Back to the Rafters
It's mother earth Julie Rafter as the linchpin of this affectionate revival, bringing reassurance in times of uncertainty.
There’s a moment in episode 1 of Back to the Rafters where the family are staying at Ben Rafter’s house and an exterior shot of the house at night sees the bedroom lights all flick off one by one.
“Night…. / don’t let the bed bugs bite… / sleep tight../sweet dreams!” the family shout out.
I have no idea if it’s a homage to The Walton‘s famed “Night John Boy!” but I could think of a lot worse shows to be compared to. Like that runaway hit, the Rafters clan has universally succeeded The Sullivans as our favourite small screen family. So it’s no surprise that Amazon Prime Video was keen to commission 6 new episodes and, strategically, nab streaming rights to the archive of Packed to the Rafters.
It’s been 6 years since Julie (Rebecca Gibney) and Dave (Erik Thomson) headed off on a road trip with toddler Ruby. Depending on how you look at things, not much has changed with this revival from writer Bevan Lee -or a lot has…
The premise after all was having adult children (and senior Ted) living under the roof of our happy couple. The challenge in reuniting them is in justifying bringing them all together in the one abode once more, which Lee manages very creatively.
Julie & Dave have been living in the rural town of Buradeena. Dave has indigenous employee Paddo (Aaron McGrath) while 10 year old Ruby (Willow Speers) is creating waves with her enviro-campaigning at her primary school. Lookout Greta Thunberg.
Meanwhile Nathan (Angus McLaren) and son Edward (Kaspar Frost) are forced to vacate a structurally unsound Sydney tower, landing on the doorstep of Ben (Hugh Sheridan) and Vietnamese-Australian wife Cassie (HaiHa Le) who are undergoing IVF. Ted (Michael Caton) is in a home battling dementia and Rachel Rafter (now Georgina Haig) is in New York climbing the corporate ladder.
But it’s also Julie & Dave’s 35th wedding anniversary, hence the clan mostly regroup at Ben & Cassie’s. But mother earth Julie learns of problems with all of her brood, which triggers an even greater one for her and Dave. Julie’s search for self as she approaches grey nomad days underpins the season.
So too does Ruby’s rise to Thunberg-like local fame on social media courtesy of Carbo’s (George Houvardas) 1m followers on his “Carbonated” instagram account -you didn’t think he was going to be overlooked, surely?
All of the cast rise to the affectionate writing from Lee (and others) and most of the audience will happily feel like they never left. Honestly, Rebecca Gibney can make anything work… effortlessly down to earth without upstaging the material. Amazon should be grabbing her for international projects, pronto. Young Willow Speers is also a terrific find. Special mention to Georgina Haig for seamlessly stepping into a pivotal role….
Some choices have clearly sought to expand the show to a global audience, such as Rachel’s NYC storyline, gorgeous bush landscapes (what drought?), and the enviro sub-plot for Ruby -this works at a local level, but once Julie & Dave started combatting journos and talking GIFs I felt like we had departed the Rafters universe. A minor beef.
Supporting cast also include Merridy Eastman back as Donna, Libby Tanner and Bruce Spence …yes, Bruce Spence shares a scene with Carbo. Who’da thunk?
If Rafters is Australia’s Waltons, or a nuclear Gilmore Girls, then more power to everybody for being unashamedly sentimental and reassuring in a world of uncertainty. I’m in two minds about whether it’s too soon to legitimately explore a revival -but hey, I watched all 6 episodes, so that tells you a lot.
But if Julie starts throwing on a mask and sanitising her hands, I’m outta here.
Back to the Rafters is now screening on Amazon Prime Video.