Thanks to Packed To The Rafters, Australian television is enjoying something of a domestic drama renaissance. This new breed of show centres around families and, depending in the show, a variety of extended family members and satellite characters. It makes a nice change from dramas set in police stations, hospitals and law practices, I must say, but with our TV screens inundated with so many dysfunctional – and entertaining – families, a new sub-trend, shall we say, has emerged.
It wasn’t so long ago that the inclusion of positive gay and lesbian characters in such shows was seen as progressive, but now that’s par for the course. Gay characters are so passé now. So, welcome to the screen a veritable bevy of unknown siblings, lost birth parents and traumatising progeny of pre-marital flings.
As you’d expect, the recently-finished Packed To The Rafters was the first out of the gate, with Dave (Erik Thompson) seeking out his birth parents Chel (Gillian Jones) and Tom (John Howard), and discovering a hitherto unknown set of unsavoury step-relatives, including the troublesome petty thief half-nephew Coby (Ryan Corr), who soon became part of the Rafters family unit, and underwent a character reformation (his art showed a softer side to the disaffected youth) and thankfully a style makeover, including a less-bogan hairstyle.
House Husbands made it clear from the outset that Lewis (Gary Sweet) had an adult daughter Lucy (Anna McGahan) from his first marriage, but towards the end of the first season, he was joined by another daughter from a previous relationship, Phoebe (Georgia Flood), a pregnant, sulky runaway teen. Like Coby and the Rafters, she and her baby Gem were soon incorporated into Lewis’ home and family unit, and transformed into a much more likeable character.
Meanwhile, 60 years ago in A Place To Call Home, one of the many ‘scandalous’ secrets the Bligh family has been hiding has been recently revealed, and that’s the fact that George’s (Brett Climo) daughter, the thoroughly modern Anna (Abby Earl), who was pregnant to her secret Italian lover before a miscarriage, is actually his niece! Yes, on a trip to Sydney to consult her favourite aunt, Carolyn (Sara Wiseman), Anna discovers that she was the result of an unmarried affair, born overseas while Carolyn was travelling with George’s wife and brought home as their daughter. Of course, being a rather self-contained series, Anna’s real father isn’t just some random bloke Carolyn hooked up with, but someone very close to the Bligh family. Naturally. No one else in the family knows she knows yet, but when it hits the fan, it’ll give James’ gay lust for Harry a run for its money in the scandal stakes.
The Time of Our Lives is still in its early episodes, and so while no illegitimate children have been revealed yet, it may only be a matter of time. At least we have Luce’s (Shane Jacobson) oldest daughter Georgie (Elise MacDougall) from his first marriage to Maryanne (Anita Hegh) to act as half-sister to the younger twin girls and step-daughter to Bernadette (Justine Clarke). Maybe that’s enough steps and halves for the moment.
Not too far removed from that in Offspring Land, Nina Proudman (Asher Keddie) leads a pretty complicated life as it is, but last year she discovered that Darcy (Jon Waters) wasn’t her real father at all, and that she was the result of a one-off fling between her mother Geraldine (Linda Cropper) and her doctor at the time, Phillip (Garry McDonald). She, of course, had to go and find him, and he is now back with Geraldine and an accepted and integrated member in the very messy Proudman family.
Winners & Losers is back for its third season, and starts off with Jenny Gross (Melissa Bergland) and her family – the wholesome, moral core of the show – dealing with the emergence of Sam (Katherine Hicks), a daughter that dad Brian (Francis Greenslade) didn’t even know about. No one’s dealing with it very well at all, to be honest, and as Brian tries hard to invite Sam into the family, son Patrick (Jack Pearson) isn’t having a bar of it, wife Trish (Denise Scott)is having trouble with the whole idea of it, and Jenny too is struggling to process this new information. And all of this is on top of Frances (Virginia Gay) finding her half-sister Jasmine (PiaGrace Moon), another recalcitrant teen whose bad behaviour has mellowed. Clearly it’ll only be a matter of time before Sam overcomes the Gross’ discomfort and becomes a part of the furniture, but not before the series writers milk it for all it’s worth.
Funny, isn’t it, that all the surprise children are all female, aside from Coby (who doesn’t really count, because he’s not a direct son of an established character). Is that because illegitimate daughters are easier to accept just because they’re female? It’s certainly a lot more convenient for scriptwriters to crank up the femininity and ‘softer’ side of these characters than it is to polish the rougher edges of spiky and unwanted male characters, and that opens up a whole new can of worms about the representation of male and female characters in Australian drama, but let’s not go there right now.
Of course, love children storylines aren’t new – soap operas have been using them for years, and apart from adding new dramatic subplots to these dramas, it also reflects the complicated family lives many Australians experience. Let’s just hope then that this sub-genre doesn’t spread much more than it has now. Hopefully it’ll stay out of other current Australian drama series, because the last thing we need right now is to discover that Dr Lucien Blake is actually the illegitimate lovechild of Miss Fisher and the dashing detective Jack Robinson. Because that would be silly. And we can’t have silly television now, can we?