The show, which saw a city family swap abodes with a country family, ran just two years, but was cancelled with around 1 – 1.2 million viewers (ironically, a figure that networks would kill for these days). It was a decision many argue was premature.
Now the team is back with Packed to the Rafters, another family-driven light drama about young adults returning to live with their parents.
Pilots are notoriously difficult animals, and this one spends much time establishing Julie and Dave Rafter (Rebecca Gibney and Erik Thomson) as sympathetic characters. As they reach their 25th wedding anniversary they finally wave off the last of their nest, Ben (Hugh Sheridan). A somewhat superfluous narration by Julie reminds us she’s rapt to finally have time for themselves, and for a long bath.
Before long, son Nathan (Angus McLaren) and wife Sammy (Jessica McNamee) are knocking on the door looking for a room at the inn. Meanwhile, Julie’s newly widowed father Ted (Michael Caton) isn’t coping with life alone, and it turns out Ben only moved in with a mate next door. If you think this sounds like an episode of Eight is Enough, you’d be right so far…
The tone of Packed to the Rafters is predominantly light. Ben provides most of the mirth as the goofy son making his way in the world. Dave is retrenched from his job as an electrician, but still manages to brighten his day with an (over) dose of Viagra. This leads to a similarly flippant exchange between Thomson’s character and Nurse Melissa (Zoe Ventoura) who – lo and behold – is set to move in with Ben.
But Rafters also features some darker, more successful moments in the pilot. When Ted has a suspected heart attack, Julie finds him in the hospital wearing her deceased mother’s dress. He wore it because its scent reminded him of his wife. Sullen-faced Caton gets the best moments in Rafters without needing any of the dialogue. Another more dramatic thread follows in episode two.
As in the SBS reality show The Nest, the saga of Australia’s blended families is worth mining. In a climate of grittier, “cop-heavy” new dramas, it will be interesting to watch how Rafters makes its mark as an adult soap opera.