Australia has always been proud of its unique style of TV shows. With illustrious backdrops, gentle Aussie comedy and the kind of drama that can only be produced in an Australian setting — lethal jellyfish sting at an Australia Day BBQ, anyone? — here is a list of the 10 most entertaining television series Australia has produced.
Packed to the Rafters
The pilot of Packed to the Rafters sets the precedent for the rest of the series while highlighting every parent’s nightmare: all three of the parents’ grown children returning to live at home. The Rafter family is a delightfully eccentric nuclear family living in the suburbs of Melbourne. The show had one of the highest ratings an Australian TV series has ever achieved. Parents Dave and Julie had just gotten used to living by themselves when their adult children Rachel, Ben and Nathan all move back home because of different circumstances: substance addiction, divorce and unlucky in money. It’s a lighthearted show with social issues mixed in — a perfect balance that will have you binge-watching this underrated show in a week.
The most alluring aspect of this Australian drama is its backdrop: the early 1970’s in Kings Cross. It follows the lives of women living in Stanton House, a home for pregnant unwed mothers, and the staff that work in the adjoining hospital. It was inspired by the very real forced adoption policy that took place from the 1950’s to the 1980’s. A colourful drama based on love, passion and the concept of right and wrong, the series has a refreshingly strong women-based cast and coincides with the compulsory drafting and resulting protests of the Vietnam War.
Just a few episodes of this beloved Australian drama will have you packing your suitcase and moving to the Australian outback as quick as you can say ‘sheep shearing’. Following the lives of two very different sisters on an entirely women-run property in rural South Australia, McLeod’s Daughters gives great insight into living on beautiful Aussie landscapes and how hard it is to run a farm.
While the underground world of crime in Sydney and Melbourne hardly compares to the Italian Mafia, it still isn’t for the fainthearted. The first series was inspired by a book written by two Australian journalists, John Silvester and Andrew Rule, who spent years of their careers researching the crime and drug rings that existed in Australia’s major cities. There are seven series, all surrounding a certain time period of Australia’s criminal history or a particular criminal overlord. For example, season one focuses on the Melbourne gangland killings between 1995 and 2004, and how truck driver Carl Williams became one of Australia’s most notorious drug lords. Season Five is set in a more modern Sydney between 2001 and 2012, and it tells the story of underworld figure Anthony ‘Rooster’ Perish, along with the efforts of the NSW Police to apprehend him. Whatever season you choose, you’re in for a raw look into the lesser-known sides of Sydney and Melbourne.
Summer Heights High
When you type Summer Heights High into the Google search bar, the first predictive question to appear is ‘Is Summer Heights High real?’. It isn’t, but since every Australian suffers through high school, it may as well be. The mockumentary was written and starred in by Aussie comedian Chris Lilley, set in the fictional Summer Heights High School in Sydney. The show is filmed in a docu-like sequence from the perspectives of three typical characters you’d find in the average Australian high school: overly eccentric Director of Performing Arts Mr. G, private school exchange student (and snob) Ja’mie King and disobedient, foul-mouthed Tongan student Jonah Takalua. It’s hilarious, relatable, and highly entertaining.
Blue Heelers holds the record for having the most episodes produced for any Australian television drama. The series centres around the daily shifts of Victorian police officers — or ‘Heelers’- in the fictional town of Mount Thomas. Each episode is a story told from the perspective of the officers, a specific technique creator Hal McElroy had in mind when he wrote the series. The problems presented in each episode range from homicides, robberies and assaults to the more trivial, such as fencing disputes. It’s the perfect balance between lighthearted comedy and drama.
Somewhat similar to the wildly popular American series Orange is the New Black, Wentworth follows the life of Bea Smith, after she is charged for the attempted murder of her husband, separated from her daughters and sent to Wentworth Women’s Prison on pre-trial detention. She is forced to learn to survive on the bottom rung of the hierarchy in the prison. When production started, the producers were told to push all the boundaries and honestly depict what life is really like in a women’s prison. Therefore, it’s an extremely confronting — and intriguing — series, making it a must-watch.
Upper Middle Bogan
This comedy series is a great introduction to what the word bogan really means to Australians. Bess Denyer is a doctor living with her family on Sydney’s posh Northern Beaches when she discovers her extremely proper mother is not, in fact, her real mother. Her real family consists of Wayne and Julie Wheeler and their three children, who are worlds apart from her overbearing mother. The Wheelers have their own drag racing team, prefer cans of VB over champagne and are down-to-earth and friendly. The series follows Bess as she attempts to form a happy union between her adoptive upper middle class mother and her biological bogan family.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
This sassy, charismatic and action-packed detective drama is worth watching for the to-die-for wardrobe alone. The Honourable Miss Phryne Fisher is a fashionable and wittier version of Miss Marple — an amateur private detective with a knack for getting people to talk. Based in St Kilda in Melbourne in the late 1920’s, Miss Fisher is a beacon for her time — she drives her own car, wears trousers and takes any man who tickles her fancy. Her constant run-ins with handsome Detective Inspector Jack Robinson are fraught with sexual tension and will have you tuning in for more.
Please Like Me
Written, produced and starred in by much-loved Australian comedian Josh Thomas, Please Like Me is a comical drama series following the main character Josh — a 20-year-old gay male who is awkwardly trying to figure out how the world works — and where he fits into it. Thomas was careful to pitch the series as a comedy-drama and not a sitcom, and the brutal honesty of the show reflects the raw emotion mixed with comedy that’s hard to find these days.
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