offspring: trash or treasure?
There has been plenty of good television on Australian screens of late. From Redfern Now to Rake to Janet King, it seems that roles for Australian actors have become increasingly complex and varied in recent years. But can we put Channel Ten’s hit drama Offspring in this category of quality?
The commercial network is not exactly known for the calibre of its drama. With Offspring’s setting in a maternity ward and the somewhat cheesy promotion, it would be easy to dismiss this show as just another soap disguised as drama. Popular culture that is made for and about women is, after all, often dismissed as ‘girlie’ and as less worthy than stories that feature male protagonists.
But while Offspring may not be the most gritty or challenging show on television, the show does draw upon some interesting themes. It is centred around two great performances from Australian women— Asher Keddie as the anxious and caring Dr Nina Proudman, and Kat Stewart as her vibrant sister Billie.
Now in its fifth season, the program’s recent series return drew over 900,000 viewers to their televisions. Keddie, the brightest star on Australian television in recent years, has won numerous Logies since taking on the role of Nina. Offspring also received two awards at the most recent AACTA Awards (formerly AFI), including Best Screenplay for writer and creator Debra Oswald; not only does the show have interesting female characters, but it represents success for women in the local television industry both on and off screen.
The latest episode opened with one of its protagonists’ many fantasies. Nina pictures herself at an awards night, listening to nominations for the “Best Mother Award.” The other women in her life are her rival nominees, and they sound like superwomen: how do they manage to be so many things at once, and to be so good at every one of them? Nina, on the other hand, is described as having “pretty much held it together, sort of.” The only applause in the room comes from herself, coupled with an awkward laugh.
This scene perfectly encapsulates what Offspring does so well: it uses humour to tackle the anxieties of modern life, and the expectations placed upon modern women, in an endearing and refreshing manner. Through Nina’s fantasy world and the endless insecurities that are constantly playing out in her head, viewers are given a character that is relatable.
In the early seasons, Offspring contained some familiar tropes about women in successful careers. Nina was cool, calm and professional in the ward, able to handle an emergency delivery with precision and put nervous parents-to-be at ease. In her personal life, however, she was bumbling and unsure, unable to articulate her feelings around the man of her dreams, Dr Chris (Don Hany). Her character has become more complex, though, in later seasons. At the end of season four Nina faced much bigger challenges in her personal life than a crush on a colleague, and she has handled them with grace and fortitude.
Like Nina, Billie is a loveable but flawed character. Last season, we saw her life unravel in devastating fashion, but she has pulled it together for herself and her sister in the beginning of season five. The two leads of Offspring have portrayed increasingly multi-faceted characters over the years, and their relationship with each other is one of the best parts of the show. It is heartening to see female characters like this: women who want to be the best versions of themselves, but know it is not always possible. When things fall apart, they start all over again. As an added bonus for women’s representation on mainstream Australian television, neither character is your typical twenty-something ‘beach babe’ (not that there’s anything wrong with being a beach babe— it’s just nice to have some variety).
In many ways, Offspring is quite a progressive show. It depicts a variety of relationships and living situations, and is based around a messy modern family that throws up plenty of surprises. There have been all sorts of unconventional parenting arrangements over the years. From one-night stands that have led to platonic shared parenting to three-person parenting arrangements, the show presents all sorts of family configurations as loving and real. It is nice to see such an open-minded view of family on a mainstream television drama.
While it might not be the most ‘serious’ television, Offspring is a show that isn’t afraid to break with convention, or to make its characters as flawed and real as possible. Nina, her sister Billie and their extended family are undoubtedly more than one-dimensional. All in all, it is quite exciting that this is such a successful program has found a home on mainstream television.
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons