When the Stan limited series The Commons, which is set in a near future Sydney straining under harsh demands, was commissioned, it quite possibly appeared to be an act of prediction. By the time it had finished shooting, complete with storylines framed by weather emergencies and climate refugees, it could have had the air of prescience. Now that it’s airing, and Australia is suffering from unprecedented bushfires exacerbated by climate change, it may well be redundant. Reality is now moving faster than any production schedule.
Created by Shelley Birse (The Code), the eight-part drama is set 10 to 20 year ahead of today, when the settings that govern our lives, both public and personal, are being steadily turned to extremes. It provides, in snatches that are sometimes vividly effective and sometimes problematically vague, a sense of tomorrow that feels like a sequel to today: the coastline is evacuated for a “class six” storm, rural dwellers forced off the land are stopped from relocating to the city, and new diseases driven by changing weather patterns spread.
It’s impossible this last week or two, and perhaps any time in the months to come, to watch The Commons and not compare it with our new bushfire reality. Both the show and the television news coverage (which on the whole has been first-rate) feature skies turned otherworldly colours, lost homes, and the mass evacuation of Australians to resettlement centres. That the momentum of real life change has moved beyond the show is undeniable, but that doesn’t mean the series doesn’t provide reflection on what we’re dealing with.
Broadly speaking, the show is about the personal fault-lines between creation and destruction. English expatriate Eadie Boulay (Downton Abbey’s Joanne Froggatt) is a neuropsychologist whose desperation to fall pregnant is straining her marriage to research scientist Lloyd Green (David Lyons). After missing her last chance at IVF, Eadie surreptitiously undertakes an unofficial program, risking her life by suppressing her immune system to make her body accept an embryo. Even as she’s trying to conceive a life, Eadie witnesses the loss of others.