In this engaging, four part factional miniseries, In Our Blood looks to the fear and prejudice of 1980s Australia as the threat of HIV/AIDS becomes very real.
As the Australian Labor Party sweeps to a landslide victory at the 1984 elections, so expectation among the gay community is one of hope. David Westford (Tim Draxl) leaves his partner Gabe (Oscar Leal) in their home in Sydney on weekdays to become special advisor to the health minister Jeremy Wilding (Matt Day) in Canberra: a direct voice is established. But trust must be won.
Bigotry and violence is rife but through fictional characters and scenarios alongside a gender queer Greek-style Chorus dipping in and out of the unfolding narrative with a capella versions of popular songs of the time, In Our Blood tells the oft visited subject in a new and engaging way. And it’s not all about the boys – even though Westford occasionally feels his is the solitary voice. Arguably the most convincing trope is the leather clad Jada Alberts and her lipstick lesbian partner, Anna McGahan. Their apartment becomes a call centre and early refuge for those with nowhere to go as the campaign for increased awareness and a response by the authorities steps up.
It’s engaging but an unquestionably patchy four parter. We need to scare the shit out of them as uttered by Westford is the byeline in Canberra (and everywhere else) – and through clever and targeted policies and advertising, eventually they do. Yet, in spite of its subject, there’s a surprising lack of emotional heft and Draxl does not quite have the range needed to convince. Which is a pity for a miniseries with its heart in the right place that needed the gravitas.
Disquieting yet disjointed and at times unclear, this three part miniseries expands on the story of the Melbourne-based The Family cult lead by Anne Hamilton-Byrne, a woman who conviced her followers she was Jesus reincarnated.
Active predominantly in the 1960s through to the ’80s, Hamilton-Byrne and husband Bill dominated and controlled her followers – including more than 30 children, many of whom she claimed to be her own. Charming and well-connected (including high ranking police officials, lawyers, medical profession), the two were virtually untouchable – in spite of reports of physical, mental and sexual abuse, isolation, starvation and administration of LSD to adults and children alike.
It’s a tragic tale as surviving children, now adults, talk to the camera of their pre-teen traumas and the lack of support from the authorities along with a system that allowed new born babies of single mothers to be adopted almost immediately after birth. The subject of many investigative reports as far back as the 1960s, achieved little in terms of change. Former police detective Lex de Man talks of the years of struggle to bring justice to the children and his own personal acceptance of the failure of the system.
Whilst The Cult of the Family ultimately raises too many unanswered questions, it does raise the moral judgement of the cult members who sat idly by or took a passively active role in the abuse of so many children. As well as a system that failed.
A worthy but ultimately underwhelming Australian six-part miniseries that sees a cold-case detective reopen investigations into the death of a popular Australian South Sea Islander teenager 25 years earlier.
The opening of a time capsule to celebrate a school anniversary and buried just a few days before Isabel’s (Talijah Blackman-Corowa) death reveals secrets that bring Brisbane-based detective James Cormack (Travis Fimmel) to the north Queensland town of Ashford. Committed to the point of obsession (his own brother disappeared without trace many years earlier), Cormack unearths a very different set of events reported by the original investigation.
Small town politics and relationships hinder Cormack as he deals with the Walcotts – a father/daughter duo who own the sugar plantation and the town’s only significant employer. Chloe (Brooke Satchwell) was, at the time of the murder, Isabel’s best friend. Secrets and lies bubble to the surface as a little more digging highlight alibis that do not stack up, timescales at variance with official reports and the whitewashing of accusations of slave labour and disappearing illegal migrant workers. Even Isabel’s parents are concerned and non-coperative with the reopening of their daughter’s murder, an issue at least daughter, Hazel (Jemmason Power), helps Cormack navigate.
It’s an engaging, empathic tale as the two timelines are intertwined and cleverly edited to confuse the ultimate reveal. Old wounds are reopened as Fimmel, a stand out in a laid back, committed characterisation, beavers away to find the truth. And, although they never meet, separated as they are by more than two decades, he is ably supported by Blackman-Corowa. But a lack of tension undermines, not helped by the ‘lesser’ characters being of little interest and poorly portrayed. Take Cormack or Isabel off the screen and the drama palls considerably.
A reboot of the immensely popular 1990s Australian TV series, Heartbreak High follows a group of Gen Z students navigating love, sex, friendship and life in general whilst attending the same Sydney school.
It’s a fluid, light melting pot of a tale of sex and sexuality, gender and cultural identity, race and disability flowing side by side with the understanding of friendship, love and loyalty. As Year 11 starts, best friends from pre-school Amarie (Ayesha Madon) and Harper (Asher Yasbincek) have had a serious falling-out. Amarie has no idea why and Harper refuses to talk to her. The situation is further compounded by the discovery of the huge ‘love map’ and the interconnected sexual exploits of the Year 11 students. The authors are Amarie and Harper – with Amarie choosing to carry the blame alone.
As with the love map, over its eight episodes, Heartbreak High follows those interconnected relationships between the students. Adults are generally secondary as friendships and attractions shift, love wanes, dynamics change. Social commentary is ever present but the series avoids agit prop, presenting ‘as is’ the gender fluid Darren (the immensely likeable James Majoos), the autistic Quinni (Chloe Hayden), the indigenous new boy, Malakai (Thomas Weatherall).
An Australian Sex Education, Heartbreak High is readily enjoyable that is likely to grow in terms of depth of characterisation should a second series (deservedly) be commissioned. Not everything works – the presentation of the school Principal, Woodsy (Rachel House) is mind-bogglingly bad – but, as seen principally from the perspective of Amarie, the gentle humour in complex situations results in an immensely accessible eight part series.
Multi-millionaire Melissa Caddick disappeared from her Sydney home in November 2020. Several months later a single shoe – with her foot still in it – was found on a beach several hundred kilometres to the south of the city. At the time of her disappearance, Caddick was facing legal action against her Ponzi scheme and the defrauding of A$40 million from friends, family members and individuals.
Underbelly: Vanishing Act is a woeful, two part miniseries exploring both known facts and suppositions on the fate of Caddick (a miscast Kate Atkinson). With its extensive use of voiceover (particularly in the longer first episode), a lazy narration replaces story telling or character development as Caddick’s luxurious lifestyle in Sydney’s eastern suburbs with younger husband Anthony Koletti (Jerome Velinsky) is explained. Living off the savings of her parents, friends and family contacts, the Australian Securities & Investments Commission (ASIC) eventually moved against Caddick, seizing assets including bank accounts, homes, cars and extensive designer-label wardrobe. Summoned to an online court hearing, Caddick promptly disappeared, leaving behind Koletti and Josh, teenage son from an earlier marriage.
Episode two is mostly pure conjecture in looking to an alternative to the assumed suicide. Having already introduced the fictional local gangster, George (Colin Friels) and his money laundering arrangement with Caddick to add spice to the tale, his presence adds some credence to the gossip of Caddick having been murdered by a dissatisfied client. Underbelly contacts would also help with false passports and disappearances.
Underbelly: Vanishing Act cannot provide the answers to Caddick’s disappearance and leaves the conclusions open. Sadly, this somewhat cobbled together lightweight tosh ultimately belittles her victims – and fails to present the level of intelligent manipulation by Melissa Caddick into her defrauding those around her.
Engaging and enjoyable drama, the 1970s-set eight episode series is loosely based on the story of the characters behind the founding of the Billabong and Quicksilver surf labels.
Set in the fictional Woogonga on the NSW coast, rivalry, greed and ambition hit the laid back coastal town as best mates Snapper (Ben O’Toole) and Trotter (Sean Keenan) clash over futures. Allowing little space for competition, working out of a converted barn, Snapper and his Bare Feet wet suit company has passive aggressively controlled the hippie community of surfing dudes, male and female. But a newly married Trotter, with wife Tracy (Jillian Nguyen), looks to challenge – and lightweight board shorts seem to be the perfect answer.
Combining stunning surf cinematography and archival footage of early 70s Australia with beachside drama, corporate interest (both local and American), Barons is a nostalgic trip of innocence and days gone by. But in simultaneously looking to undercurrents of the misogyny and racism of the day along with rising anti-Vietnam protests and the rise of drug culture, Barons, whilst avoiding polemic, positions itself as a social commentary through relatable characters and an accessible narrative.
Melbourne-set miniseries as three members of the same family explore and experience love.
With the death of his wife Christine (Sarah Peirse) after a long illness, Glen (Hugo Weaving) finds himself alone for the first time in 40 years. His live-at-home university student son, Aaron (William Lodder), is in the thralls of first love with the older Ella (Shalom Brune-Franklin) whilst approaching-forty daughter Clara (Bojana Novakovic) is on a dating app looking for the elusive partner.
Thus the stage is set for an engaging if inconsistent six episode miniseries as the dramas and melodramas of contemporary life ebb and flow on screen. Persuaded to travel on the luxury holiday he had booked as an anniversary present, Glen meets Anita (Heather Mitchell). Clara bumps into neighbour and model Peter (Bob Morley) whilst Aaron is blind to the feelings of longterm schoolfriend, Jesse (Mitzi Ruhlmann). Lots of opportunities for the concept of love and acceptance are thus there to be explored.
Dealing with the loneliness of a strained final years within marriage and the guilt of meeting someone so quickly after his wife’s death, Weaving, as usual, is impeccable. With Mitchell and the occasional glimpse of Peirse, it is by far the strongest narrative whilst the ultra-successful medico Sarah and Morley provide the glamour. Sadly, the weakest link is the story of young love. Lodder is a mollycoddled young 21 year-old and a relationship with the sassy DJ, Ella, fails to convince. Love Me overall, however, is an easy going watch as the separate narratives interweave and interconnect.
Six related narratives dramatise the human impact of the 2019/20 Australian bushfires as lives, homes and livelihoods are destroyed by the worst fires in living memory.
As new volunteer firefighter Mott (Hunter Page-Lochard) is shown the ropes by Tash (Eliza Scanlen), a close relationship between the two develops – particularly after they find themselves stranded with fires on all sides. They survive and become the link between the separate narratives as they travel the remote, burning landscapes of New South Wales.
Five of the dramas are centred around a fictional area of NSW, the stand-alone sixth located on coastal Victoria (a fictionalised holiday destination based on Mallacoota). Inevitably, some of the narratives are stronger than others as the dramas focus on the people affected – those who lost everything (Richard Roxburgh and Miranda Otto – episode two and the strongest in the miniseries) through to the trauma of loss and survival. Anger and resentment, frustration and sheer unadulterated terror percolate throughout.
Fires is a humane, understated drama series that looks to the resilience of the everyday as long term residents, casual workers and tourists alike (mostly) come together in an attempt to overcome tragedy – and survive.
A fun if far-fetched Australian outback adventure as The Man (Jamie Dornan) wakes up in hospital without a clue as to who he is. But we have already witnessed the cat and mouse chase with a truck that caused the accident, an accident that was intended to leave him for dead. Something is obviously not quite right. But as far as trainee police constable Helen Chambers (Danielle Macdonald) is concerned, she just needs to help Dornan find his identity. Juxtaposed is her own self-discovery of self worth as she struggles with weight loss and a condescending partner (Greg Larsen).
What unfolds over this six part miniseries is a wry, entertaining mismatch of characters, unexpected (for The Man) revelations, intrigue, police corruption and murder as Dornan tries to discover his identity – and why someone is out to kill him. His past will eventually catch up with him, no question. The phone calls he receives from a man buried underground testify to that. And then there’s Luci (Shalom Brune-Franklin), a waitress in a local cafe who, wholly out of place in such a backdrop, knows more than she’s letting on.
A black comedy with a high level of understated absurdity makes The Tourist an engaging, self-assured deflection with Dornan unexpectedly vulnerable and charismatic.
A wholly engrossing, addictive kidnap thriller miniseries (eight episodes), Clickbait sees family man Nick Brewer (Adrian Grenner) an internet sensation. But not in a way of choice. An obviously distraught Brewer holds a sign in front of an online camera – ‘5 million views I die’. But why? What has he done? As the story breaks and views pass one million, two million, three, so new signs appear accusing him of violence and abuse towards women.
It’s all a mystery to wife Sophie (Betty Gabriel), his two sons and twin sister, Pia (Zoe Kazan). Nick is almost too perfect – a loving husband, a great father, a close twin brother, popular at work. But slowly, a different Nick Brewer is revealed. Accounts on different dating sites, romantic liaisons in LA whilst on business trips from his Oakland home. The family is left reeling as more and more unknowns are exposed – including the fact Nick knew of Sophie’s affair with a (now former) colleague.
Uncertainty of truths pervade as police liaison officer Roshan Amiri (Phoenix Raei) tries to keep the family abreast of enquiries but the press and social media are quick to jump to conclusions and pass judgement. Accusations can be made without recourse as viral anonyminity and trolling grows rampant. It’s an ever increasing circle as Pia in particular demands (loudly) answers to her brother’s disappearance.
The beauty of Clickbait is the constant twists and unexpected reveals as Australian creators Tony Ayres and Christian White explore the role the press, social media and the internet play in our lives. Over eight episodes, the tale is told from the perspective of a different character, creating overlaps and repeats of the same scenes. Minor characters early in the story grow in importance as the narrative develops, others drop away only to reappear dependent on the central character of the given episode. It’s an engrossing, enjoyable journey – even if occasionally Zoe Kazan as Pia is guilty of slipping into an ‘I’m angry – and now I’m very angry’ actorly trope as she stomps around the kitchen.