So why on earth has it taken the ABC so long to have their own ‘network family?’
The Time of Our Lives introduces us to the Tivolis, a contemporary, inner-Melbourne clan of 30 and 40 somethings and their senior parents.
There are two brothers Matt (William McInnes) and Luce (Shane Jacobsen) who are married to Caroline (Claudia Karvan) and Bernadette (Justine Clarke).
The parents / grandparents Ray (Tony Barry) and Rosa (Sue Jones) adopted Chai Li many years ago, a Vietnamese-born girl now played by Michelle Vergara Moore. Stephen Curry also plays Herb, a friend of the family.
Writer / Producers Judi McCrossin (The Secret Life of Us, Tangle, The Surgeon, Beaconsfield) and Amanda Higgs (The Secret Life of Us, East of Everything, Bed of Roses) propel us into the story with an inciting incident being the wedding of Chai Li, who is jilted at the altar by her partner (Michael Dorman).
Cleverly, this device brings the family together so we can see how they interact, and the various reactions to this devastating news tell us more about their personalities and inner hierarchy.
Stephen Curry’s character, meanwhile, is opening a new stand-up comedy venue which should serve as a necessary public meeting place for the clan. He appears to have designs on Chai Li, readily comforting her in her despair.
But The Time of Our Lives appears to be about the minutiae of suburban life, with much of its story falling in between the cracks.
Luce and Bernadette are battling the bills and dealing with an ex-wife, Caroline’s character is and unable to cope with anything other than raising the perfect child (the relentlessly named ‘Carmody’), Matt is a man suffering within his marriage.
Much of this story is tackling the changing shape of Australian families, how we co-parent with ex-partners, what do we do when we’re in an unhappy relationship?
In the opening episodes the female characters make their mark, with Justine Clarke glowing as a mother juggling work, family and her partner’s ex-wife (if you didn’t see her work in Tangle prepare to fall in love all over again). Claudia Karvan is impenetrable in her strive for perfection. It’s taken too long to give Sue Jones an on-going role in a broadly-appealing drama. But William McInnes will also remind us why is he one of the country’s most consummate actors.
McCrossin has a knack for dealing with the fragility of life, and playing with a tapestry of flawed characters bodes well as a plot engine. After the establishing episode is done and dusted, prepare for real stories, real dialogue, real people. Unlike the free-to-air families, there is no necessity to keep clamouring back to light humour just to stop you from switching channels.
If, like me, you’ve been waiting for ABC to come up with a successor to The Slap then this is about as close as it gets right now.
The Time of our Lives premieres 8:30pm Sunday on ABC1.