Lena Cruz) is furious all her work may have been for nought, but Jordan’s elderly mother (Sandy Gore) is suspicious of the hired help.
The final key player is young new recruit Gigi (Susana Downes) who manages to convince affluent neighbour Birdie (Heather Mitchell) that she can be her life coach. Two are better than one, after all.
The script by Jessica Redenbach (Spirited, Rush) crackles with sassy asides, class observation and scheming females which build in increments of bravado. Yet underneath this desperation and audaciousness is the painful reality of women forced to be separated from their families in order to build a better life back home. This is a truth not just of the region, but of many across the globe.
There are performances that simply shine in delicious roles, notably Aina Dumlao as the unassuming nanny Evie, who takes care of Sara & Garth’s children and rescues the household from calamity by sacrificing what little personal moments she has. Miranda Otto is fantastic as the vacuous Sara, attached to her Instagram, hiding under tables and desperately clinging to hope of a mega-deal. Watch out for a hilarious catfight between Michelle Vergara Moore and Lena Cruz, and I can’t not mention the scene-stealing performance by veteran actress Sandy Gore, wearing sunglasses and sucking on a vape in a wheelchair. Susie Porter also enters from Episode 3.
This is over-the-top mayhem from director Natalie Bailey, Real Housewives meets Devious Maids, in a world we never see in television drama. Produced by Angie Fielder and Polly Staniford (Lion, Berlin Syndrome, The Other Guy, The Unlisted) it celebrates women becoming resourceful, fighting back from life’s imbalance.
But as Amy, Roxanne’s nanny reminds us, “All the nannies know everything.” Don’t miss it.
The Unusual Suspects airs 8:30pm Thursday on SBS