East of Everything: articles


Richard Roxburgh (Art) and Susie Porter (Eve) test their relationship in East of Everything.

No more angst in happy hippie shake-up

IT WASN'T called Broken Bay for nothing. Through the first series of the ABC's East of Everything, which screened last year, the good folk of the coastal community exhibited angst in abundance. The fictional incarnation of Byron Bay might have looked like paradise but its people were a troubled lot.

Travel writer Art Watkins (Richard Roxburgh) reluctantly returned home following the death of his mother to confront his resentful brother Vance (Tom Long), his estranged teenage son, Josh (Craig Stott) and town councillor Eve (Susie Porter), the woman he'd left behind when he went off to see the world.

The family property, a hippie hostel called the Far Out East, became a millstone for Art as the terms of his mother's will mandated that he stay to run the ramshackle retreat with his brother. As they chafed at their situation, developers, including Vance's brash partner Melanie (Gia Carides), hungrily eyed the property. Meanwhile their grieving neighbour, Bev (Valerie Bader), was released from jail, nomadic flower child Lizzy (Kathryn Beck) discovered she was pregnant and enigmatic Dale (Tom Budge) watched the passing parade as he nursed an injured horse back to health.

The waves rolled in and the beach looked beautiful but no one was living the good life. With the second series poised to premiere, the creators say viewers can expect the drama to be lighter, faster and funnier. "We've let them all have a bit more fun," says executive producer Fiona Eagger of the folk in Broken Bay.

Following the first series, which averaged a disappointing 800,000 viewers, Eagger and writer-producers Deb Cox and Roger Monk worked on a "manifesto" for its $5.6 million sequel. "We wanted it to be positive, humorous and life-affirming," Monk says. "Cups would be half-full, not half empty."

Cox says that they "hit the accelerator" in terms of visual style and storytelling pace. Scenes were shot with two cameras to allow more options in editing. Establishing shots of the area, which had typically featured idyllic beaches, were augmented by street scenes filmed in nearby Nimbin and Mullumbimby, lending Broken Bay the feel of a hippie mecca rather than a coastal getaway. And the stories focus on the challenges of the present rather than the festering emotional wounds of the past.

"The first series was about setting up the story, getting all the characters to the resort, and it was really about their baggage and pain," Cox says. "Now that groundwork has been done and we can move them on. We still try to have moments that are emotionally engaging and moving but we're freer to go for the humour."

Five months on, Art and Vance are companionably running the resort and Josh is set to move in. Art and Eve have reunited; Vance and Melanie have not, although she's been training as a yoga instructor (a less likely teacher of inner harmony would be hard to imagine).

Bev is poised to rediscover an old interest and find a new friend. Lizzy's belly is growing, along with her relationship with Dale, as Jai (Fletcher Humphrys), the bemused father of her baby, looks on. As Art prepares for his book launch, his father Gerry (Nick Tate), a gregarious hedonist who still operates as though he's living in the '70s, is on the road to join his sons.

The heart of the series remains the Watkins men. "We applied the basic premise of most successful drama, which is to put them all under the same roof," Monk says. "From there, you can create the conflicts and they don't have to be dark, emotional conflicts; they can be the domestic conflicts of these people re-engaging with each other."

Monk adds that the new timeslot - 7.30pm Saturday instead of 8.30pm Sunday - has slightly shifted the creators' view of the production. "It's a show for the family," he says. "Like Packed to the Rafters, it's a show that a family can have fun watching together. Shameless works so well because the dysfunctional family all love each other; despite all the things that go on, they love each other and you feel it. That's one of the strong things with this series: you get the sense that these people love each other for better or for worse."

Cox adds that the drama is also about forgiveness and particularly about the men learning to understand each other's weaknesses. "It's all about living in an imperfect world and that applies to this faded paradise: do you just trash it all, give up and run away? Or do you try to salvage the good bits, make the most of them and go on with good intentions?"

The restless Art must also learn about commitment in terms of his relationship with Eve but Monk says the issue is no longer his abandonment of her: "It's about where are they now. How do they move forward? It's an adult relationship. They've got careers, they've got things that they want to do. How do you get together when you're in your 40s? She doesn't want to live at a backpackers' resort but he isn't prepared to commit to living with her because he has the chance, for the first time, to share a place with his son. There are lots of issues and they were more interesting to us than the pain and hurt of past betrayals."

Eagger, Cox and Monk reckon they learnt a lot about "the beast" that is a six-hour drama from the first series, particularly about the need to structure the seven-episode sequel as connected yet self-contained hour-long stories, rather than an extended three-act drama that builds to a finale.

"We all realised that we're lucky going into a second series," Eagger says.

"It's a privilege and we really wanted to get it right."

East of Everything screens Saturday at 7.30pm on ABC1.

By Debi Enker
July 23, 2009
Sydney Morning Herald