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What next for Offspring’s drama-plagued Proudman family?

Television

Popular rom-com ‘Offspring’ is back for a sixth season, but after so many secrets, tragedies and scandals already, can it still keep the viewers interested?

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At the end of the first episode of the new season of Channel Ten’s Offspring, Billie (Kat Stewart) says to her little brother Jimmy (Richard Davies): “I thought we’d already had all our big family secrets.”

Fans of the series might be thinking the same: what further revelations could be coming to the Proudman family after five seasons of secret affairs, paternity scandals, family dysfunction and tragedy? Haven’t they been through enough?

But those are the same fans who lobbied hard for the beloved rom-com series to return for a sixth season. So when the first major tragedy hits (within the first few minutes of the series return), they have to share some degree of culpability with the show’s writers.

Offspring is one of Australia’s most commercially successful TV dramas of the last decade, and was put on hiatus for 2015. For its first five seasons (2010-2014), the show qualified for a 20 per cent tax rebate, but it’s now gone over a 65-episode threshold and is no longer eligible.

The writers on the show knew that its future was hanging in the balance after the first five seasons — as popular as the show was, it was about to become a whole lot more expensive — so the fifth ended with an episode which tied up loose ends and left the Proudmans in a calm and relatively satisfied place.

Now it’s back, and the writers have to find new ground for these characters to cover.

This review is only based on the first episode, and it’s impossible to tell how the various narratives might develop over the full season. There are some promising conflicts being set up, but we’ve already seen these characters deal with many of the pressures established in the first episode.

The acting is still excellent: Asher Keddie’s Nina still endearingly floats around like she’s drifted in from another world, Kat Stewart is still prickly and proud as Billie, and Deborah Mailman still lends the series plenty of gravitas. And the first episode features a very funny conflict between Linda Cropper’s Geraldine and guest star Sarah Peirse in a new role.

Series creator Debra Oswald hasn’t returned to the series but Jonathan Gavin, who has written many episodes of the show since its first season, has stepped into her shoes as head writer. Long-term director Emma Freeman has directed the first two episodes, ensuring the pacing and visual style (with Melbourne’s North becoming the show’s most charming character) is a natural progression from the earlier seasons of Offspring.

Diehard fans will find their love for the show rekindled pretty quickly, but there’s no escaping the sense that we’ve moved on from the playing style of Offspring. It doesn’t feel quite as dynamic or as offbeat as it once did with Nina’s internal monologues and fantasy sequences. It’s still comforting and affirming, but feels somehow less substantial.

The series opens with one of Nina’s fantastically awkward social encounters with a former romantic interest. Surely this character must have evolved in her personal life in some way over the last five incident-packed years?

There are a few signs that Offspring might be moving into new territory: Nina and Billie’s ringtones have become well-known by the show’s fans as a forewarning that something big or devastating is about to happen. (In the show’s heyday I once heard Nina’s ringtone on a train and instinctively braced myself for bad news.)

But Billie’s ringtone, as Jimmy points out, is particularly dated, so she picks out a new signature sound. Offspring is going to need more than a new ringtone to capture its audience’s imaginations again.

Offspring airs Wednesday nights at 8.30pm on Channel Ten. 

This review was first published on The Daily Review.

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