Back in October, I reviewed the first episode of ABC Indigenous teen drama Ready for This.
If you enjoyed Dance Academy, or if you like contemporary YA, or if you have fond memories of Heartbreak High, this is a Jolly Good Series. Some of the acting is a bit ropey, as happens with teen dramas starring actual young adults, and some of the dialogue is on the nose, as happens any time an Australian sits down to write a script. It’s not perfect. But it’s good.
The first (and, unless the Renewal Fairy works her magic, only) season has just come out on DVD, so this seems like a good time to look at the series as a whole, and whether or not it maintained the promise of its first episode.
OMG EVERY CHARACTER IS A PERFECT CINNAMON ROLL, TOO GOOD FOR THIS WORLD, TOO PURE, I LOVE EVERYTHING THIS SHOW CHOOSES TO BE, AND THERE IS A QUEER RELATIONSHIP I DID NOT SEE COMING, BUT THERE ARE GIRLS COURTING VIA ROLLER DERBY AND IT IS THE MOST PERFECT THING EVER EVEN THE TOKEN WHITE BOY IS AMAZING
Look, it’s not actually perfect. There’s an episode where the boys — Dylan, Levi and white boy Reece — engage in a bit of extremely mild trespassing and have a run-in with the cops. Dylan mouths off, citing the Fifth Amendment and Miranda rights, and he and Levi end up being taken to the station, while Reece is told to go home to his mum.
(This is particularly harsh because Reece is the only one of the three who doesn’t have his mum in his life — one of the ironies the show deals with is that it’s the white kid who has the most dysfunctional background.)
That’s all great, but then … nothing comes of it? Dylan and Levi are picked up, taken home and get a bit of a telling off, but no one says anything about the double standard in the way they’re treated. It just hangs there.
That’s really the only dud note the show hits. There was one other thing I didn’t care for, regarding the way Ava’s story winds up after her mother catches her kissing a girl — forbidding her to do her final exam at music school — but I understand that Ava’s story is about finding herself and her confidence, rather than institutional recognition of her skills.
What I loved was seeing all the different kinds of families in this show. There’s the found family of the main cast, with Lasarus Ratuere and Christine Anu as the surrogate parents. They even adopt Reece when they realise he’s living at school because his home situation is untenable.
But then there are the kids’ biological families, which include roles we don’t often see for Indigenous people:
- Dylan’s father is a prominent Torres Strait Islander politician, who teaches his son traditional dances, sent him to one of Brisbane’s top private schools, and expects him to be a violin prodigy;
- Zoe comes from a big, loud, loving family, and her dad struggles with the fact that he’s no longer her coach;
- Levi’s mother is a forthright professional who encourages her son to be ambitious, whereas his dad is just out of jail, but the opposite of a deadbeat — a decent guy who has made some bad decisions, and is how working hard to be part of his son’s life;
- Lily’s mother recently died, and she’s keeping her father at arm’s length, but both remain a palpable presence in her life;
- Ava has a forceful, Christian mother and a lot of supportive, loving cousins.
- And then there’s Reece, whose dad took off, whose mother has had a string of terrible boyfriends, and whose grandparents — with whom he’s meant to be living — don’t seem to care where he is or what he’s doing.
As I said, the white kid gets the most dysfunctional background, but there’s a constant thread of realism, in that everyone is just doing their best to do the right thing.
Except, you know, Reece’s mum’s boyfriend. And his mum. And his grandparents.
Reece is a wonderful character, though: he’s aware of his white privilege, but still makes mistakes, apologises for them and learns, and is generally a good person. Someone said, regarding Poe Dameron, that if the future of the Square Jawed Hero is a guy who is kind and generous, that’s okay with her — likewise, I feel like, if we’re going to have prominent white guy characters, they should be like Reece.
But you could say that about any of the regulars: they try, they make mistakes, they learn, they keep going. They deal with a variety of issues, both timeless — academic and sporting success, bullying and personality clashes — and current, such as Lily becoming the target of online bullying after a boy takes a demeaning picture of her and posts it without her consent.
Overall, while it could certainly have been more overtly intersectional on some issues, Ready for This brought both earnestness and fun to its characters and storylines. (And, frankly, I feel a bit meanspirited, dinging it for not being 100% perfect, when the next big thing in Australian YA TV is this series about white LGBT kids. I mean, literally the only non-white character is Rafiq, the main character’s nemesis. I’m quite appalled.)
My main complaint about Ready for This is about what it didn’t get — without the overseas funding that Dance Academy enjoyed, it’s a lot cheaper, and didn’t enjoy a fraction of the promotion that other ABC3 shows receive. Is this because it’s about black kids, or because it’s not likely to be a big international hit? But if it’s the latter, isn’t it the fact that it’s about black kids part of the reason for its narrower appeal?
And, of course, it only got one season so far — it was in Dance Academy‘s second season that the marketing really took off.
For this reason, I’m buying the DVD and am doing my best to support the various artists whose music appeared in the show — many of whom are of ATSI background themselves. (I had predicted a Jessica Mauboy cameo, but got Ngaiire instead. No complaints, though, I love Ngaiire.) Many are still in the early stages of their careers, but I’ve put what I can into a playlist on Spotify: the Ready for This unOST.
I doubt I can singlehandedly bully the ABC into creating more Ready for This, but I’m determined to try — or at least to ensure that the next teen drama about Indigenous kids gets an audience, and the one after that, and the one after that.