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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.

Language

The Surgeon
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.

Violence.

Mr. Inbetween
Foxtel: 2018–2021
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
Foxtel: 2021
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.

Bump
Stan: 2021
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.

Dance Academy
ABC: 2010–2013
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.

Upright
Foxtel: 2019
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.

First Day
ABC: 2020
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

Language

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
ABC: 2005–2008
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.

My Place
ABC: 2009–2011
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
ABC: 1984
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

Twentysomething
ABC: 2011–2013
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

Language

The Warriors
ABC: 2017
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

Going Home
SBS: 2001
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
SBS: 2007
‘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.

Chandon Pictures
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
SBS: 1986
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
ABC: 2002–2003
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.

9 Responses

  1. I missed a lot of those shows back then. I watched a few soaps in the 90’s that only lasted 1 season or maybe not even that. Can’t remember if they were 30 mins or an hour. Echo Point, Breakers set on Bondi Beach Ada Nicademou starred in it. And another one Family & Friends I think it was.

  2. All Australian dramas turn into soap operas that’s the problem with our “dramas” I wouldn’t call half of the ones you mentioned as dramas as some are comedies more like sitcoms and the others too are soaps except for ones like twisted tales and things that have a different episode each episode so they don’t go into soap opera territory. Murder mysteries like My life is murder are the kind of shows that we need to make more off.

    1. Original dramas intended for multi-season production will become a soap opera especially when the story arc wanes it is almost inevitable, American shows from the ABC or CBS can also be verbose and pedantic as if the viewer needs reminding what happened 10 minutes ago, intimate characters have to mention each others names at the end of each sentence even when they are in bed. Australian dramas do have a strong Soap opera heritage and most well known Aussie actors learnt their trade in that environment but whether the production becomes recognisably U.S. formulaic in style or a BBC like soap serial is just a toss of a coin by the director, with strict budgets and deadlines it is what it is.

    2. When we compare Aus shows to US shows, I think the distinction between drama and comedy is acute. US drama is very serious, whereas we tend to mix our “drama” with the comic side of life, because that is how we roll in real life.

      Personally, I am not fussed about how the show is classified. I like serious shows to include comedy, and I like comedies that can include the hard things of life with a deft touch. The important thing, as related to this article, is the ability of the makers to give a rounded, complete story within the half hour slot. When I am time poor, I love half hour shows. It is like portion control for TV viewing.

  3. Missed The Surgeon so excited to see it’s on Prime…going to give it a go this weekend.
    There are some great shows in the mix here, wish some of them were more readily available!
    Also – what about Love Is A Four Letter Word?

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