Australian TV to watch in 2017: big names, new talent and classic stories revisited

Claudia Karvan, Richard Roxburgh and Miranda Tapsell are among the favourite faces starring in new television series

Television budgets might be tight, but Australian viewers are still set for a bumper year of new Australian drama in 2017. Favourite faces including Claudia Karvan, Hugo Weaving, Justine Clarke and Alex Dimitriades star in new projects, while the ABC uncovers emerging Indigenous talent and SBS tells untold stories. Also, biopics. Lots of biopics.

Newton’s Law, ABC

Starring: Claudia Karvan, Brett Tucker, Toby Schmitz, Miranda Tapsell, Georgina Naidu

Claudia Karvan in new Australian legal drama Newton’s Law
Claudia Karvan stars in new Australian legal drama Newton’s Law, coming to ABC in 2017. Photograph: ABC

Helmed by and starring Claudia Karvan (Secret Life of Us, Love My Way), this major new original series from Aunty was developed from a concept by Deb Cox and Fiona Eagger – the same pair who brought you Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries and The Gods of Wheat Street.

In it, Josephine Newton (Karvan) is a suburban solicitor juggling her career, a failing marriage and motherhood, whose practice is burnt to the ground by an angry client. Her love interest and old friend (Lewis Hughes) persuades her to return to the bar at Knox Chambers – and it’s her legal travails that make up the bulk of the drama.

Also starring in this eight-part series – described as a cross between SeaChange and Rake – is popular Indigenous actress Miranda Tapsell and veteran actor Andrew McFarlane. We’re excited because it combines the glamour of the bar with the everyday dramas of a small town – which has echoes of the fictional Pearl Bay.

Seven Types of Ambiguity, ABC

Starring: Hugo Weaving, Alex Dimitriades, Leeanna Walsman, Xavier Samuel, Anthony Hayes, Andrea Demetriades, Susie Porter

Hugo Weaving as Dr Alex Klima in Seven Types of Ambiguity
Hugo Weaving as Dr Alex Klima in Seven Types of Ambiguity. Photograph: Ben King

Another ABC drama we’re looking forward to – the star-studded cast alone is sufficient reason to tune in.

The series is based on Australian author’s Elliot Perlman’s 2003 novel of the same name, which is narrated by seven different characters whose lives intersect. Like The Slap, another ABC drama based on a book, each episode builds up the intrigue around what happened to a child – in this case, a seven-year-old boy who goes missing.

The Warriors, ABC

Starring: Lisa McCune, John Howard, Vince Colosimo, Nelson Baker, Gordan Churchill

Gordan Churchill as Maki in The Warriors
Gordan Churchill as young football recruit Maki in The Warriors. Photograph: ABC

In keeping with the ABC’s diversity theme for 2017, The Warriors is the story of two young Indigenous football players (newcomers Nelson Baker and Gordan Churchill), who are plucked from their modest lives to play in the big league in Melbourne.

With McCune as the team’s communication manager, Howard as the club president and Colosimo as the coach, the comedic drama will follow the two recruits as they pack up and move interstate to the busy city, where they discover lives are very different there.

The show has a fine pedigree, coming from the minds of Tony Briggs (The Sapphires) and Robert Connolly (Paper Planes, Barracuda); the writing and directing team are exclusively Indigenous too, including Briggs, Jon Bell (Cleverman), Beck Cole (Black Comedy) and Catriona McKenzie (The Circuit, Redfern Now and The Gods of Wheat Street). It promises to be great fun for fans of football and comedy.

Sunshine, SBS

Starring: TBC

SBS has an unusually strong drama slate in 2017, and Sunshine is one of the key picks. The four-part drama crime series hones in on a South Sudanese refugee, Jacob Chagai, who arrives in Australia with his surviving family members, and grows up in Melbourne.

Chagai is a star on the basketball court, and sets his hopes on an American college sporting scholarship which could send him to the NBA – until he is wrongly accused of an assault and has to fight for his innocence.

Sunshine marks the first time a drama has spotlighted the South Sudanese refugee community in Australia, and comes at an interesting political moment for the issue. Early days, but certainly one to watch out for.

Safe Harbour, SBS

Starring: TBC

Details are scant on this one too – but it sounds like it has a similar vibe to Nicole Kidman’s classic 1989 movie, Dead Calm.

Safe Harbour is a psychological thriller about a fateful meeting between a group of asylum seekers trying to get to Australia, and a group of Australian holidaymakers on their way to Indonesia on a yacht. The Australians try to help the asylum seekers, towing them back to Australia and “leading to a tragic series of events that return to haunt them four years later”.

Written by Belinda Chayko, Matt Cameron and Phil Enchelmaier, and produced by Matchbox Pictures, the four-part series is exactly the type of project only SBS can tackle – and it’s expected to provoke much debate.

Hoges: The Paul Hogan Story, Seven

Starring: Josh Lawson, Justine Clarke, Ryan Corr, Laura Gordon

2017 is the year of the biopics. Australians both celebrated and notorious will be given the treatment – Roger Rogerson, Olivia Newton-John, Chopper Read and Alan Bond – but our pick from this bunch is The Paul Hogan Story, which stars Josh Lawson as Hogan and Justine Clarke as his long-suffering first wife Noelene.

Co-written by Marieke Hardy, we’re hoping this will be as much fun as Seven’s Molly, which won Samuel Johnson an Aacta this month for his title role.

Other promising biopics include miniseries House of Bond about business tycoon Alan Bond (Ben Mingay), with Rachael Taylor playing his second wife Diana Bliss.

And finally Nine is hoping for more Underbelly success with its take the notorious gangster Mark “Chopper” Read.

Blue Murder: Killer Cop, Seven

Starring: Richard Roxburgh, Toni Collette, Dan Wyllie, Aaron Pedersen, Matt Nable, Emma Booth

Richard Roxburgh as Roger Rogerson in Blue Murder: Killer Cop
Richard Roxburgh as Roger Rogerson in Blue Murder: Killer Cop, the sequel to 1995 series Blue Murder. Photograph: Seven

Killer Cop is the 20-years-later sequel to the highly acclaimed ABC drama Blue Murder (1995), which finished with crooked cop Roger Rogerson being expelled from the NSW police force. Richard Roxburgh reprises his role as Rogerson, who was recently jailed for the murder of 20-year-old student Jamie Gao, and he’s joined by a stellar supporting cast.

This is about as contemporary as drama gets: Roxburgh was on location in Sydney as the murder trial was taking place earlier this year. If it’s half as good as Blue Murder, it will be well worth a look.

Wake In Fright, Ten

Starring: TBC

More than 45 years after the critically acclaimed movie starring Gary Bond and Jack Thompson, comes this small-screen adaptation of Kenneth Cook’s classic Australian novel.

The two-part telemovie will be directed by Kriv Stenders (Red Dog); it tells the story of young school teacher John Grant who gets stranded in the small outback mining town of Bundanyabba.

A psychological thriller, Wake in Fright will start filming in February in Sydney and Broken Hill. The director of the original, Ted Kotcheff, has been muted in his encouragement.

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Showcase

Starring: TBC

Commissioned by Foxtel for its Showcase channel, this six-part series has a similarly unenviable task to Wake In Fright: in this case, living up to the classic 1975 movie adaptation directed by Peter Weir, starring Jacki Weaver and John Jarratt.

The production is making headlines before the first scenes have even been shot: the Australian production industry has universally slammed the producers for importing Canadian director Larysa Kondracki to work on the 2017 series, thereby snubbing a local director.

Based on the 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay, the TV take is written by Bea Christian and Alice Addison, and produced by FremantleMedia. It follows a successful stage production which premiered at Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne in February.

Olivia Newton-John bio-drama, Seven

Starring: Delta Goodrem

Delta Goodrem at the Logies in 2016; Olivia Newton-John in 1985.
Delta Goodrem is scheduled to play Olivia Newton-John in a new Channel Seven biopic. Composite: Getty Images/Cinetext

With Delta Goodrem in the title role, this project was set to begin filming in Victoria in December and is already the subject of tabloid speculation: there are rumours Newton-John herself has been trying to shut it down, angered at the production and the casting.

“The story of Olivia Newton-John will chart her remarkable path through one of the world’s toughest industries, and provide a glimpse into the extraordinary achievements of one of Australia’s most loved icons,” a statement from Film Victoria said.

Goodrem, who also stars in House Husbands on Nine and is a coach on The Voice, has a very busy year ahead.


Amanda Meade

The GuardianTramp

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