Love on the Spectrum star Michael Theo is a bold and inspired casting choice, nailing his scenes alongside experienced performers in ABC's new comedy.

British children’s author Julian Hartswood (Ben Miller) is having a pretty bad day.

In Canberra as part of an Australian book-signing tour, he awakens one day to discover he has retweeted a post by a white supremacist.

Illustrator and wife Ingrid (Sally Phillips) is horrified by her husband’s stupidity and when a bookstore chain cancels plans for him to sign books of Big Bear, Julian quickly finds a local bookstore to host an event. Only problem is, it’s an extreme right wing store with copies of Mein Kampf in the windows.

But Julian’s day is about to get a whole lot more complex when a neurodivergent 29 year old, Austin (Michael Theo) turns up purporting to be his son from a brief encounter in London.

It’s a shock for Julian, and Ingrid -especially when she does the sums and learns Austin is younger than the three decade partnership she’s had with Julian. Just what has been going on?

Austin doesn’t want any cut of Julian’s literary empire, but insists, “I’m on a quest to understand who I am and where I come from.”

This spanner into Julian’s life is the premise for a bright new comedy from Northern Pictures and Miller’s own Lincoln Pictures.

Anchoring a scripted series around breakout Love on the Spectrum star Michael Theo is both bold and inspired. Despite having only an acting cameo in kids’ series Hardball, Theo nails his scenes alongside more experienced performers, with all the required comic timing.  The authenticity, warmth and humour that made him so beloved in Love on the Spectrum is on display as the neurodivergent, optimistic son, with the awkward one-liners.

Ben Miller and Sally Phillips are perfect as the two Brits attempting to keep up appearances in this life detour down under. Miller fumbles about with glee and embarrassment while Phillips apologises, suppressing her utter shock at her husband’s actions whilst holding him to account.

Added to the cast are Gia Carides, in a rare screen return as Austin’s mother Mel, alongside Bill (Roy Billing) as Austin’s laconic, football-loving grandfather.

The series co-created by Miller with director Darren Ashton, gently explores the relationships of its central characters who all click together like a seasoned ensemble. There are plenty of contemporary social touchstones challenging Julian on his lack of inclusion and grace, at one point even being challenged he is “sl*tshaming” Austin’s mother, Mel. Ouch.

Television in recent years has lovingly embraced those living with autism, mostly in unscripted content. Welcome to the world of comedy, Michael Theo. I hope you get an acting nomination next.

Austin screens 8pm Sundays on ABC.

8 Responses

  1. I thought it was charming, funny and on point throughout the first episode. All the performances are great and Michael is fabulous. There was nothing missing, the story was coherent and well executed. Bravo ABC!

  2. I was very keen to read your review on this David… A couple of reasons; The Trailer did absolutely nothing for me (others have said this, yet still liked the show); Most reviews are quite strong. Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I feel as if you’re holding something back from the review for the sake of championing viewing of the show. Maybe it reads higher than 3.5 stars, maybe I have missed the main negatives you feel on the show, or maybe it’s just a successful light comedy that doesn’t aspire to be highbrow. It just feels like there is a paragraph or 2 of opinion missing imo.

  3. Austin is fun, and Michael Theo is terrific. Bravo to him and the entire team at Northern.

    Last night at 8pm, my family and I switched onto Aunty with some trepidation, we feared Austin would be ignorant exploitative rubbish. The opening scene was pretty bad. It seemed they had a scripted scene that just didn’t work. But we hung in there past the set up and thank goodness we did. Michael is fantastic, and the scenes between him and his ‘dad’ are really great.

    Austin will be our Sunday night roast chook viewing for the next 7 weeks. Can’t wait to see Michael’s performance grow as the nurotyps around him learn and grow with him.

    Once again, well done Aunty!

  4. I thought it was a wonderful first episode. Julian was frustratingly self-absorbed yet relatable to that-one-relative we all have just like him and Michael was very comfortable in his role as Austin. This was a great home run for the ABC with the return of Spicks and Specks before it.

  5. It was a very slow first episode, when it really should’ve hit the ground running IMO.

    The actors all do a tolerable enough job. But despite some obvious character differences, you really can’t look at “Austin Hogan” as being anyone but Michael Theo. Especially as the sharper of observers will notice references to things we’ve seen/heard during Mike’s segments on LOTS:AU, such as Austin calling his bedroom a “quarters” and (going by a promo I saw last week) what seems like will be an eventual trip to the UK for Austin.

    At some point in the future, Australia probably will do a fictional neurodiverse-themed show we can all be proud of. However, based on what’s been seen of “Austin” so far, we’re still waiting.

  6. I made a show with a similar concept (someone finds out their Dad had an affair and it resulted in an autistic love child) over a decade ago, pitched it to the ABC they turned me down.

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