The Secret Daughter review: Australian TV serves up another stinker soap

Is there a greater waste of Australian talent on TV than Seven’s limp new Jessica Mauboy-led soap The Secret Daughter? Mauboy, a pop star who got her start on Australian Idol and went on to star in the immensely popular film The Sapphires, had this series built around her skills and personality, so naturally there’s a strong musical element.

Apart from that, there’s not much going for it.

Mauboy plays Billie, a country pub singer, who meets Jack Norton (Colin Friels), a wealthy hotelier from Sydney who has travelled to the country seeking his long lost daughter. Could Billie be that daughter?

Jack has his own dysfunctional, very white-bread, entitled family, so we can see right from the start that there’s a clash of cultures being set up.

The first episode was written by Justin Monjo, an experienced and talented TV writer, and directed by the wonderful Leah Purcell. Both are hamstrung by a completely uninspired plot, but Monjo doesn’t exactly imbue any of the dialogue with life or any great detail.

None of the characters are particularly distinctive, not even Billie’s hapless, trouble-plagued father Gus (David Field), nor any of the colourful supporting townsfolk characters. (The writers should have taken note of the vivacity and nuance of Deborah Kennedy’s Doris Collins and Frankie J Holden’s Roy Briggs in A Place to Call Home.)

You can hear the wheels turning with a loud clunk at every turn and, despite Purcell’s best efforts to smooth some of that over, it comes across as just another B-grade soap. Purcell and Monjo pull every rabbit out of their hats in an attempt to inject some tension or stakes into the narrative, but it becomes impossible to care about any of the characters when the plotting lacks any real surprises.

Mauboy can act, there’s no doubt about that. She has great sincerity on the screen and seems to have a strong natural sense for bringing dialogue to life. Unfortunately, the whole performance feels a little passive and needs a massive boost of energy.

Not that that’s a problem in her musical performances, which are the clear highlight of the first episode. But they’re not even integrated in a particularly interesting way.

This is a show that either needed a major overhaul or to have the plug pulled long ago.

I wrote just last week that Australian network TV was short on original ideas. With its musical elements and promised cultural clashes, The Secret Daughter had the potential to be something quite special, but it’s so uninspired and clumsy in its execution it just feels like more of the same.

It’s been a long time since the dramatic landscape on our major networks felt this depressing (as my colleague Luke Buckmaster observed less than a month ago, there’s plenty of exciting work happening, just not on major networks). It’s enough to make you wish for a return of Seven’s entirely competent (if entirely dull) Packed to the Rafters.

23 responses to “The Secret Daughter review: Australian TV serves up another stinker soap

  1. I’ve watched this show from the beginning. I have laughed at Gus’ antics, enjoyed the great music, and cheered for the support for each other. And that’s all I ask for in an hours entertainment, it makes me feel good.

  2. I’m not sure whether i’m currently watching the season 2 Finale but i’m really enjoying it. I actually want to watch it from the beginning!

    A bit corny & cliché but it is feel-good with some really good moments. The music too, Ms Mauboy’s voice! Heavenly. The acting isn’t too shabby either. I will def try to watch the whole series!

  3. Amazed at the comments from adults here. Don’t you realise the target market is for like 9-13 YO girls. Why are grown adults without kids watching this expecting some complex plot and adult level material. There are enough dramas out there for you or just get a life.

  4. Great show, the only stinker here is the clearly bitter reviewer. Can’t wait for season 2 and see what happens next with Billie and Jamie and the rest of them.

  5. I am enjoying it, no one’s been shot, stabbed or built a house… it’s a feel good story and I like it – so there!

  6. Not bad, but it’s not worth taking the time out of your day for either. The plot seems a little thin and every piece of dialogue felt like I had walked in on a local theatre group practice. That said the set design was lovely and the musical scenes were very well acted and shot. Mauboy is definitely the star but the writers have failed to create a character that showcases her talents as an actor. Not enough substance to keep me around but I think its just light enough for the vast majority

  7. Loved the first 2 episodes, would have preferred that the dad hung around for a bit. Love Jessica, her singing and her presence bring this story to life. I can’t wait for the 3rd episode.

  8. I adore Jessica Mauboy & will probably overlook many of the flaws in this show for the chance to see her (and hear her stunning voice). The one flaw I couldn’t overlook in that episode was the paternity test that miraculously came back within 12 hours (not daytime working hours mind you), having been processed in a hotel reception drawer – and none of the characters were heard to even question how. Who let that one slip by? Hope they find a creative way to repair it!

  9. I enjoyed it very much. Light hearted and perfect for winding down from the weekend. Looking forward to the next episode!

  10. Loved it, looking forward to the next episode. Country meets city, Koori and Anglo relations. Light hearted entertainment, musical with a dizzy dad, what’s not to like.

  11. This is the first episode and too early to judge. You talk about the wonderful supporting characters of A Place to Call Home. Not sure I would echo your sentiments about Doris. She is a stereotype reminiscent of the characters who have played light relief in olf soaps such as A Country Practice, and even as far back as Number 96.

    I enjoyed the first episode. I am not sure that A Place to Call Home was any better this early into its run. Who knows how it will Go. I can understand being skeptical but the jury is still out.

    Mauboy did fine.

  12. We all expect Shakespear to appear but ,Alas! No, but i can’t cop his stuff either, realise your audience guys , The Block is a very high rater , Home and Away ,Neighbors been running for years, people will watch The Secret Daughter because of the tale itself will go Ok , it’s all in the eye of the beholders , they don’t want too much of a plot to work out , just to relax on the couch and watch and listen to Jessica perform and sing, she is very attractive , plus some actors and writers have a job for awhile , Do you ever critique the Bold and the Beautiful ?? That rates over the moon and it,s complete drivel !! I watched Secret D it’s passable better than 800 Words or GoggleBox ! Stop being such a NARK!!

  13. The only thing that actually stinks here is the review! Brilliant fresh concept, solid storyline and pretty decent acting… I certainly enjoyed it and cannot wait for the next episode.

  14. Re; the above comments, firstly Cleverman is awful compared to what? Secret Daughter? I am not defending quality of Cleverman, but at least it dared to be original (and Aboriginal!). I have had dealings with film funding bodies on a state and federal level, and they are gutless sycophants, who want nothing more than to discover “Strictly Balroom” again. Unfortunately they are talentless bunch, (if you cant do…teach) and we will continue to have mindless drivel spawned onto our lives. There is a reason why Netflix is so popular, and there is a corresponding decline in Australian tele-vision (vision is the operative word!!!)
    I have watched nothing but the news for years and if the govt stopped subsidising the crap our networks give us, and give it to the poor and needy instead, we would all breathe a big sigh of relief!

    1. Hi John, I wanted dearly to like Cleverman (I am a huge fan of genre TV), but it was just too amateurish (design, writing, acting, pacing) to get through. If it makes you feel any better I thought Glitch was just as bad. And don’t me started on that abomination called Hiding. I realise that all three shows were hampered by lack of funding.

      PS. I too have dealt with screen funding bodies, and I agree that most are staffed by talentless imbeciles.

  15. Lots of good writers in Australia with ideas ready to go. Lots of risk-averse commissioners in Australian telly. Australian writers now look overseas to gt their ideas produced.

  16. I don’t want to take potshots at the industry, but might it be the case of the same people writing, directing and producing the same stuff over and over again? On the other hand, when we try something original, we end up with Cleverman (which was awful, even if it’s not politically correct to admit it), so you can see the allure of making the same stuff over and over again. Remember, this is a country where not only did a show as atrocious as Wonderland get made, but it got renewed twice.

    PS. It’s good to see the usually sycophantic media giving an objective assessment of TV shows. I’m sick of every journalist declaring each new show a masterpiece.

  17. A pity to see a trusty and gifted actor who like a seasoned warhorse will competently deal with any job and work for his living. But sad to see this ensemble cast given so little meat in the sandwich ( not even feel obliged to ) have clutter up the resume. Performances not the problem. Sadly the concept and written material dire. Exec.s take note. Don’t bother to sell us products of your lazy mindedness. Wake up.

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