Reviews, Screen, TV

Sunshine: SBS’s basketball-flavoured crime thriller shines

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There’s a short review published in The Australian today of SBS’s new crime thriller miniseries Sunshine, which implores viewers not to overlook the show “on account of its cast of unknown South Sudanese actors or the suspicion it is some SBS do-gooder enterprise.”

It’s pretty disappointing that an Australian show could be dismissed as a “do-gooder enterprise” merely for the fact that it has a leading cast including several South Sudanese actors, covering racial tensions and certain refugee experiences. Australia has a significant population of refugees and growing numbers of people from African nations, so it’s only natural that their stories emerge from time to time in TV made about Australia.

It’s also natural that SBS, a network that has a specific remit to reflect the broad multiculturalism of Australia, would choose to include actors from these communities, especially when commercial TV drama frequently focuses entirely on white Australia.

But in one sense, the review in The Oz is right: it would be disappointing if Sunshine were written off by masses of Australians for reasons of its diverse cast of characters. Not only does it tell stories of Australians we’ve rarely seen on TV, it’s a first-rate drama, smartly integrating a surprisingly compassionate story of unlikely allies coming together with a slow-burn crime mystery.

Sunshine focuses on Jacob (Wally Elnour), a South-Sudanese teenager hoping to make it out of Melbourne’s western suburb of Sunshine by building an international career in the US as a basketball player. But his team is falling well behind in the local league, meaning his chances of being seen by an NBA talent scout are quickly diminishing.

In an attempt to turn his team’s fortunes around, Jacob tries to convince the blunt, no-nonsense, and probably racist owner of local sports shop, Eddie (Anthony LaPaglia) to take on a coaching role.

At the same time, a few suburbs and a few socioeconomic classes away, police are working to uncover how the 15-year-old daughter of a wealthy construction magnate ended up dropped on her family’s doorstep at 2am one night, severely injured.

She’s in a comatose state and unable to identify her attacker, but things look pretty bad for Jacob and his friends, who had taken an expensive Porsche from the girl’s house on a joy ride that same night. Evidence increasingly mounts that Jacob, and particularly his friend Santino (Autiak Aweteek) had some connection with the events of that night.

The series mightn’t be quite as surprising as you’d hope as it draws towards its conclusion, but it’s emotionally resonant and features some richly textured characters and relationships. Writers Matt Cameron and Elise McCredie manage to keep the various balls in the air with a sense of narrative clarity, while director Daina Reid keeps tensions at a satisfying simmer across the four, hour-long episodes, and draws great work from a cast with varying levels of experience.

Newcomer Elnour is impressive as Jacob, while Aweteek is appealingly funny in his first TV role as a seemingly delinquent young man, whose character deepens over the course of the series.

Melanie Lynskey delivers a wonderfully understated and authentic performance as the lawyer who seeks to defend the Jacob and Santino against police accusations and the inevitable racial profiling that comes with the territory of this kind of crime.

But it’s LaPaglia who shines brightest, delivering one of his best performances in years. He expertly uncovers all of the bitterness, shame, fury and regret that underlies his character’s tough and gruff exterior.

Like most characters in the series, LaPaglia’s Eddie is looking for redemption and a way to connect with his loved ones and the broader community. Whether he deserves it or not is another matter, but this is a show with an extraordinary amount of compassion for all its complex, damaged characters.

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[box]Sunshine airs on SBS TV on 18, 19 and 25, 26 October at 8.30pm. It is also available to stream on SBS On Demand[/box]

6 responses to “Sunshine: SBS’s basketball-flavoured crime thriller shines

  1. Refreshing to see more examples of who Australians are. We are all immigrants and profiling is the catchword of today, that combined with post codes is 2017.

  2. It’s always heartwarming to see white people telling us about the marginalised. If you can throw in a handful of recycled sports story lines, and a journey of self discovery for a dotty ol’ racist all the better. Surely there is a way of telling a vibrant immigrant story that doesn’t boil a community down to basketball and crime, perhaps if we’d asked them to tell their own story… but then who would hire all these rubbish old Australian actors?

  3. Brilliantly told story with exceptional cast. and yes, LaPaglia is in his finest form. This series deserves to be seen by all Australians. Probably the best series I’ve seen this year and with friends from Nepal who live in Sunshine it rings true in every detail.

  4. Best show I’ve watched in 2017. Great storyline, lots going on but easy to follow. I was intrigued and thought all along I knew the ending but was very surprised.. Love SBS, only channel I need to watch.

  5. I really wanted to enjoy this series. I am a cop in Melbourne and was looking forward to a portrayal of what is a largely unknown and facinating social phenomenon. Obviously the big question for me is, would they get policing right? I worried that SBS would portray police as racially motivated. They didn’t. Instead they presented two half-witted detectives who are driven more by pettiness and wise cracks. Thier script read more like high school bullying than police. I could overlook those innocent failures though, if it weren’t for the very innacurate depiction of crime investigation and criminal law. Just so wrong. Get a police advisor! Any Constable hanging around the police station whilst you were filming would have told you how suspects are interviewed, processed, and how evidence works. Really failed in thier research, like the writers have watched so many US cop shows they forgot we have very different processes. Dissapointing.

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