“Offspring” Season 3: Love Connection by Matilda Dixon-Smith

Posted on June 19, 2012

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Australia doesn’t generally do romantic comedies. I don’t know how this affects everyone else but for me, a self-confessed romance addict, it is a great source of vexation. Thank goodness for Debra Oswald, is all I’m saying. Offspring (Wednesdays, 8:30 pm, Channel Ten), a dramedy about a thirty-something obstetrician and her family, is halfway through its third season. As far as I’m concerned it’s a masterpiece, and quite possibly the best thing on TV right now. And yes, it’s a romantic comedy in its purest form.

Nina Proudman (Asher Keddie) is a nutty obstetrician who cavorts around Melbourne—clad in an absurd number of scarves and boho vests—with her wacky family. Offspring follows Nina through trials at work, triumphs and disasters in her love life (of which there are many) and moments of pure madness with the rest of the Proudmans. There’s Nina’s high-maintenance sister Billie (Kat Stewart) and her husband Mick (Eddie Perfect), little brother Jimmy (Richard Davies), who is a complete hopeless case, and the dysfunctional Proudman matriarch and patriarch, Geraldine and Darcy (Linda Cropper and John Waters). There’s also a host of quirky supporting players, including Cherie (Deborah Mailman), a nurse whose relationship to the Proudmans is too complicated to go into, and Dr. Martin Clegg (Lachy Hulme), the idiosyncratic obstetrics head.

The Season 3 cast of “Offspring”!

For two seasons we’ve followed Nina through a string of possible hero-lovers. There was handsome Dr. Chris Havel (Don Hany), Dr. Fraser King (Jay Ryan), Nina’s volatile (and extremely cute) obstetrics student, and now sexy, wounded Dr. Patrick (Matthew Le Nevez). I’m sure he has a last name, but this is of little consequence to my household, where he’s referred to simply as “Dr. Patrick” or “Oh-God-he’s-such-a-babe-I-want-one”.Of course, this is part of the show’s attraction, a feast of gorgeous men who have convenient penchants for removing their shirts. I am constantly surprised that the writers know exactly what a majority of women want out of their fictional hunks. Dr. Patrick, Nina’s current on-off beau, is brooding, passionate, quippy and devastatingly handsome. His foibles give their relationship drama, while his sweetness elicits sighs of wistful contentment from the audience (or, at least, from this audience).

And though there are hunks abound, it’s not really about the hunks, but about Nina’s interactions with the hunks. The writers allow her to have a voracious, self-possessed attitude towards her sex life. Nervy and neurotic though she may be, Nina represents the kind of modern girl who not only submits to her romantic desires, but is inherently liberated and strengthened by them. And when, by the third season, she can’t seem to stick with her man for more than a couple of episodes, we come to understand that Nina is the hero-lover of her own story. It’s a powerful message, made more potent by the fact that Keddie’s presence on screen is utterly breathtaking.

Nina, rockin’ a classic boho vest/scarf/wide-leg pant combo.

Part of the attraction of a romantic comedy is its uncomplicated nature. It’s easy enough to coast through a story where you know the hero and the heroine will end up together, and that’s all you’re supposed to care about. I believe, though, that the best rom-coms are the ones with a little meat on their bones. In Bridesmaids, Kristen Wiig getting her man is secondary to pulling her disaster of a life together and acting with some agency. The wild and supportive dynamic of the Proudman family elevates Offspring from being just a sudsy drama where men kiss women up against walls and the audience loses bladder control. Instead, the series is an intelligent, perceptive story that is distinctly real.

Debra Oswald, the show’s creator and head writer (and, in my opinion, a national treasure) injects each script with that Oswaldian realism which means no character is left to languish on their laurels. Sometimes things go very badly for these people, and so you mourn for them but at the same time you’re perversely satisfied that it’s a reflection of real life. This is why I could just handle Nina and Patrick’s most recent break up, though I may have shielded my eyes from his smouldering gaze in the process.

Nina and Dr. Patrick.

The show bubbles with humour and honesty. The directors also have a unique appreciation for well-executed slapstick. Keddie has unparalleled prowess in her physical comedy, so Nina fusses and stumbles and gets tangled in her scarves in the most amusing fashion. Apart from anything, the experience of delving into Nina’s life is simply good fun. Offspring expertly balances raw drama and knee-quivering romance. It leads the charge for more Australian film and television makers to mine this untapped genre. It proves that if something is excellent, it shouldn’t matter that it’s a humble romantic comedy. It’s still just really good television.

Do you agree with Matilda? Or is Offspring overated? Tell us in the comments below.

If you’d like to read more of Matilda’s reviews click here.

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Posted in: Television