Australia’s best half hour dramas
"I think it was really ahead of its time," Justine Clarke says of The Surgeon. What are Australia's best 30min dramas that are not serials?
Australia has produced plenty of serials over the decades: Neighbours, Home & Away, The Sullivans, The Young Doctors, Number 96, The Heights, Class of ’74, Restless Years and more.
But we barely make any that are not serials and soaps -although a few brave projects have been stepping up to the plate more recently.
One of my favourites was 10’s 2005 drama The Surgeon which starred Justine Clarke, Sam Worthington and Nicholas Bell. It only lasted for 8 episodes, screening at a time that was challenging for 10.
In just 30 minutes it packed an emotional punch which Justine Clarke now believes was revolutionary in drama.
“I think it was really ahead of its time, in a way,” she told TV Tonight.
“It was a half an hour drama with an A-storyline only. There was just nothing like it on Australian television. It would just be one of the many now, but at the time a half hour drama was unheard of.
“It was put up against RPA, which was a really popular show. It was just at a tough time.”
The series was the work of producers Judi McCrossin, John Edwards and Sue Masters.
“Judi’s family are all doctors so it was very natural for her to write. I think it was just at the wrong time in the world.”
Clarke also had a role in another more recent half hour drama, Foxtel’s Mr. Inbetween.
“Mr. Inbetween also does that really well. You’re in the drama straight away. Everything’s moving the story along and you’re out but you feel really satisfied.”
Here in no particular order are some of Australia’s best half hour dramas. They include a few Kid’s TV titles, anthology horror, some that arguably cross over into comedy, one that has elements of improvisation and another that was a US co-production.
Network 10: 2005
Eve Agius is a highly skilled surgeon in a mostly male world. Real medical cases filled with twists, turns and surprises test the limits of her skill and knowledge.
Cast: Justine Clarke, Sam Worthington, Nicholas Bell, Matthew Newton.
In Mr Inbetween, Ryan plays “Ray Shoesmith,” a father, ex-husband, boyfriend and best friend: tough roles to juggle in the modern age. Even harder when you’re a criminal for hire.
Cast: Scott Ryan, Justin Rosniak, Damon Herriman, Brooke Satchwell, Chika Yasumura
The End is where life begins in a dark new comedy series about three generations of a family trying to figure out how to live with meaning, die with dignity and find the beauty that lies in between.
Cast: Harriet Walter, Frances O’Connor, Noni Hazlehurst, Luke Arnold, John Waters, Brendan Cowell, Robyn Nevin.
An unexpected pregnancy complicates the lives of two families. The series centres around Oly, an ambitious and high-achieving teenage girl who has a surprise baby.
Cast: Claudia Karvan, Nathalie Morris, Carlos Sanson Jr., Angus Sampson.
Fifteen-year-old Tara Webster’s dream of dancing comes true when she gets into a top dance academy. She soon realises dancing is only half the battle.
Cast: Xenia Goodwin, Alicia Banit, Dena Kaplan, Thom Green, Jordan Rodrigues, Tim Pocock, Tara Morice, Keiynan Lonsdale, Thomas Lacey, Isabel Durant.
Two misfits, thrown together by chance in the middle of the Australian desert, forge bonds in a quest to transport a precious piano from one side of the country to the other.
Cast: Tim Minchin, Milly Alcock, Heather Mitchell, Daniel Lapaine, Ella Scott Lynch.
It’s Hannah Bradford’s first year of high school. As a transgender girl, Hannah not only has to navigate the challenges that come with starting a new school, but find the courage to live as her most authentic self.
Cast: Evie MacDonald, Joanne Hunt, Brenna Harding, Anthony Brandon Wong as Mr. Nguyen, Mark Saturno, Ethan Gifford
Please Like Me
ABC: 2013 – 2016
Twenty something Josh is going through a number of big changes as he navigates his first decade of adulthood. After being dumped by his girlfriend, he comes to the realization that he is gay.
Cast: Josh Thomas, Debra Lawrance, David Roberts, Judi Farr, Thomas Ward, Wade Briggs, Hannah Gadsby, Charles Cottier, Keegan Joyce, Denis Drysdale.
Blue Water High
Seven 15 year-old surfers have been selected from around Australia and overseas to take part in an intensive 12-month residential school program at Blue Water High. At the beachside school they join other pupils in a normal year’s academic work as well as receiving special coaching in surfing.
Cast: Kate Bell, Khan Chittenden, Chris Foy, Sophie Luck, Adam Saunders, Mara Scherzinger, Tahyna Tozzi, Martin Lynes, Nadine Garner, Liz Burch.
The story of one house in South Sydney, told by the children who live there over 260 years.
Cast: Madeleine Madden, Leah Purcell, Kris McQuade, Susie Porter, Emma Lung, Chris Haywood, Matilda Brown, Victoria Haralabidou, Rebecca Massey.
Twisted Tales / Two Twisted
Nine: 2006 – 1998 / 2006
In a prelude to the series of the same name, Bryan Brown introduces stories of the bizarre and the supernatural. Sometimes serious, often comical, but always with a twist at the end of the story.
Cast: Bryan Brown, Geoffrey Rush, Melissa George, Sam Neill, Jacqueline McKenzie, Greta Scacchi, Bill Hunter, Garry McDonald.
Sweet and Sour
The main storyline of the series followed the efforts of a fictional band, The Takeaways, to break into the Sydney music scene. “The Takeaways have so far eluded commercial success. However, negotiations are presently underway for the band to sell their story to a prominent TV station, and really clean up.
Cast: Tracy Mann, David Reyne, Sandra Lillingston, Arky Michael
Best friends Jess and Josh did not go to university or had talent or had the drive to grow up. They decide its time to become their own boss.
Cast: Jess Harris, Josh Schmidt, Hamish Blake
Two young Indigenous players, Zane and Maki, are plucked from their modest lives to play in the big leagues – the AFL. The boys pack up and move interstate to the busy metropolis of Melbourne where their lives are turned upside down.
Cast: Vince Colosimo, Lisa McCune, John Howard, Gordan Churchill, Reece Milne, Ben Knight
Scripted, filmed, edited and broadcast on the same day, Going Home is set in a nightly inter-urban commuter train. A group of regular train travellers are featured on their daily commute in a blend of up-to-the-minute commentary on the news and events of the day, together with the unfolding dramas in their lives. Viewer feedback was encouraged, including plot and character suggestions that were regularly incorporated into subsequent episodes.
Cast: Camilla Ah Kin, Arthur Angel, David Callan, Jason Chong, Rhonda Doyle.
‘Kick’ is a 13 part, fast and lively romantic comedy series following the lives of wild, crazy, twenty something Miki Mavros, and several families from all over the world, who live and work in Brunswick, Australia. Love, laughs, friendship, fighting, families and football. Love is the Game.
Cast: Zoe Ventoura, Raji James, George Kapiniaris, Maria Mercedes, Anh Do, Damien Fotiou, Firass Dirani, Nicole Chamoun.
Foxtel: 2007 – 2009
The comedic adventures of a grandiose, self-described documentary filmmaker who, in reality, runs a two-bit video production company.
Cast: Rob Carlton, Josh Lawson, Darren Gilshenan, Rebecca Massey.
The Evil Touch
Nine: 1973 – 1974
American /Australian co-production. An anthology series, each episode had a self-contained story usually in a thriller or horror style, and often with a twist ending.
Cast: Anthony Quayle, Julie Harris, Leslie Nielsen, Darren McGavin, Vic Morrow, Jack Thompson, Elaine Lee, Tony Bonner.
Five Times Dizzy
Mareka comes up with a brilliant plan to help her Greek grandmother feel more at home in inner-city Sydney – a pet goat.
Cast: Rebekah Elmaloglou, Mary Kostakidis, Stavros Economidis, Jane Clifton, Ray Meagher, Joanna Samuel, John Doyle, Greig Pickhaver.
Bad Cop, Bad Cop
A comedy about the working lives of plainclothes detectives Red Lilywhite and Lou Knutt who work in an outer suburban police station in Sydney.
Cast: Michael Caton, Dan Wyllie, Helen Thompson, Roy Billing.
The Girl From Steel City
SBS: 1987 – 1988
The Girl From Steel City told the story of Stacey Maniatis, a Greek-Australian girl living in Wollongong, who was determined to have a career as a singer. The second series saw Stacey move from Wollongong to Sydney to further her career as a singer but then became an investigative journalist.
Cast: Elli Hart, Jim Spyridopoulos, Michael Garifalakis, Nancy Caruana, Stan Kouros, Eric Oldfield, Sheree da Costa.