Feature – New Australian TV Dramas Coming In 2012
Feature – New Australian TV Dramas Coming In 2012
When taking a look at the new shows the networks have on offer for the coming year it’s always good to keep in mind that television networks have a tendency to, what’s the word, lie… at least a little. Now, they’ll just tell you that things happened that prevented them from showing, oh let’s say, Class Of 2011 in 2011 so they pushed it back to 2012 and renamed in Class Of 2012 or they’ll say “we couldn’t find room on our schedule for Outland” or “did we promise The Games in 2011? Yikes, we should just cancel that now.” Any list of promised new shows should be taken with a grain of salt.
TVTonight helpfully point out which shows were promised by the networks in 2011 but never materialized and that’s why this list of the new shows coming in 2012 will be restricted to drama. Partially because predicting whether Nine will show The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show (which has been ‘coming soon’ since 2010) is too much of a headache but mostly because the networks usually stick with their drama offerings. Except for Ten who promised the Prisoner update Inside Out in 2011 but, well, we can only guess how bad that show was for Ten to ditch it completely.
The main reason for focusing exclusively on dramas for this ‘look forward’ is that 2012 appears, on the surface at least, like it could be a great year for Australian drama. There were signs in 2011 that things were looking up (Paper Giants, The Slap and Cloudstreet were all solid offerings and a whole lot of garbage got cancelled) but if we’re lucky 2012 will really bring the goods.
There’s an incorrect belief that in order to ‘support Australian drama’ you have to champion inferior products. It’s the “I don’t care if it’s not that good at least it’s better than some American crap” logic – blindly supporting something simply because it shares a country of origin with you isn’t helping anybody. I whole-heartedly support Australian drama and that’s why it irritates me so much when production companies in this country produce mediocre television. Australian drama needs a serious kick in the ass in order to grow up and 2012 may be the year that signals that change. That is, as long as we try not to pay attention to Channel 7 or Channel 9. Here now are what the networks have lined-up for 2012. SBS are not on this list because, sadly after a string of encouraging work from them with The Circuit and East West 101, they scrapped their 2012 offering Dusty before it got off the ground.
In 2012 Seven will continue with their current strategy which can be best described as “DON’T TOUCH ANYTHING!” After finally putting down the creaky old beast City Homicide and telling Wild Boys to shove off Seven are putting all of their drama eggs in a giant sunny dramedy basket. Packed To The Rafters will be back (now with more ‘season finales’ than ever before!) and Winners & Losers will be given an extended episode order as if the words “I want more Winners & Losers” is something anybody has ever said. The only new series on the horizon for Seven is the generically titled A Place To Call Home and with no details yet released about the show we can only make wild assumptions based on the fact that it’s “from the creators of Packed To The Rafters” (as though Channel 7 would make anything NOT from the creators of Packed To The Rafters). Odds are A Place To Call Home will be another drama/comedy/soap opera starring a cast of characters whose main talent is to appear in promos laughing with one another.
The big developments for Channel 9 in 2012 all revolve around stripping various reality television formats at 7pm with drama, as always, little more than a second thought for the network. Nine finally sunk Sea Patrol after five uninteresting seasons and eventually woke up to the fact that Rescue: Special Ops was somehow still on the air so they got rid of that as well. Wiping the slate clean for 2012 allows Nine to reinvent themselves, and by ‘reinvent themselves’ I mean ‘copy what others have done’. Did you like Paper Giants on the ABC? So did Channel 9 that’s why they’re creating a Kerry Packer centric mini-series spin-off titled Howzat! The Kerry Packer Story. Nine also have the new family drama series Tricky Business which may as well just advertise itself as “from the network that wish they’d made Packed To The Rafters“. Tricky Business is such a blatant and sad Rafters rip-off that it’s genuinely surprisingly Shane Bourne doesn’t play a character named Jim Tricky. Tricky Business is also the series most likely to be referred to as “you know, that Risky Business show” by your mother and her friends.
Now it is possible Tricky Business will be an enjoyable dramedy (both Bourne and Gigi Edgley are endearing stars) but this is still Channel 9 we’re talking about and when was the last time Nine made a drama worth watching? Sure Canal Road, The Strip, Cops LAC and The Alice were all modern classics but other than those four? You could argue that the first season of Underbelly was great but I have a sneaking suspicion that the entire nation is misremembering that series – maybe Underbelly has always been bad and we’ve all just made an unspoken pact never to mention that fact. Speaking of Underbelly it will be back again in 2012, this time focusing on former Queensland premier Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen and the Fitzgerald inquiry of the 1980s that brought him down. Is Sir Joh an exciting subject for a television series? You betcha. Will Underbelly: The Sunshine State (or whatever it’s called) be a bloated, hastily put together mess that fails to do justice to a fascinating piece of Australian history? Come on, this is still Underbelly we’re talking about after all.
Nine also have the telemovie The Great Mint Swindle starring Grant Bowler (the Atlas Shrugged, Panic At Rock Island star who has never met a project he could say no to) and ‘future Grant Bowler’ Todd Lasance. My theory about telemovies is that they lack enough material to make a proper television series and they weren’t good enough to be turned into actual films so why bother with them. That’s a ridiculously cynical way to look at telemovies but it’s not like we’ve been given many good telemovies to prove that theory wrong, although, again Nine’s Panic At Rock Island was pretty amazing television.
Finally Nine have the mini-series Beaconsfield, which will inevitably be praised no matter its actual quality because it’s based on an inspiring national event and folks often have a hard time differentiating between actual events and the television mini-series that recreate those events. Still, Beaconsfield has the benefit of clever casting (Shane Jacobson from Kenny in a role he was seemingly born to play) and a producer who at least appears to know where turning this idea into a successfully series can come from (producer John Edwards has made reference to Apollo 13) so it might make for compelling television – on the other hand this is still Channel 9.
Ten are going through some changes at the moment so the fact they promised Inside Out for last year and then changed their mind can be excused. They’re not in a great place at the moment and we should really just let that one slide. Ten aren’t a network known for big drama hits as outside of the long gone The Secret Life Of Us and the still going strong Offspring there haven’t been a lot of bright spots over the last decade. Even Rush, which was a surprisingly solid cop series, lived out its last couple of seasons in the ratings basement before finally being shown the door last year. 2012 marks a big year for Ten as they throw up a diverse group of programs with the hope that something will stick.
The series to be most excited about from Ten is Bikie Wars: Brothers In Arms from the producers of Underbelly and featuring a talented cast that includes Callan Mulvey (Rush, Underbelly), Damian Walshe-Howling (Underbelly) and Anthony Hayes (The Slap). Bikie Wars is Ten’s attempt at their very own Underbelly brand (it’s not like Australia is short on bikie related material on which to draw from) and it’s encouraging that they’ve decided to go with only six episodes rather than trying to drag things out over thirteen weeks like Underbelly does. As long as Bikie Wars doesn’t pale in comparison to Sons Of Anarchy it should be a reasonable hit for the network which could use any kind of hit right about now.
Less of a sure thing is Puberty Blues based on the 1979 novel that was first turned into the 1981 Aussie film of the same name. Was Puberty Blues really crying out to be turned into a television series thirty years after it was a movie that isn’t exactly a beloved classic? This update will be keeping the 70s setting and offering up “sex, surf and suburbia”, whatever that means. There’s no reason to write Puberty Blues off but it’s hard to see what Ten are aiming for with the show. It’s easier to see what Ten are going for with Underground: The Julian Assange Story even though the ‘so 2010′ Assange story feels almost as dated as Puberty Blues by this point. Underground is a telemovie which may give Ten a short burst in the ratings but won’t have any long-lasting benefit no matter how good it is.
While Bikie Wars feels like a sure thing and Puberty Blues could go either way it’s hard to see an upside for Ten’s Reef Doctors, which I’ll remind you is titled Reef Doctors. The Lisa McCune starring “family adventure” series and is about, you guessed it, doctors in the great barrier reef and while that sounds like a sure-fire commercial success it has all the makings of a creative failure. While it’s almost guaranteed that the series will look super-nice it’s just as guaranteed that a show from a production company that has only ever produced children’s programming (H20: Just Add Water!, Ocean Girl!, Elephant Princess!) may not have the greatest grasp on how to deliver a show for adults (“family action adventure” is just code for ‘children’s television storytelling with adult characters’; see also: Wild Boys). If that wasn’t confirmation Reef Doctors won’t be worth your time take a gander at this description:
“Running the remote Hope Island Clinic, Sam (Lisa McCune) is an accomplished doctor, who with her team, looks after the residents of all the neighbouring islands, as well as the holiday makers and thrill seekers who visit the area. The residents of the tiny island pull together through thick and thin, proving that there are many different definitions of the term ‘family.’“
I think my stomach just took a turn. Now it may turn out to be a funny, moving, wholly original series but then again, it is still titled Reef Doctors.
Last but most certainly not least we come to the ABC who have an exciting line-up of new shows coming our way. While the best thing about the ABC’s 2012 schedule may be a complete lack of Crownies there are other highlights as well. In all seriousness if we ignore Crownies and pretend Bed Of Roses never really existed (which seems to be how the ABC have always treated that show) the ABC had a really strong 2011 with Paper Giants and The Slap and that feels on the surface like it’s going to be carried over to 2012. For everybody who whined during Crownies that they just wanted Rake back on the air they’ll be pleased that a second series will soon be here.
It looks as though the ABC have settled on 8:30pm Thursday nights as their go-to drama slot with The Straits debuting in that timeslot February 2nd. The Straits looks like a real departure for the ABC mostly because it isn’t about middle-class Australians brooding about how hard it is to be a middle-class Australian. Set in the Torres Strait Islands The Straits it tells the story of a family of drug smugglers and from the early footage it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Not only have the ABC scored Brian Cox to play the patriarch of the family but the show seems to have capitalized on shooting on location up north to provide some stunning looking footage in between all the guns and explosions. Australian television doesn’t have a history delivering pulp action drama of this sort but if The Straits works it could very well be a game-changer.
The thirteen episode Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries also looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Set in the 1920s and starring the always enjoyable Essie Davis it looks far more like a typical ABC series (period costumes and murder mysteries) than The Straits does but if it also works it’s sure to be a highlight. There’s also Redfern Now, a six part series written, produced and starring Indigenous Australians. The ABC have brought in BAFTA winning writer Jimmy McGovern as the story producer and each of the six episodes delves into a different household in Redfern whose “lives are changed by a seemingly insignificant incident”. Elsewhere the ABC have a pair of Guy Pearce starring Jack Irish telemovies and the Deborah Mailman starring Mabo telemovie, which are the sort of productions that sound like the exception to the rule that telemovies are often best ignored.
Australian drama has been pretty dire these last few years so it’s a rare treat to look over the line-up of new shows on the way and be able to pick not just a single series that may hold promise but four or five dramas that look like they could be genuinely good. Even if none of these new dramas deliver at the very least we’ll all be able to laugh at how terrible Tricky Business is. There will be a lot of new drama to chew over in 2012 and Change The Channel will be there trying to cover most of these new shows episode by episode; yes, probably even Reef Doctors.