From Upright to Get Krack!n: the eight most memorable moments in Australian TV in 2019

Plus Deborah Mailman takes Total Control, Frayed shows a different side to 1980s Newcastle, and 60 Minutes outdoes itself on hyperbole

1. Is Total Control Australia’s answer to The West Wing?

Indigenous politician Alex Irving (Deborah Mailman) became the populist outsider Australian politics needed, a voice of conscience parachuted into a Senate seat as the prime minister’s pick at the beginning of the six-episode first season of Total Control.

Deborah Mailman as Alex and Rachel Griffiths as Prime Minister Rachel Anderson in new ABC series Total Control.
Deborah Mailman as Alex and Rachel Griffiths as the prime minister Rachel Anderson in ABC’s Total Control. Photograph: John Platt

How sublime to see two Australian actors at the top of their game, as Irving circled PM Rachel Anderson (Rachel Griffiths) in a realpolitik bargaining drama about land rights, Indigenous deaths in custody and US strategic influence, under Rachel Perkins’s precise direction.

In the last 10 minutes of episode six, the Senate bell rang, the sand raced through the hourglass and phone texts were hurriedly exchanged. “Now or never,” pinged Irving’s adviser, as Irving got to her feet and declared: “It has come to my attention the prime minister is covering up a very serious crime.” Is it too much to hope that in season two, Irving will swap to the lower house, run for the top job, and give us a leader of integrity and reason, like Jed Bartlet in The West Wing? – Steve Dow

2. Upright knocked me sideways

a man and a teenage girl stand in the middle of a road, arguing
Lucky (Tim Minchin) and Meg (Milly Alcock) in a still from Upright. Photograph: Mark Rogers

Midway through Tim Minchin’s delectable comedy-drama Upright, 13-year-old Meg (Milly Alcock) is driving a faltering ute across the Nullarbor Plain. You Am I’s Berlin Chair blares loudly on the stereo, but Meg can’t make out the lyrics.

Is it “I give all my eggs to you?” she wonders, as her dead brother, who killed himself, appears beside her. Amid her tears, the realisation comes: it is “aches”: “I give all my aches to you.” The song helps shape Meg’s mettlesome character, making for a powerful gut-punch that highlights Alcock’s star potential. – Nathan Dunne

3. The Other Guy hit hilariously close to home

A scene from The Other Guy, a comedy starring Matt Okine on Stan.
Matt Okine in The Other Guy. Photograph: Stan

When I was 18, I moved out of my parents’ house and into a falling-down but strangely cheap sharehouse in the smug Sydney uni suburb of Darlington. I lived there for 10 years, watching the walls literally crumble around me as a parade of housemates moved in and out.

In Matt Okine’s The Other Guy, radio guy AJ (played by Okine) tries in vain to curb his worst man-child tendencies, as he recovers from a traumatic betrayal. Okine, who used to co-host on Triple J, suffered the same kind of break-up in real life. In the second season he and co-writer Becky Lucas take the show to a whole new level of meta: AJ signs on to write and star in a TV show based loosely on his life.

The series features one of my favourite platonic male/female friendships of all time (Harriet Dyer is maybe the funniest and rudest woman in Australia), and the second episode of season two contains a satire of Sydney sharehouse living that is so specific and accurate I cringed until my face swallowed itself. The Wilson Street pad I lived in for a decade wasn’t quite “Darlington Abbey”, but the Hunger Games-style competition for new housemates, in which the insufferable house leader asks contestants to pick a side in the most insular Sydney music scene dilemma of the early 2010s (“Fans of Papa vs Pretty on the left, and the Preatures on the right”), hit hysterically close to home.

I’m only a few episodes into the second season, and it’s already starting to hit the feels as much as the funnies. Looking forward to finding out where it goes. – Steph Harmon

4. The Bachelorette stood up for the sisterhood

Angie Kent tells off Noosa councillor Jess Glasgow before ejecting him from the 2019 season of The Bachelorette.
Angie Kent tells off Noosa councillor Jess Glasgow before ejecting him from the 2019 season of The Bachelorette Australia. Photograph: Network Ten

Angie Kent, former Goggleboxer and dog rescuer, did not disappoint as this year’s Bachelorette, rising spectacularly to the occasion early in the series when confronted by the behaviour of one of her suitors.

Contestant and Noosa councillor Jess Glasgow was filmed making what were later called “incredibly misgynistic, crude and highly offensive” comments about Angie during a photo shoot. Other contestants claimed he had also been making female members of the crew feel uncomfortable. “It’s making us guys feel super uncomfortable, so I can only imagine how Angie would feel if she knew,” said fellow contestant – and eventual winner – Carlin Sterritt.

We soon found out: Angie confronted Jess on camera about the allegations. “And if there’s anything in my life that I’m super sure of, it’s that I will never allow a man to come in and fuck with my sisterhood,” she told Glasgow before ejecting him from the house. “I know what I want and I know what I don’t want. If a man can’t accept and respect what I’m putting down, I’d rather be single for the rest of my life.” – Gabriel Wilder

5. 60 Minutes set a new standard in ludicrously obscure promos

In June, to promote a big, joint investigation with the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, Channel Nine’s 60 Minutes aired one of the most ludicrous and unintentionally hilarious ads of the year.

It was a big story, for sure, and a little hype and sizzle never did anyone any harm. But the ad was like Frontline on meth.

A story so important it can’t be missed. SUNDAY on #60Mins, the major investigation, six months in the making, which will shock Australia. pic.twitter.com/Q10rXBsLyf

— 60 Minutes Australia (@60Mins) July 24, 2019

It was “the biggest Sunday of the year”. A story “so big it can’t be missed”. And best of all – it would somehow “rock the foundations of Australia” itself.

It sounded genuinely pre-cataclysmic. What preconceived notions of Australia would be torn asunder on Sunday night? The fate of the nation, it seemed to say, hung in the balance, dependent on an hour-long reported feature.

The resulting story was about Melbourne’s Crown Casino, and included accusations of links to organised crime in China. It was a fascinating, well-researched scoop, and even won a Walkley for reporters Nick McKenzie, Nick Toscano and Grace Tobin.

But nothing could come close to that promotional package, so jittery with hype, seemingly written by someone who hadn’t even seen the story and was throwing words at a wall. It set a new standard for TV current affairs that we all, regrettably, now have to live with. Naaman Zhou

6. Frayed is unforgettably dark and irreverent comedy

Sarah Kendall as Sammy in Frayed.
Sarah Kendall as Sammy in Frayed. Photograph: Sophie Mutevelian/Sky UK Limited

In six-part comedy Frayed, written by and starring Australian comedian Sarah Kendall, a wealthy housewife in 1980s London finds out that her husband has died in the most unsavoury of circumstances. That is, in bed with a sex worker named Bunny who, ahem, has helped him stick a mobile phone where the sun don’t shine. Frayed, however, really finds its feet when the widowed Sammy returns to her childhood home in Newcastle, New South Wales, tail between her legs. Sammy takes a business trip to Sydney where she gets mistaken for a sex worker; arrested in a casino; and, in one of the funniest and most tragic scenes in TV, gives her boss a handjob for cash. – Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore

7. Get Krack!n’s season finale was righteous roar

Miranda Tapsell and Nakkiah Lui in the final episode of Get Krack!n season 2.
Miranda Tapsell and Nakkiah Lui in the final episode of Get Krack!n season 2. Photograph: Jackson Finter/ABC TV

The Kates are heavily pregnant, though still contracted to host their mock morning show “until one of us crowns”, so they struggle on through the labour pains. When an interview gets cut short due to an early trip to the birthing suite, they throw their guests, Miranda Tapsell and Nakkiah Lui, into the deep end to host the show in their absence. Tapsell, ever cheery, argues that it’s an opportunity to get into TV hosting “so that I stop getting mistaken for Deborah Mailman” while Lui thinks perhaps it will help her become “like an Aboriginal Sonia Kruger”.

Slight after racial slight follows, and Lui and Tapsell’s frustration rises. Then, when Tapsell’s cheery veneer finally cracks, the show’s structure, which has always felt on the verge of anarchy, breaks apart entirely – literally, as Tapsell turns to smashing up the set in rage. “I am angry!” she cries, listing injustice after injustice against Indigenous people in Australia. “You should be as angry about this as I am!” Our critic Alison Whittaker called this season finale “the most nourishing despair I have felt in a long time”. It’s an episode that demands to be witnessed. Stephanie Convery

8. The Cry is gasp-inducing drama

A still from The Cry, starring Jenna Coleman.
A still from The Cry, starring Jenna Coleman. Photograph: Lachlan Moore

My favourite moment from Australian TV this year is the opening credits sequence of The Cry, a riveting four-part drama revolving around two parents whose baby son mysteriously disappears. A single slow-mo image captures a profile shot of Jenna Coleman (playing the baby’s mother, Joanna) who turns towards the audience, while a shower of ash and shards of glass fall around her. The ash and glass aren’t merely symbolic: they correspond to key narrative moments, particularly a gasp-inducing and punch-packing finale in which the awful truth is finally and powerfully revealed. – Luke Buckmaster

Contributors

Steve Dow, Nathan Dunne, Steph Harmon, Gabriel Wilder, Clarissa Sebag-Montefiore, Stephanie Convery, Luke Buckmaster

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