Streamer: Amazon Prime Video
Length: 6 x episodes (45-50 minutes each)
Back in the olden days, around 2008 or so, Channel 7 dropped a brand spanking new family-oriented show called Packed to the Rafters.
It was a very straight, amiable program starring Aussie acting mainstay Rebecca Gibney, and offered a non-threatening mix of light drama and lighter comedy.
It was a huge hit. Audiences just couldn’t get enough of its simple charms, and Rafters ran for six seasons. Well, now Amazon Prime Video has resurrected the property in the form of Back to the Rafters and the result is… about what you’d expect, to be honest.
Back to the Rafters takes place six years after the original. The Rafter elders, Julie (Rebecca Gibney) and Dave (Erik Thomson) along with precocious-as-hell youngest daughter Ruby (Willow Speers) have settled down in rural Burradeena.
The trio had travelled initially, on a quasi-hippie road trip (sans drugs or music, natch), but the lure of a stable home proved too strong. The problem is, Burradeena isn’t quite enough for either Julie or Ruby, the latter of whom has become a fierce sort of 9-year-old Aussie Greta Thunberg.
This does not go down well with the folk of Burradeena.
A fortuitous trip to Sydney to visit Julie’s sick dad Ted (Michael Caton) and the rest of the Rafter clan makes Julie realise she wants to be more involved in the lives of her adult children. The premise thusly set, six episodes of familiar, friendly drama commences.
Back to the Rafters is Amazon Prime Video’s first major Aussie-made drama series, which is laudable. However, the television market has changed a lot since 2013 (when Packed to the Rafters finished up) and it will be interesting to see if modern audiences take to it.
See, while shows like Ted Lasso prove there’s a market for wholesome, feelgood content, that particular program has a sophistication and wit that Back to the Rafters simply doesn’t.
To be fair, this is not a show that’s attempting to be hip. Rafters is shamelessly daggy, chockers with saccharin moments and twee observations, as well as some decent acting from the main cast, with Gibney and Caton delivering strong work as always.
It’s a show that works better as a sequel than a spin-off. Frankly, without a vague familiarity with the main characters and premise of the original, you’re likely to find yourself lost and confounded by the sheer volume of similar looking people lobbing about the place.
It’s like trying to follow all the factions in Game of Thrones, except super vanilla and with fewer beheadings.
In this Golden Age of Telly, it’s difficult to fathom where exactly Rafters sits. In a world of light entertainment that includes White Lotus, Hacks, Schitt’s Creek, The Good Place and the afore-mentioned Ted Lasso, one wonders if Back to the Rafters has enough on offer to break through.
And there’s some nice stuff here. The family dynamics are strong, the issues feel modern and believable without being too tropey, but sometimes the endless wholesomeness can get a little suffocating.
There’s a bit in the first episode where Julie delivers a shocker of a soliloquy, comparing people to Kung Pao Chicken, and using the recipe to describe - in exhaustive detail - what ingredients each of the characters are missing.
It’s wonky dialogue, more than a little mawkish, and betrays a lack of faith in the show’s audience, which is rarely a good idea.
That said, fans of the original series who want to revisit this rather massive family almost ten years later will no doubt find things to love. And hey, if Rafters hits big, maybe ol’ mate Jeff Bezos will pony up some dosh for more Aussie content.
How about a big budget reboot of stone cold Aussie 90s classic Chances? Carn, Jeff, giz please.
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