The category chaos at the Golden Globes should remind us that networks and streaming services these days distinguish more strongly between scripted and factual television than between comedy and drama. But I’m here purely for the drama – and so are these ten upcoming Australian series.
Australian drama series to watch in 2024:
Total Control (ABC)
Two years on from season two, Alex Irving (Deborah Mailman) now feels at home in Canberra; but after having helped install political fixer Paul Murphy (Wayne Blair, who also co-directs) as Australia’s first Indigenous prime minister, has Alex unleashed a different kind of power-hungry monster?
Aside from the threats she faces from the far right, and her own personal struggles with health and family, Alex and her longtime frenemy Rachel Anderson (Rachel Griffiths), a Teals-like independent and former prime minister, learn the think tank that backed them last season was corrupt. Can Alex dodge the fallout long enough to get a nation-changing piece of legislation passed to keep kids out of jails?
ScreenHub’s Stephen A Russell reports that Total Control finishes with a bang. In its third and final season, it remains one of Australian television’s most exciting and politically nuanced dramas.
Total Control Season 3 premieres on ABC iview on 14 January
If there’s a giant Succession-shaped hole in your life, don’t miss Stan’s new series about a wealthy, toxic evangelical family, which is ‘strongly inspired’ by a well-known Sydney megachurch.
Richard Roxburgh is megapastor Cal Quinn, who’s plotting to expand his megachurch, U Star, into the US. Like many a preacher, Cal’s got demons! He confesses that he doesn’t hear God at all anymore. But his steely wife Abi (Rebecca Gibney) is not about to let his existential crisis – not to mention his shady past – ruin everything she’s worked for.
I’m already excited by the dramatic dynamic of the ensemble cast. Dion (Ewen Leslie) is Cal’s dutiful, taken-for-granted eldest son with an ambitious wife, Taz (Ming-Zhu Hii). Golden child Issy (Hayley McCarthy) spearheads U Star’s worship-music empire with her husband Benji (Jordi Webber). Rebellious Jed’s (Jacob Collins-Levy) genuine Christian conviction leads him to start a rival mission helping Sydney’s poorest. And pampered, adopted teenage son Moses (Alexander D’Souza) is acting out, sensing he’ll never truly be accepted as a Quinn.
Prosper premieres on Stan on 18 January
House of Gods (ABC)
If you’d prefer your religious dynastic drama more halal, keep an eye out for this series, co-created and written by erstwhile comedian Osamah Sami, who proved his dramatic chops with a magnetic, terrifying role in Noora Niasari’s 2023 film Shayda. Having grown up as the son of an imam, Sami draws on his own experiences to take viewers inside the Western Sydney world of Sheikh Mohammad (Palestinian actor Kamel El Basha).
When their prominent Iraqi-Australian patriarch is chosen as the head cleric of a local mosque, his family must grapple with their newfound privilege, disentangling personal ambition from community leadership, and tradition from morality. As well as Sami and El Basha, the cast includes Safia Arain (who plays Reema in Bump), Priscilla Doueihy (Lioness, Eden), Simon Elrahi (Last King of the Cross) and Maia Abbas (Savage River).
House of Gods will premiere on ABC in 2024
Invisible Boys (Stan)
Fresh off the success of Crazy Fun Park, Nicholas Verso is adapting Holden Sheppard’s award-winning young adult novel into a 10-part drama series for Stan. In Geraldton, WA, a regional town where everyone thinks they know everyone else, three closeted gay 16-year-olds feel their sexuality is invisible … until one boy’s hookup with a married man is revealed on social media. Then the trio are all too visible.
Billed as a gritty and authentic coming-of-age story, Invisible Boys is the first Australian queer teen series to be filmed in Western Australia. Sheppard joins the writers’ room to adapt his debut novel, alongside Verso, Enoch Mailangi (All My Friends Are Racist), Allan Clarke (The Dark Emu Story) and Griffin Theatre artistic director Declan Greene.
Invisible Boys will premiere on Stan in 2024
Swift Street (SBS)
This father–daughter crime drama, created by Tig Terera, is set in inner-city Melbourne and looks like heaps of fun! When 21-year-old Elsie (Tanzyn Crawford, Tiny Beautiful Things) seeks to reconnect with her estranged dad Robert (Cliff Curtis, True Spirit, Avatar: The Way of Water), a small-time hustler, she finds him despairingly deep in debt to scary gangster The Mechanic (Eliza Matengu, Scrublands).
Though neither is much chop at crime, Elsie and Robert reluctantly chase the money by any means necessary. Over eight half-hour episodes, the clock ticks down and their crimes get more and more desperate as The Mechanic sends various thuggish debt collectors to Robert’s house on Swift Street. Along the way, Elsie might just mend things with her dad… and even fall in love. The cast includes Keiynan Lonsdale (The Flash), Bernie Van Tiel (Class of ’07, Erotic Stories) and new talent Alfred Chuol in his first major TV role.
Swift Street will premiere on SBS and SBS On Demand in 2024
Ladies in Black (ABC)
Picking up from Bruce Beresford’s 2018 feature-film adaptation of the charming 1959-set novel by Madeleine St John is this six-part drama directed by Gracie Otto (The Artful Dodger, The Clearing), which takes the staff of Goodes Department Store into 1961, six months after the original story ends. They’re ready to seize the freedom they sense in a newly cosmopolitan Sydney, but will personal challenges threaten their dreams?
If you’re a fan of midcentury vibes like Mad Men, Call the Midwife, The Marvelous Mrs Maisel or even Miss Fisher’s Modern Murder Mysteries, this little black frock could be just your size. Debi Mazar, so delightful in Younger, stars alongside the ever-game Miranda Otto (The Clearing, Wellmania), Jessica De Gouw (The Artful Dodger, The Couple Next Door) and Kate Box (Deadloch, Erotic Stories). Also look out for Bump’s Carlos Sanson Jr and Gemma Ward (While the Men Are Away).
Ladies in Black will premiere on ABC in 2024
Four Years (SBS)
Created by Mithila Gupta (Five Bedrooms, Bump), this eight-part romantic drama uses dual perspectives to tell the story of two young Indian lovers, Sridevi and Yash, through two timelines and two worlds as they’re separated for four years and strive to find their way back to one another. If you liked Sally Rooney’s Normal People, or Celine Song’s Past Lives, this yearning tale of the space love occupies between life’s turmoils and challenges could be for you, ya big softie.
Four Years marks the first time production company Easy Tiger (Colin From Accounts,The Twelve) has worked with SBS since its 2017 miniseries Sunshine. It’s scripted in a mix of Hindi and English by an all-South Asian writing team that includes Gupta, Nicole Reddy and S. Shakthidharan. In the director’s chair are Mohini Herse – which I’m pleased to see, because I loved her short series Appetite – and Fadia Abboud (Year Of).
Four Years will premiere on SBS and SBS On Demand in 2024
Last Days of the Space Age (Disney+)
Look, I almost didn’t put this eight-part series on my list because it’s being billed as a “dramedy”. Don’t make me roll up a newspaper to bop you on the nose, Disney. But hopefully creator David Chidlow has made one of those black-hearted Gen X tales, like Stephan Elliott’s Swinging Safari.
It’s 1979, and Perth is about to host the Miss Universe pageant when a power strike threatens to plunge the city into darkness. Also plunging into darkness is the US space station Skylab, which crashes just beyond Perth’s suburban fringe. But all this is just background to a bunch of teenagers in a beach community, who’ve got some coming of age to do.
Radha Mitchell, Jesse Spencer, Deborah Mailman and Linh-Dan Pham play the main grown-ups; the kids are Mackenzie Mazur (Moja Vesna), Emily Grant (RFDS), Thomas Weatherall (Heartbreak High) and newcomer Aidan Chiem. Also look out for Iain Glen (Game of Thrones), George Mason (The Power of the Dog), Vico Thai (Total Control), Ines English (Dead Lucky) and Jacek Koman (Jack Irish). And joining setup director Bharat Nalluri (Shantaram) are Rachel Ward (Palm Beach) and Kriv Stenders (Danger Close: The Battle of Long Tan).
Last Days of the Space Age is coming to Disney+ in 2024
The Newsreader s03 (ABC)
The Newsreader is one of those rare period dramas that manages to treat its period with elegant realism rather than kitsch, without forgetting juicy, character-led drama. It has got better each season, and now all the key creatives are back for season three: head writer Michael Lucas, director Emma Freeman, and key cast Anna Torv, Sam Reid, William McInnes, Marg Downey, Chum Ehelepola, Stephen Peacocke, Michelle Lim Davidson, Chai Hansen and Phillipa Northeast. Joining them is Daniel Henshall (The Royal Hotel, Savage River).
It’s now 1989. Dale Jennings (Reid), whom we first met as a timid, sexually confused cub reporter, is now the ‘King of News’ at Six, while his former mentor, colleague and lover Helen Norville (Torv) is a fearless international correspondent. But a cynical network move pits them against each other to cover 1989’s big stories – the Exxon Valdez oil spill, the Tiananmen Square massacre, anti-apartheid boycotts of South Africa (a very timely issue in today’s political climate), and the fall of the Berlin Wall. Maybe not the birth of Taylor Swift, though.
The Newsreader Season 3 will premiere on ABC late in 2024
Desert King (Netflix)
While Baz Luhrmann’s Faraway Downs divided critics, perhaps it showed Netflix that there’s room for a sweeping Australian neo-Western TV series to match Taylor Sheridan’s Yellowstone empire (which you can watch on Stan).
Desert King is the working title of a sprawling epic billed as ‘an explosive drama about power, family, land and legacy’, which takes Netty to the NT for the first time. It follows the dusty travails of the declining Lawson family and everyone else who wants their land, from rival cattle barons to native title-holders and billionaire miners.
Yisssss. Desert King promises to revive the Kennedy Miller era of sweeping Aussie drama – when you could turn on your TV and watch, to quote Tony Martin’s immortal piss-take The Last Aussie Auteur, ‘a story of courage and determination as big as Australia itself.’ But as this production is offering traineeships and attachments to ten emerging First Nations screen production professionals, hopefully the show’s racial politics will be better than in the 1980s – or the 2000s.
Desert King will be released globally on Netflix in 2024