Packed To The Rafters: articles

Why Packed to the Rafters moved us to tears

It's bland, stereotypical and its messages are often rubbish, but somehow, Packed to the Rafters has sucked us in anyway.

I WAS fully prepared to burst forth from this page today foaming at the mouth and announcing how much I dislike Packed to the Rafters (Tuesdays, 8.30pm on Seven) for its overall box o' cornflakes blandness and its inability to move me, no matter how many times Rebecca Gibney sighs or smiles or really does anything whatsoever with her gorgeous features.

But then I watched this week's episode — "the funeral one" — and it actually made me cry. So now I really don't know what to think any more.

It's been quite confusing because it's only been a week since Mel Rafter's humdrum death. Mel, your death — and I'm sorry because no one wants to hear this about their own demise — was really obvious. We knew in the first few seconds of last week's episode that you were done for but it was built up with such excruciating predictability over the next hour that when it did finally happen, some of us cheered that it was over at last. Sorry about that. Advertisement: Story continues below

But then, here I was this week crying with the Rafter family over your coffin. It makes no sense. Sorry, but Melly, I hardly knew you. You always seemed pretty one-dimensional in your nurse's uniform. Well, OK, two-dimensional — they did let you wear cutesy pyjamas half the time, too. But after days of puzzling over this, I think the reason I was touched by the episode is simply because it showed the Rafters doing what the Rafters do best, supporting each other during a hard time.

This is what they always do, of course — hard times occur at breakfast, lunch and dinner for the Rafters, broken up only by regular spittly smiles from baby Ruby. But this time I was drawn in without wanting to spittle over myself because it felt sort of true. Mel, you didn't die to a Coldplay song in vain.

The appeal of Pac-ked to the Rafters is understandable. The Rafters are familiar, they are flawed but in uncomplicated ways. They're decent people who care about each other. The appeal of the show is in its simplicity and its pastel-coloured lessons about "being good".

Despite the funeral episode wielding a strange power over my tear ducts, I usually can't stand Packed to the Rafters because of the underlying Aesop's Fable-ness of the storylines. It's harmless when the lessons are about respect or the benefits of a low-cholesterol diet but what puts me off is the subtle reiteration of a certain type of male and female ideal that comes through under the surface, no matter how much of a modern family the Rafters pretend to be.

Take, for instance, Rachel Rafter (Jessica Marais), who comes across as a confident and assertive young woman, as evidenced by her MacBook and high-powered advertising career. She showed up at her boyfriend's house last week with a plate of oysters and profuse apologies for making a decision about her own career earlier in the day that made her boyfriend very upset — she had apparently ruined the holiday he'd planned for them.

In the Rafter world, Rachel did "the right thing" by grovelling on his doorstep. After all, she really should have known her boyfriend had booked that holiday for them together. In secret. Like, without telling her.

All the characters just love to apologise to each other. And while many of the "do the right thing" messages from the Rafters are harmless, a lot of them are rubbish and have less to do with being a good person than reinforcing what feels like an old-school status quo.

In the past few weeks, Australians have been flocking to social media to emote about Packed to the Rafters. But rather than Twitter, it's The Twits, Roald Dahl's children's novel, that best sums up my feelings towards this show. You might recall a scene where Mr Twit plays a trick on Mrs Twit: by gluing a thin piece of wood to the bottom of her walking stick every day, Mrs Twit feels like she's slowly shrinking.

And week after week, each episode of Packed to the Rafters acts a bit like a wafer-thin sliver of wood stuck on to our brains to reinforce these "right" notions of what Australian families ought to be. It happens in such a subtle way, we barely notice it, at least not until the morning we wake up and look around to find our own idea of ourselves has shrunk to a limited blonde Rafter ideal, with one hyper-caricatured Greek neighbour living next door.

I did still cry during the funeral, though. I guess that means I'm the real twit here.

By Lorelei Vashti
November 11, 2010
Sydney Morning Herald