Whatever Strife is, one thing’s for sure: it’s not a sitcom. Yes, each episode is half an hour. Yes, it does contain a decent amount of jokes. Yes, it’s about a woman struggling to balance the demands of her zany workplace with a home life that largely involves embarrassing her children and rolling her eyes at the husband she just left. But a sitcom? In 2023? Don’t be ridiculous.
Instead, the press material describes Strife as a ‘comedic drama’. Which is a shame, because the workplace side of things is clearly prime sitcom material (the family side is a bit more mundane).
Once a leading media figure, Evelyn Jones (Asher Keddie) is now the somewhat disengaged and frazzled boss at Eve Life, which is a website but as it’s 2012 nobody really seems quite sure exactly what that is; ‘it’s not a blog’ is said more than once.
It’s home to a collection of female writers (plus one frazzled guy running sales) putting together what we now know as ‘clickbait’. Their newest member of staff (Olivia Junkeer), who they definitely can’t afford to hire, is appalled to find herself not at a beacon of feminist social commentary, but at a place where one of her fellow writers says ‘I love me some incest … it’s very clicky’.
Loosely based on Mia Freeman’s memoir Work, Strife, Balance, Strife is fully aware that its subject matter has not aged well. It isn’t afraid to relentlessly take the piss out of the idea that a ‘feminist website’ is not much more than a way to direct eyeballs to advertisers. High-minded idealists they are not, though even trashy confessionals can have their serious side.
Force for feminism
Slightly surprisingly considering the source material, this piss-taking extends to our lead. While we’re told Evelyn was once a fierce force for feminism in the Australian media, the series begins with her having ditched a marriage she just wasn’t feeling any more, leaving her more level-headed husband (Matt Day) somewhat perplexed. She’s also struggling with months-long writer’s block, which she only overcomes by inadvertently inventing confessional blogging with the online sensation: I Ended My Marriage Because of a Flat White.
This is presented as both the financial saviour of her struggling website and a development that the wider world couldn’t care less about. Strife is refreshingly cynical about the whole confessional writing thing, as the somewhat base requirements of the internet soon pervert Evelyn’s dream into headlines like I’m still a virgin thanks to anal sex.
Much of this perversion comes from Evelyn herself, who is presented as somewhat disengaged with her work. She’s happy to take the plaudits, but is otherwise too distracted and overwhelmed by her own issues to provide much in the way of direction or leadership at an extremely online and often inappropriate business that has ‘no wifi, no HR’.
Adding another layer is the way we’re constantly told by other characters that Evelyn is a model feminist. At one stage her confidant Lucy (Emma Lung) tells her ‘you are incapable of seeing anything outside your feminist bubble’. And yet Evelyn’s actual behaviour is largely the opposite: she’s constantly (verbally) undermining other women, saying things like ‘my staff are really nosey, you get that with all women’.
What resolves all these contradictions and uncertainties is the presence of Asher Keddie. She’s firmly in Offspring mode here, playing a likable but flawed woman struggling to have it all – and if she’s actually so flawed she’s not really likable, well, Keddie has more than enough charm to paper over the cracks, and she can easily sell the occasional moment of straight drama.
And it’s not like she’s carrying the series on her own. Strife knows what it’s doing with its inconsistencies – it isn’t merely ping-ponging from joke to serious point and back again based on whatever the current scene is trying to achieve.
It’s polished, features a solid cast, most of its swipes at the world of online media hit home and it doesn’t take itself too seriously. Turns out you don’t have to be a sitcom to deliver some decent laughs.
All eight episodes of Strife are available on Binge from 6 December.