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Is Australian TV entering a golden age?

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Film and TV critic Luke Buckmaster explores whether the industry might be experiencing (or about to experience) a new ‘golden age’.

There is a fist pumping moment, three episodes into the new season of Channel Seven's on-the-run action-drama Wanted, indicative of the show's tenacious and hot-blooded spirit. On a train in New Zealand, protagonist Lola (Rebecca Gibney) discovers an extremely dangerous, gun-wielding man has just boarded. She knows he is determined to kill her, but, instead of running in the opposite direction, Lola turns and bolts straight for him, charging through carriages like a possessed bull.

It is not unexpected behaviour from a tough-as-nails character, who makes the archetypal Liam Neeson antihero look, if not like a wimp, then certainly somebody Gibney would beat in a bar fight. This adrenaline-charged scene arrives at a particularly exciting time for Australian narrative television. I like to think of it as a moving and pulsating metaphor, symbolic of where the industry is currently at – and the feeling one gets when endeavoring to keep up with it.

In short, local TV has never been more bingeable. Also, never closer to achieving a 'golden age' comparable to the surplus of great content that's been coming out of America, in seemingly limitless supply (though the end of it is routinely prophesied) since around the turn of the century.

The first series of Wanted, with its hair-trigger plotting and cliffhanger-steeped storyline, is up there with the best, most densely written Australian television programs of the last few years. It is almost Mad Max: Fury Road-esque, in that its pace is breathless and key details are picked up on the run. The second series (now airing on Seven) has Lola and Chelsea (Geraldine Hakewill) continuing to run from crooked cops, this time hopscotching between countries.

The action-slathered Wanted is very much a ‘genre’ series, constantly engaged in the process of embracing and countering formula. Other recent, similarly popular and well-received programs also wear their genre roots on their sleeves, including ABC’s Glitch and Cleverman (both of which will return for a second season) and SBS’ police drama Deep Water, starring Yael Stone and Noah Taylor as Bondi homicide detectives.

Will there be more episodes of Foxtel's brilliant science fiction mystery The Kettering Incident, from co-creators Victoria Madden and Vincent Sheehan? After I watched the first two episodes last year, I was so excited I could barely see straight. It is perhaps more genre-bending than ‘genre’: an extra-terrestrial-ecological thriller, if you will, with traces of Top of the Lake and Twin Peaks informing a gothic Australian texture, varnished with a rich, wet, every-frame-a-painting aesthetic.

If every locally-made TV series were as good as The Kettering Incident, we’d be in Australian television heaven. The same could be said of Josh Thomas' Please Like Me, which concluded its fourth (and final) season in December last year. What fabulous characters; what a touching and fearless storyline; what a great ability, from the writers and directors, to oscillate between humour and pathos.

It is not the only high quality comedy of late; as far as rib-ticklers go, the current standard is high. Notable programs include Stan’s quasi-Seinfeldian cop show No Activity, which lasted two seasons (premiering in 2015 and 2016 respectively) and ABC’s hilarious Black Comedy, a rare example of a sketch comedy program with an ethnic, ideological and intellectual edge. The Katering Show, from faux chefs Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney, generated lots of LOLs on ABCiview. A new series from the two Kates, Get Krack!n, will turn their satirical gaze to breakfast TV.

The last few years have delivered other fine, at times excellent new narrative programs. Too many to unpack in detail, spanning various lengths – from multiple seasons to one-off telemovies. Among them The Principal, The Code, Seven Types of Ambiguity, Secret City, The Beautiful Lie, Barracuda, Redfern Now: Promise Me and Jack Irish: Dead Point.

Could Australian television be entering a new golden age? A few more big, beautifully made, generously budgeted shows might get us there. And on that note, highly anticipated programs in the pipelines include new remakes/re-adaptations of Picnic at Hanging Rock and Wake in Fright, and a sequel to the classic 1995 miniseries Blue Murder. Like Rebecca Gibney on the train in Wanted, Australian television is moving boldly and decisively, and maintaining a hell of a momentum.

Love TV? Then you'll love Series Mania at ACMI in July, a free festival of television that's been called the Cannes of TV.