Offspring: articles

Asher Keddie. Photo: James Geer

Chaos is all relative

A mixed-up family provides rich material for a good story, writes Michael Idato.

The creative engine of commercial drama these days, with a handful of exceptions, is largely driven by cops, doctors and lawyers. Producer John Edwards is the first to admit the science of television drama is elusive but his body of work — notably The Secret Life of Us, Love My Way, Tangle and, now, Ten's new drama Offspring — tells another story.

All four of those shows tell rich character stories without delving too deeply into the genre playbook and, most intriguingly, only two of those four were made for cable television, where commercial pressures are considerably lighter.

"Ten wanted a complex yet accessible drama," Edwards says. "And there's a fair bit of push and shove backwards and forwards about how we do what we do and how you drive your commercial breaks, what constitutes commercial casting and so on. Generally speaking, we've been supported in our choices but there is a fair bit of friction, too."

If friction is the price for sharpening the corners of a drama series, then bring it on. Offspring stars Asher Keddie as obstetrician Nina Proudman — the only concession to the medical genre — whose life seems to be, at first acquaintance, refreshingly real. She has a sister, Billie (Kat Stewart), who can't quite get her life in order and a father, Darcy (John Waters), who is about to spring a major surprise on the family.

Into her tumultuous world arrives Dr Chris Havel (Don Hany), a handsome doctor whose looks and gentle nature seem to have come straight from central casting, with whom Nina becomes infatuated. But love doesn't always hand deliver a happy ending and Nina realises juggling a former husband, a future husband and a dysfunctional family is a serious challenge.

Edwards says Offspring was one of a dozen concepts considered when Ten indicated to Southern Star it was receptive to the idea of a pilot shot off the back of an existing production — a technique Edwards had used previously with The Secret Life of Us and Rush.

It was created by Debra Oswald with Edwards and co-producer Imogen Banks. Oswald wrote the pilot. "It meant we had about three months to get the script we were happy with and the cast we were happy with," Edwards says.

The challenge for the local television market, he says, is keeping writers the calibre of Oswald in Australia, against the lure of more money in international markets, such as the US.

"In television everywhere, writing is everything and in America the writer is God in television, which is not quite the case here as much as it should be," he says. "It's hard because they will go elsewhere because there is better money elsewhere."

Equally important, he says, was finding the right cast. In addition to Keddie, Hany, Stewart and Waters, Offspring stars Eddie Perfect, Deborah Mailman, Richard Davies and Linda Cropper.

"In the first place, you're looking for terrific actors and actors who will work well together," Edwards says. "You just put together people who you think are great and go well together. Getting that bit of magic, God knows where that comes from."

Both Keddie and Hany say they were drawn to the job by the quality of the writing in the pilot script.

Keddie says: "For me it is always first and foremost about how smart the writing is and I don't mean clever, I mean how dynamic, how buoyant. I thought Nina was so sharp, so bright, there was a softness to her, a generosity to her, that was what initially attracted me.

"It's bold and brave and it doesn't veer away from the more difficult things we have to deal with in life but it doesn't have that heaviness."

Hany, who returned from Los Angeles for the role, says he was equally drawn by the character of Nina because it demonstrated the courage and clarity in the writing.

"Often scripts are blueprints until other bits and pieces come together, so it's tough to forecast how things are going to work," he says. "The character of Nina registered to me as a great opportunity; some shows pretend to be great vehicles for exploring 21st-century women but then become something else."

His interest was piqued equally by the layers to Chris Havel because "he essentially exists in Nina's head for the first episode, so we get to see this likeable and confident character dissolve into something else. As we learn bits and pieces about him we end up contrasting that misconception about him very quickly. That's a really exciting thing."

From the first episode, the show sets an engaging and original tonal signature, notably on-screen graphics that enhance the storytelling. "It evolves," Edwards says. "We knew we wanted to try some stuff; [and] you stick your neck out and some things work and some things don't.

"We always wanted to evolve, we wanted it to feel it could run the way your mind runs."

It also plays neatly into its title — Offspring — with a late-in-life father, a childish former husband, an infantile sibling, complex father-daughter relationships and some childlike fantasising.

"Every show title has its own history. Offspring was our title from the start, it always was," Edwards says. "The network were a little fearful of it because they felt it sounded too much like a baby show and they wanted a female- relationship show. It became a question of how do you make the poster look and have you got a better title and it survived."

By Michael Idato
August 11, 2010
Sydney Morning Herald