Channel Ten hasn’t premiered a big, beloved and long-running drama series since Offspring first appeared in 2010.
There have been some modest successes along the way, with show such as Puberty Blues, The Wrong Girl and Wonderland lasting for more than one season, but there’s been no new flagship drama in many years.
Sisters premiered last night with a much-hyped double-length episode, just as Offspring had done seven years earlier. It’s now in Offspring‘s long-held Wednesday night time-slot, and is created by one of Offspring‘s core writers, Jonathan Gavin.
There would seem to be a clear objective from Channel Ten to replicate some of that success in reaching an audience of mostly women, somewhere in the key 18 to 54 bracket.
Although the premiere didn’t achieve a spectacular ratings result (its overnight figure was 624,000 metro viewers), the series has the potential to do well on Ten’s catch-up service, as I suspect it will be the kind of show that people recommend to their friends.
It’s also a notably more sophisticated offering than the other major dramas targeted at this demographic on Seven and Nine (The Secret Daughter, Doctor Doctor, Love Child, House Husbands etc.), and features a strong cast of well-known and new faces, already turning in strong and enticing performances in the first episode.
Julia (Maria Angelico) is the 30-year-old daughter of Nobel Prize-winning IVF pioneer Julius Bechly (Barry Otto). She’s built her life around caring for her father, whose health is quickly deteriorating, and her sense of identity is entirely tied-up in her role as the genius’s daughter.
But her life is thrown into absolute chaos when Julius makes an extraordinary revelation to the media: over his many years helping couples to fall pregnant, he frequently used his own sperm, and has fathered up to 100 children.
A storm of controversy ensues, and Julia struggles to understand her father’s deception. So she decides to throw a small party for all the prospective offspring of Julius to get to know one another and take DNA tests.
One of those children is Roxy (Lucy Durack), a children’s TV star with an addiction to prescription drugs, who tends to swallow up all of the limelight no matter the situation.
Another potential sibling for Julia is Edie (Antonia Prebble), a strait-laced lawyer who used to be a close friend Julia. The two had a significant falling out years ago when Julia’s partner left her for Edie.
The feature-length premiere establishes these three central characters with great clarity, as well as the tensions that will play out between them over the course of the season.
As is the case with many pilots, it’s not always entirely confident walking and talking at the same time: the need to establish these characters’ worlds and histories while digging into the central narrative of the series is at times a little too much to handle.
But by the final half hour of this near-two hour premiere, the show starts to kick into gear: Roxy’s relationship with her mum/manager, or “momager”, played by the wonderful Magda Szubanski, starts to deepen, and the history between Julia and Edie starts to inform their present. Barry Otto does the kind of eccentric, tick-driven performance we’ve seen from him several times before, but finds a wonderful dynamic with his daughters and his protege Isaac (Charlie Garber).
One of the great unanswered questions at this point is about Julius: why did he use his own sperm to father so many children?
It’s that sort of question that will likely compel viewers to stick with Sisters, which is already showing a great deal of promise.