Then Josh Thomas created one of Australian television’s best comedies, Please Like Me, a series about family and friends that was funny, sad, audacious and original. One of its distinguishing qualities was a fluid incorporation of a range of sensitive subjects. It depicted death, grief, depression, self harm, suicide, coming out, marital breakdown and awkward sex as easily as it displayed its love of French toast, truffled mac and cheese, crocheted cushion covers and floral prints.
Thomas’s latest series, made in the US, exhibits many of the now-familiar themes and concerns: the emotional tangles of family life; millennials grappling with unaccustomed responsibility; the complications of human connection; bumpy romantic relationships. But it also looks a lot more like a glossy American sitcom, a shift emphasised by the title. Gone is the op-shop hip and cosy décor, replaced by the kind of TV-version of plush-comfortable middle-class life: king-size beds, kitchen island benches, in-ground pools.
The set-up sees Nicholas (Thomas) visiting his father (Christopher May) and teenage half-sisters, Genevieve (Maeve Press) and Matilda (Kayla Cromer), in suburban Los Angeles. Genevieve is smart and earnest and grappling with mean-girl friends; Matilda is a gifted musician who’s on the autism spectrum and has a crush on a popular boy. Nicholas is preparing to return to Australia and his mum (Vivienne Walshe) when an unexpected turn of events requires that he stay to care for his sisters.
So the show moves into a classic comedy situation: a possibly unsuitable and ill-prepared man looking after two teenage girls while trying to get his own life in order. Through Genevieve and Matilda, the show is able to venture into the classroom, into teen rituals and diplomacies, as well as focusing on domestic activity and Nicholas’s affairs.
Thomas again displays a deft and distinctive touch. He’s able to incorporate a range of aspects of his characters’ lives with ease and he’s both astute and accepting.
The latest production is more like a traditional US sitcom than Please Like Me: the previous production was rougher around the edges, which was part of its charm. But thankfully the new series also retains the qualities that make Thomas’s work so special.
Netflix, from January 17
Soon after the second season of Laurie Nunn’s vibrant comedy-drama about sex, relationships and the complexities of human communication begins, Otis (Asa Butterfield) is “back in business”. That business is sex advice to fellow students at his English high school. It’s a skill that he’s picked up from his sex-therapist mother, Jean (Gillian Anderson), and one which his canny and cash-strapped classmate, Maeve (Emma Mackey), has spun into a lucrative covert operation. Otis has a talent for counselling: he’s empathetic, informed and non-judgmental. That skill, however, doesn’t translate to his life, where he’s stumbling through his relationships as clumsily as everyone else, adults and children alike.
The new season sees Otis caught between his girlfriend, Ola (Patricia Allison), and Maeve, while Jean is having an affair with Ola’s dad (Mikael Persbrandt).
Anderson looks to be having a ball as an unapologetically frank clinician and Nunn’s effortlessly inclusive series treats all of its characters with affection and respect. There’s a notably broad range of them in a rich canvas detailed with humour and heart.
At once sweet-natured and disarmingly direct, it’s the kind of production that you’d never see on free-to-air.
Apple TV+, from January 17
Inspired by true stories published in Epic magazine, this finely crafted eight-part anthology series comprises half-hour episodes, each telling a different tale of the migrant experience.
It opens with the delicately wrought story of Kabir, a young Indian boy living with his parents in Utah. They run a budget motel and his dad promises him a car if he can learn every word in the dictionary. When his parents are sent back to India with visa problems, Kabir becomes an accomplished speller.
Foxtel On Demand
There’s much to enjoy as the recently arrived second season of this desert-dry comedy-drama continues the adventures of father, lover, ex-husband and hitman Ray Shoesmith (series creator Scott Ryan).
The protagonist is a man of few words and the series, directed by Nash Edgerton, has a gift for understatement. The tone can shift in an instant and the production is populated by the lively community surrounding Ray: his employer (Damon Herriman), his porn-addicted pal (Justin Rosniak), his bright-as-a-button young daughter (Chika Yasumura), his girlfriend (Brooke Satchwell), and his ailing brother (Nicholas Cassim). A dark, glittering gem.
This Norwegian political thriller began with the country electing a Green government, headed by Jesper Berg (Henrik Mestad), that pledged to stop production of oil and gas and focus on developing renewables. The EU quickly made its dissatisfaction known, while neighbouring Russia invaded, endeavouring to ensure its energy supply.
All sorts of espionage, duplicity, blackmail and murderous activity followed, entangling restauranteur Bente Norum (Ane Dahl Torp) and security specialist Hans Martin Djupvik (Eldar Skar). The six-part third and final season recently landed and it has more plots, deceptions, blackmail, and even poison capsules, before the shock finale.
If you missed this addictive six-part legal drama on Foxtel and the ABC, here’s a chance to catch up before the second season lands. Written by Abi Morgan (River, The Hour), it stars the estimable Nicola Walker (Last Tango in Halifax, Unforgotten) as Hannah, one of three female divorce lawyers in the Defoe family. She’s just left her mother’s firm to join a shinier operation. The drama pivots between her private and professional lives: law-firm cases and the juggle between that pressure and her home life, which involves an understanding husband (Stephen Mangan) and their two children.
*Stan is owned by this masthead.