The Secret Life of Us: articles

Claudia Karvan

Preferred reality… Claudia Karvan plays Alex, the doctor not afraid of a drink.

Television Narcissus

Well, goodbye then Secret Life of Us—at least for the time being. The season finale, watched by more than a million Australians, ended last Monday with the melancholy portrait of Evan reflecting on lies and missed opportunities, standing alone at a crowded bar nursing a beer.

It is an archetypal image of urban twentysomethings—in bars and clubs across the nation we surround ourselves with friends, drinks and drugs to crowd out the emptiness that some advertising jingle writer says "lies at the heart of even the busiest of lives".

When the series debuted 13 months ago it was a revelation: an Australian program that did not feature cops or cooking or tanned blond kids who somehow look separated at birth.

Until then, stories about young urbanites remained, as the title says, secret, and largely unexplored in prime time. That all changed when Secret Life of Us began. There was a general feeling in many shared households and bars that Network Ten executives had been eavesdropping… on us. It held a mirror to our lives and we fell in love with our reflection.

That may have more to do with my generation's narcissism, a trait we share with the characters. After all the show's predominant values are not those of family or community but of self-fulfilment.

Unlike the yuppies of the '80s or the flashy lawyers of England's This Life, Secret Life of Us characters seem content to go without material possessions for the sake of fulfilling creative ambitions.

Struggling actor Ritchie is contemptuous of the low-brow soap that gave him a break, Miranda gets her satisfaction from appearing in a one-woman show, not the more lucrative pore-cleansing ad, and Evan deplores journalism as a "churn and burn" trade compared with the art of writing a novel.

They also search for love—a lot.

In pursuit of the real thing, characters break up marriages, sleep with best friends' husbands, give bisexuality a whirl and wallow in a championship season of one-night stands.

Clearly, the show's popularity among 16- to 39-year olds should be examined in relation to such core values. Is this how we find "the one"? Or does the show play out desires to transgress—to quit the boring banking job and write a book, to sleep with your married boss, or try stand-up comedy?

The Secret Life of Us seems poised to rise from mere television to become a bona fide pop culture icon. The signs are all there:

Earnest discussion why their reality is not the same as yours—"If Alex is a doctor, why is she always drinking?", "How can Evan afford to rent that cool St Kilda apartment if he is on the dole?" "Would Will really fall asleep during a threesome?" "How can Gabrielle afford to buy Scanlon and Theodore if she works for a union?" "Why is Jason's office so big?" It's depressing when your reality comes off second best—but then again, it is television.

Watching the show makes you feel like you are a boring person—have you stopped binge drinking on weeknights because you have to be fresh for work the next day?

Have you stopped having one-night stands because of that psychologically unpleasant "morning after" feeling? In the world of the Secret Life of Us, you would probably be regarded as a boring git.

But since the gang on the show seem largely unencumbered by the nuisance of work and family responsibilities, it gives them much more opportunity to indulge in their favourite activity—drinking.

It makes you feel like you have no friends—these are the golden years of friendship. Having a posse of mates means not having to meet new people but towards the end of the twentysomethings most friends commit, marry and go overseas. Some never return to you. Watching Secret Life of Us can invoke posse nostalgia, even envy.

It makes you want to leave town—bad weather never looked so good, neither did Melbourne.

Well, maybe not…

By Brigid Delaney
August 8 2002
Sydney Morning Herald