Buzzy, week-to-week limited series are all the rage right now. Just look at the hype surrounding recent appointment-viewing sensations like The White Lotus, Mare of Easttown and The Undoing. Bingeing full seasons of TV may be what we’ve grown accustomed to, but the classic experience of waiting seven whole days (!) for a new episode of your favourite show clearly hasn’t lost its sheen just yet. And the ABC’s latest offering isn’t just an Australian version of this – but an exciting drama that can proudly sit side-by-side with those aforementioned HBO hits.
The Newsreader is set in glorious 1986 (so get ready for some big hair, baby-pink bow ties and plenty of VCR’s). Starring an extraordinary Anna Torv (Mindhunter, Secret City) as news anchor Helen Norville, and Sam Reid (Lambs of God) as wide-eyed reporter Dale Jennings, the six-part series explores ambition, legacy, misogyny, masculinity and mental illness in the fictional TV newsroom ‘News At Six’.
The story is really a two-hander between the leads, as their professional lives come crashing together after Dale finds Helen unconscious on the floor of her house. From there, the pair forms a unique relationship, one of mutual support in achieving their dreams – Dale’s, to be an esteemed news anchor; Helen’s, to cover important, game-changing stories and prove herself among the program’s boys’ club in spite of her flailing mental health.
The Newsreader also stars a truly terrifying William McInnes in a career-defining role as network boss Lindsay Cunningham, whose angry bellowing might make you need to turn your TV’s volume down. Rounding out the cast are Stephen Peacocke, Robert Taylor and a wonderfully thorny Marg Downey, not to mention the refreshingly diverse newsroom crew of Michelle Davidson, Chai Hansen and Chum Ehelepola.
What sets this show apart and makes it quintessentially Australian is its references to real-life news events from the 1980s. The Challenger space shuttle disaster, the Lindy Chamberlain case and the Russell Street bombings are all covered, and function in the narrative as challenges for our characters to overcome, as well as providing a layer of authenticity you often don’t get in other newsroom dramas.
Created by the prolific Michael Lucas (Five Bedrooms, Offspring, Party Tricks) (who also makes a fun cameo as a mulleted DJ in episode two), The Newsreader is an exciting step forward for homegrown television. It’s compelling, original, and surprisingly funny, thanks to the sharp scripts from Lucas and his writing team. It also looks fantastic with expert direction from Emma Freeman (Stateless, Glitch) and inspired cinematography by Earle Dresner (The Commons, Glitch).
The Newsreader feels like a big-budget prestige drama (not just a little show on ‘Aunty’) and I can see its potential for international acclaim. I’d love for this to usher in a new era for Aussie TV – telling uniquely local stories with a broad sensibility and putting our own incredibly talented actors and filmmakers on the world stage.
Oh, and did I mention it’s set in the 80s?! Come for the gripping drama, stay for the iconic retro needle drops and names like Noelene and Cheryl.
– Jayden Masciulli
The Newsreader airs Sundays at 8.30pm on ABC and is available to stream on ABC iView.