Opinion: How Offspring got it so right, so quickly

It’s easy to see why Offspring isn’t pulling huge numbers.

Not bad numbers, by any stretch, as anything which can consistently pull figures around the 1m mark is valuable to any network.

And this dramatic shift has only been validated by its recent third season renewal after its first five episodes have scored 927,000, 760,000 (in a later timeslot), 905,000 and 953,000 and 954,000, 982,000 and 995,000 respectively.

However, while these seem to be decent numbers, they pale in comparison to the ratings juggernaut that is Packed to the Rafters (its last six episodes rated 1.943, 1.815, 1.796, 1.748, 1.806, 1.709 million repsectively)- a show waiting to burst back on to the scene in the second half of the year.

Offspring in many ways deserves to be up there with Packed to the Rafters, however many still regard it as a “chick show”, possibly because of its female lead, as well as its flowery title font, as well as the underlying motifs of pregancy, relationships and commitment… who knows. But the fact is, it’s anything but a Sex and the City clone, for want of a better example, and it deserves much more praise than it gets.

But possibly the reason for that is, is that it has suffered from a particularly average first season. Let me refresh your memory;

The first episode of the first season opened to Asher Keddie swimming in a pool, an actress that would have been known for her work on acclaimed Australian drama Love My Way, but possibly better known for her more recent work on the second series of Underbelly, given its run on Free to Air rather than Pay TV.

However, many remarked on the striking similarities between the pool shot and The Secret Life of Us’ frequent activity around similar places.

Then came the inner monologue voice over while Keddie was swimming.

Then came the clumsy bump into the wall at the end of the pool lane.

So that presumably was to tell viewers everything they needed to know about Nina’s personality; words like “awkward”, “clumsy”, “obsessive” and “frazzled” were meant to spring to mind.

And that was just her personality- from then on it wasn’t that hard to guess how the rest of her life was structured.

Hectic yet rewarding job? Check – she’s an obstetrician.

Sibling who is the polar opposite? Check – her sister Billie is seen tearing the clothes off a gardner (this was also used in the promo) soon after we meet her.

Other siblings to add some spice? Check – meet unemployed brother Jimmy.

Separated parents symbolising her fractured personality? Check.

And then there was the work situation, which has also been fused with her love-life and friendships.

There were the somewhat flirty somewhat bitchy somewhat playful nurses.

And then there was the love interest, played by Don Hany, a character which seemed would haunt every one of Nina’s dreams for the entire series.

And it did to some extent, with the “will-they won’t-they” dynamic being well established from the first episode.

There was also a parallel relationship established with her sister Billie and Mick, with a similar dynamic.

Yes, it was one of “those” shows- leaving gender out of it, it was one of those “Oh, isn’t life hard in this day and age? You know, trying to balance our jobs with our personal life, etc. etc.”

But this is not to say that it was a bad show. It was a perfectly fine, even a good Australian drama.

And it burst on to the scene as a fresh new Australian drama with a focus that wasn’t directly on a family, nor was it on a bunch of cops, nor a bunch of crooks, or people “rescuing” other people.

But it just couldn’t match the ease with which Packed to the Rafters churned out breezy, yet addictive storytelling. However, it was still head and shoulders above the likes of Rescue: Special Ops, Sea Patrol and even Rush.

So what did Packed to the Rafters have that Offspring didn’t?

Continue reading…

Well, something that can’t just be manufactured in a show’s first season. It had a confidence in its characters, as well as the momentum of a couple of popular seasons, to pull off new and daring ideas. It was not revolutionary, but the way it handled stories involving divorce, depression and death kept viewers glued to the TV in their droves.

So what turned things around? Or perhaps more accurately, what propelled it further in the right direction? I put it down to three things;

Well firstly, the acting prowess of the lead in Asher Keddie was underlined by lauded turns as Blanche D’Alpuget in Hawke and Ita Buttrose in Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo.

There was also the somewhat mysterious lack of one Don Hany from the cast, especially at the Logies, where his notable absence was kept strongly under wraps. Now it has come out that he has spent some time chasing new opportunities in the US. However, in the context of the show, it seemed as if it was losing a vital element. On the contrary, arguably the shows biggest draw-card in season 1 (he was made to appear as if he was Australia’s answer to Dr McDreamy in promos) was also its biggest hindrance moving forward. The season finale ended with Nina and Chris in a lift, unresolved sexual tension raging, with the near guarantee that it would stretch on for another season.

However, removing an element from a show is often more effective that adding ten when trying to rejuvenate or re-energise it.

Hence with Chris out, the writers were forced to come up with new characters to fill the void; Matthew Le Nevez as the prickly Patrick and Jay Ryan as the charismatic yet inexperienced Fraser. Both have provided entertaining storylines which have allowed Asher Keddie to shine even more; she had a fling with Fraser, a young obstetrics register, however, he collapsed in high-pressure situations, forcing Nina to let him go.

At the same time she had to grapple with the possibility that Patrick beats his wife, setting up various questions of morality. It turned out to be untrue, of course (that would be a tad too extreme for a so-called dramedy), leading to Nina and Fraser having a rocky relationship that has eventually led them to the bedroom as a result of a traumatic hospital situation.

It is clear that this season, Nina does not want to get tied up in a complicated relationship as she was in the first season, showing good character development.

Her relationship with Patrick is sure to hit a speed-bump when these issues come to the surface, and will likely be the plot arc that will play itself out over the second half of the season- will Nina commit to another serious relationship? And given the promise that Dr Chris would return, his presence will be likely to shake things up even further in the latter part of the season.

Billie and Mick have also had a decent plot arc dealt out to them, as after finding out that they both have various issues that prevent them from conceiving, Mick’s brother Andrew (who happens to be gay) has been brought into the picture, setting up further tension for episodes to come.

It will be interesting to see how the show handles another pregnancy, given its close proximity to Cherie and Kim’s pregnancies; but then again, the show is called Offspring, so if any show has the license to do it…

Nina’s brother Jimmy also met another wacky girl, although this time, the whole family hated her. She then broke up with Jimmy in a particularly abrupt fashion- on their supposed wedding day.

The supporting cast has also been able to step up, with Nina’s nurse colleague played by Jane Harber hooking up with Nina’s brother, as well as Cherie, played by Deborah Mailman, hooking up with bizarre boss Martin Clegg played by Lachie Hulme.

The Proudman parents also haven’t been forgotten, with their amicable divorce finally giving their characters a bit of freedom – case in point being Geraldine getting together with  her realtor, setting up further tension with Darcy.

But putting aside all the intricacies of the plot for a moment, it’s admirable the way the show keeps all of its balls in the air, giving all the talented actors decent plots to keep them and the audience interested.

The real test will be trying to build on its audience in season three. While 900 thousand is good for an Australian drama, it is not necessarily a guarantee of renewal. If it could somehow generate more positive word-of-mouth and publicity to drive it over the 1 million mark, it would be a fantastic vote of confidence in the show.

But if not, with a show like this, it’s easy for an audience to turn against it; all it takes is a storyline to hit a few bum notes, or a “jump the shark” moment to occur (eg. Nina getting married), and the bad word-of-mouth will start. And while the “fantasy” sequences in the show provide it with a necessary point of difference to other dramas out there, if they become too frequent or too outlandish, they will begin to play on viewers’ nerves. And if even a few viewers turn off, it starts to head into the dangerous 800 or 700 thousand territory, and from there, it’s pretty hard to claw back to the position it was in.

But in saying that, there is no sign that it will drive itself off a cliff anytime soon, and hopefully it becomes one of the great long-running Australian dramas.

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Posted on June 21, 2011, in Opinion and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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