If More Than This is any indication, then Australian drama is in good hands with the next generation of storytellers.
The series by the Australian Children’s Television Foundation is not only edgy, progressive and well-executed, it’s all written by teens for teens. Wow.
Olivia Deeble (Little Lunch, Home & Away, Secret Society of Second-Born Royals) has co-created the series with Luka Gracie (Spin Out) and both have principal roles in the young ensemble.
What’s unmistakeable here is the voice of authenticity. These kids are not sitting around and waiting for adults to tell their story, they are doing it for themselves.
Like Skins did in the UK, More Than This immerses raw and confronting themes, including relationships, body image, sexuality, drugs, self-harm, masturbation, before a high school backdrop.
There are five very diverse 17 year olds in this story, all fighting to belong and finding their voice. While the first episode introduces the group, subsequent episodes zero in on specific characters.
All five are seconded to an English class with benevolent tutor Mr. E (Bert La Bonte).
Charlotte (Olivia Deeble) is dealing with the fallout of her boyfriend Leon (Ellmir Asipi) having cheated on her with a classmate, ‘Legs’ (Celine Ajobong). But as well as staying on top of her studies, she has to juggle her part-time job in a local cafe.
Non-binary student Jamie (Luka Gracie) steps in at home when mum (Eve Morey) is run off her feet in a nursing job. While Jamie constantly looks after their little brother, finding a place to fit in at school does not come easily. But LGBTQI+ student Zali (Selena Brincat) welcomes them into a queer clique led by scene-stealing Benson (Oisín O’Leary). Zali also has study challenges, especially with a demanding father, a girlfriend with growing jealousies, and a dark, private way of dealing with her anxiety.
Then there is Alex (Kamil Ellis), repeating Year 12 and buying weed from uni drop-out Samuel (Josh Heuston). His mother is so focussed on her yoga and meditation that Alex is in his own spiral. But Mr. E sees flashes of himself in the teen and finds ways to earn his trust.
The importance of learning from mistakes, unconditional love, being true to self are strong themes. There is defiance, rebelliousness, restlessness, isolation and energy all rippling underneath these half hour episodes. An opening scene of a hospital waiting room also suggests we are set for a crisis where someone has reached breaking point. Make no mistake, this is the edgiest show ACTF has ever made.
Visually guided by director John Sheedy, writer Olivia Deeble has crafted a strong and distinct young posse who are instantly likeable. It would be unfair to single any out of these talented young principals, who all under-play their roles, wear their hearts on their sleeve and strive for honesty.
The series is also produced by sisters Kate and Charmaine Gorman, who are clearly shepherding the work of Deeble (daughter of Kate) and Luka Gracie. More power to them.
One area for improvement should this proceed to a second season would be to make the school scenes more populated. Clearly filmed in a pandemic, these look too spartan, and could benefit from some atmosphere FX.
While shows like Euphoria and I May Destroy You are grabbing young viewers in a world where television is supposedly dying, More Than This is a breath of fresh of air. It deserves every success.
More Than This screens Friday on Paramount+.