Always Greener: extremely funny Australian TV drama that’s as warm as a family group hug

·3 min read

The premise of Always Greener is simple: two adult siblings, one fed up by harsh country life, the other burned out by the city, decided on a whim over Christmas lunch to switch houses, and with this, to magically flee from the problems they find themselves drowning it. If only it was this easy.

Always Greener may tread the well-worn, fish-out-of-water path, but the program is one of the warmest and most original Australian dramas ever created. The chemistry between the cast is instantly apparent and undeniable: Caitlin McDougall and John Howard squabble like adult siblings often do, the menagerie of teenagers flick from mortal enemies to fierce protectors depending on who has the remote, and an ensemble cast of local eccentrics, bigots and unattainable love interests creeps in over the first season to fill out the twin communities, commanding their own story arcs by season two.

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The inner city is shown to be both a land of opportunity, and a harsh, drug-infused wasteland, where kids slip through the cracks, bullying goes unchecked in schoolyards and offices alike, and million-dollar developments overlook junkies overdosing in the park. Likewise, the pastoral plenty of the country is also revealed to be brimming with outmoded attitudes, devastating poverty and the grim realities of work that relies on the whims of mother nature.

Of course, this is basically a soap opera, so the real drama comes with the interpersonal relationships. The fact the two families are related by blood, with kids that sit in roughly the same age bracket, means the younger characters can easily bounce between city and country almost as much as the viewers do, moving towards whichever parent offers the most sympathy. As McDougall’s character falls for her charming yet violent neighbour, a number of complicated topics are explored without the broad strokes that blur a lot of depictions of male PTSD.

John Howard plays a gruff, bleeding heart who spends his evenings providing emergency and emotional care for the city’s homeless community; basically the anthesis to his famed turn as Bob Jelly from ABC’s SeaChange. Anne Tenney plays his wife, at her wits’ end and haplessly watching a replay of her own wayward youth through the actions of her troubled daughter Marissa – the role that made a household name of Michala Banas.

Heartbreak High heartthrob Scott Major plays affable farmhand Tom, constantly dealt a losing hand but smiling nonetheless, while Home and Away’s Bree Desborough artfully slides from unredeemable street corner bully to a sympathetic loner.

Abe Forsythe is the breakout star of the show, playing the bumbling, awkward Cam, who negotiates his unrequited love for the teenage sweetheart of the country town with a hopeless intensity that will make you cringe. Forsythe went on to be a talented film-maker after this show, and his canny improvisation skills and talent for nuance shows he has an eye for detail that later serve him well.

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For all the endless drama, this show is painted with a light touch, being extremely funny, often silly, and warm as a family group hug, the whole cast seemingly gifted with impeccable comic timing. A series of odd fantasy sequences are inserted both for levity, and to reveal the various characters’ inner desires and dread. It’s a novel idea, but two decades on, these sections should have been trimmed out of the edit.

The best thing about the streaming era is that programs that may have been relegated to the slush pile of historical obscurity are given a second wind. Always Greener was popular on its initial run in 2001, but hasn’t fared as well as other Channel Seven dramas such as A Country Practice, Blue Heelers, All Saints, or the invincible Home and Away, which all seem cast in amber. Hopefully, through 7plus, a new audience can discover the many charms and verdant grass of Always Greener.

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