Many of the new Down Under TV series in 2018 were good or great, and some I couldn’t get into no matter how terrific their ratings. Herewith, then, are my favorites.
Many of the premieres in 2018 were for returning series, and I definitely have several favorites here, including the sixth and final season of A Place to Call Home, the fifth season of The Brokenwood Mysteries, and the third season of The Heart Guy.
As for Down Under TV series that were brand new in the US, I count only five as favorites, meaning my eyes light up when I think, talk, or write about them. What they all have in common is the people- or character-centric nature of the narrative.
The Casketeers (New Zealand)
Folks who know me well know that, for the most part, I don’t do reality series. So for one to earn a spot on a list of my favorite shows means it bowled me over. The utterly charming The Casketeers certainly did that, as I laughed out loud, got choked up and teary-eyed, and wished I knew personally the people in the show while binge-watching the roughly two-hour first season.
This documentary-meets-The Office series follows Francis and Kaiora Tipene, the Māori owner-operators of the Tipene Funerals home, and their staff as they take the greatest of care and respect in handling every funeral detail for grieving Polynesian families. It isn’t morbid at all, but heartwarming and humorous — especially Francis and Kaiora, who together and individually are a hoot. Fingers crossed there will be a second season.
Where to watch: Netflix (global)
Mr Inbetween (Australia)
When I first saw the trailer for this dark dramedy, I thought the show looked interesting and then promptly forgot about it until I started putting together this list of my favorites. It was then that I realized I hadn’t watched it, so I bought it and binged it in one sitting. Now I’m waiting for Season 2, which got greenlit back in October.
The series is an offshoot of the feature film The Magician, and both star Scott Ryan as Ray Shoesmith, a man who lives between two worlds and is trying to keep them from crashing into each other. In one he’s a loving dad, caring friend, and attentive boyfriend; in the other he’s a criminal for hire who collects debts, handles hit jobs, and gets violent when needs must (and even when they don’t). At his essence, Ray is a good guy, a man with a kind heart and (relatively) sound morals. If Ray were a real person, I’d be cool with him as an acquaintance or even friend.
Mystery Road (Australia)
The plot of this outback noir mystery series centers on the police investigation into the disappearance of an Aboriginal teen and the twists and turns that follow. What makes the show so compelling and what brings the mystery story to life are the characters of Senior Sergeant Emma James, played by Judy Davis (My Brilliant Career), and Detective Jay Swan, played by Aaron Pedersen (Jack Irish). (Read this for more details about the show.)
Each of them is a badass in their own ways. The more talkative and humorous of the two is Emma. She brings a dog-on-a-bone persistence to her work and won’t take no for an answer, even if it means alienating people. Jay is a strong, silent type who speaks volumes just by his stare (in certain cases, glare). He is deliberately methodical in his work and, like Emma, he operates from integrity. What dissolves his stoic nature and transforms him into a yelling, emotional wreck are his daughter and ex-wife. A police officer lives in my building, so if Emma or Jay moved in, it would be like having a mini precinct here. (lol) Fingers crossed for a Season 2.
Have you ever started watching a show and, before you know it, a few hours have gone by and you want to keep watching it but don’t cos you absolutely must go to bed, and then, as soon as you can, you pick up where you left off and watch until you’ve finished the whole season? That’s what happened with me with this drama, which follows the lives of three women in the aftermath of a news story about a Nobel Prize-winning fertility specialist having used his own sperm to impregnate many of his patients.
After having fathered possibly hundreds of children, he’s ailing and being cared for by his daughter, Julia Bechly (Maria Angelico, Other People’s Problems), an overly-generous, let’s-make-lemonade-out-of-lemons teacher who hosts a gathering to meet folks who might be her siblings. DNA tests confirm that Roxy Karibas (Lucy Durack, The Heart Guy), an anxiety-ridden children’s television star, and Edie Flanagan (Antonia Prebble, Westside), an unhappily married lawyer, are her sisters. While the premise of the show is a rare occurrence in real life, the characters — in all their shock, confusion, anger, hurt, bitchiness, hopefulness, joy, naivete, desperation, etc, and problems with parents, siblings, friends, acquaintances, colleagues, lovers, spouses — are accessible, familiar, and in a way comfortable. The show ends with a bit of a cliffhanger, so hopefully there will be a second season.
Where to watch: Netflix (global)
Westside (New Zealand)
Speaking of Antonia Prebble, she costars in this period dramedy (the prequel to Outrageous Fortune) alongside David de Lautour (Touch) as Rita and Ted West, a husband-and-wife team of career criminals. The first season is set in Auckland during the 1970s and follows the couple as Ted gets back into his safe-cracking groove after a three-year stint in jail, while a bored Rita plays housewife, raises their son, and wants a career of her own — all while keeping a secret that would get her and the wives of the Wests’ partners in crime in big trouble with the fellas if it ever got out.
Although they’re not law-abiding, the criminal Wests are good people — parents who want the best for their son, friends who have their mates’ backs, and do-gooders who open their home to folks in need. While Ted might be the head of the crew, it’s Rita who gets my vote as the badass of the series. She is fearless and smart and calls it like she sees it, and if she were one of my neighbors, I’d be okay with that — as long as I remember not to accept any baked goods from her, just in case. After watching the first three seasons, I’m hoping the fourth arrives in the US soon. (A fifth season is in the works.)
Where to watch: Prime Video US
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