Love My Way: articles

Love their way

The third series of locally made drama Love My Way presents family life as lived by modern Australians, writes Graeme Blundell

"THE great lie of television is that things get resolved," says John Edwards, co-producer with Claudia Karvan of Love My Way, the groundbreaking pay-TV drama. "We never tie things up. Families are messy and complicated."

We are sitting under a tarpaulin outside a sprawling Victorian house in an inner suburban Sydney street, rain trickling, as the show winds up its third season. Director Emma Freeman is filming a scene, shouting at a child actor through a broken pane of glass. "That was excellent," she yells. "Let's do it one more time." The words every actor, even children, hate.

Edwards has heard them thousands of times, having produced hundreds of hours of local drama; shows such as Police Rescue, The Secret Life of Us and Love My Way, winning dozens of awards along the way. He has been disappointed, too, and there's a street-smart wariness about him. It's obvious he knows a bit about the shifty, churning experiences of life that Love My Way interrogates so compellingly.

Back for a further eight episodes, the show deals, often uncomfortably, with the rhythms, confusions and complexities of extended families and the unlovely spaces of contemporary relationships. And the way that personal dealings with loved ones, and friends too, are really a parallel full-time career for most of us; disconcerting, demanding and only occasionally really satisfying.

This show makes for often highly confronting viewing, especially for anyone who has been through a catastrophic divorce and whose children are old enough to tell them what a bad parent they are.

"The first series was about whether love survives divorce and the second whether it can overcome tragedy," Edwards says. "Now it's simply about love's eventual transcendence."

He says it's easy to become lost in a character-driven drama such as this if there's no clear, shorthand understanding of what it's about. "If you can't sort of say it in a sentence, it's probably too vague. So you fall back on catchphrases and watch words, so you don't ramble."

Season three takes thirtysomething Frankie (Claudia Karvan) and Lewis (Ben Mendelsohn), Charlie (Dan Wyllie) and Julia (Asher Keddie) into the increasingly real world of adulthood, as they try to establish identities outside the community of their dysfunctional extended family.

Rare for TV characters, they are distinguished by their ordinariness and suffering, not by their careers or by crime, and the series simply focuses on the way they move through their lives and relationships.

Love My Way often brutally reflects the new candour about living arrangements when it's increasingly difficult to understand just what constitutes family. Where we keep our clothes these days isnot always the only place where we maintain our commitments.

The show imaginatively kicks off from the reality that roles and obligations can't be rigidly prescribed in respect to kin living in different households, that people define their own families. And it bursts apart the idealised morality of the isolated nuclear family, suggesting the extended family is really the central core most people's support networks.

In this way, while fiercely realistic and quite unpolemical, the show is one of the most political produced locally. "When we started The Secret Life of Us our catchphrase was 'not John Howard's morals'," Edwards says. "With Love My Way, it's 'not John Howard's families'."

I can't recall any show so clearly identifying the disjunction between Australia's secular culture and the conservative social agenda and religious rhetoric of Howard's neo-conservatism.

In a sense the show emerged out of Secret Life, a Ten network series about the share-households of inner-city Melbourne twentysomethings. Karvan, its star, producer Edwards and writer Jacquelin Perske wanted to maintain their working relationship.

After dealing with the messes of 20-year-olds, they wondered how such individuals coped when they reached their 30s: how their relationships inexorably disintegrated and how they were forced to reform their families.

Ten flirted with Love My Way but Foxtel's Showtime, inspired by cable network HBO, picked it up, hopeful it might attract new subscribers and build its profile as a producer of original programs, as had occurred in the US. (HBO became a leading international player developing shows such as The Sopranos, Six Feet Under, Sex in the City and Deadwood.)

And Love My Way is agreeably innovative, sometimes uncompromisingly movie-like in its production values, separating the series from most other local TV drama. "It's intensely cinematic but also extremely formulaic," Edwards says. "You always know where you are, like you do in a (Jerry) Bruckheimer movie. It's the little moments of surprise, the moments of wit, that give you the sense of satisfaction."

Showtime encourages the show's experimentation, he says. "And for us to be as truthful as possible with the characters." Which is possibly one of the reasons there is nothing soap-like in a show that deals with life's eternal basics: births, marriages and divorces. This third season effortlessly segues from the second, with Frankie and Lewis confronting a distressing twist of fate as they move into their new family home, and Julia and Charlie contemplating relocating themselves to a provocative location.

The acting is enthralling. Usually actors in local drama are left in a state of anarchy by lack of direction, fending for themselves to survive.

But this ensemble cast works with an acute control over the shape of every line and movement. Karvan's Frankie is so beguiling to watch, you sense she is effortlessly inducing aspects of herself in a manner you rarely see on local TV.

And Mendelsohn is at the top of his form, eerily reminiscent of the great John Hargreaves: the same self-deprecating irony, the heaving Adam's apple and easy blush, the insouciance, candour and charm.

Proud of his actors, Edwards, like all producers, is doggedly fatalistic. He believes this is an unsettling period in local drama when no one wants to be seen to be too brave. "You can look like a smart arse," he mutters. "And Australians don't like smart arses." Then he laughs loudly. "To survive you just have to keep moving around and reinventing." Just like the characters in Love My Way.

Love My Way screens on Foxtel's pay-TV channel Showtime, on Mondays at 8.30pm.

By Graeme Blundell
February 24, 2007
The Australian