A Moody Christmas (M). TV series director: Trent O'Donnell. Starring: Ian Meadows, Patrick Brammall, Danny Adcock, Tina Bursill, Guy Edmonds, Jane Harber, Rachel Gordon, Phil Lloyd, David Field, Mandy McElhinney. Six 30-minute episodes
If you, like me, are someone who is accustomed to Christmas Day as a 'family occasion', you may be equally aware of the fraught nature of that innocent description.
My siblings and I are adults with partners whose families, rightly, must be considered in Christmas planning. This can lead to tension on all sides as family traditions are tested, transformed, or trashed to be replaced with new traditions. There have been tears and shouting matches over the years as we've all committed or compromised, adjusted, accommodated, or simply absconded.
The heightened emotion of the occasion and the often highly politicised nature of the planning and execution of Christmas gatherings can amplify the causes of both pleasure and anguish in the life of a family. It is no coincidence then that so many films and television series use family Christmases as the setting for dramatic or comedic scenarios.
The ABC series A Moody Christmas is a prime example of a story told for entertainment that effectively taps both the farce and the drama that is inherent in family Christmases. The six episodes take place at Christmas over six consecutive years, as the working class Moody family reunites for its annual Christmas Day barbecue.
These occasions draw London-based photographer Dan (Meadows) back to his suburban Sydney family home to be with his mum Maree (Bursill) and dad Kevin (Adcock), his deadbeat brother Shaun (Brammall) and assorted other eccentric or obnoxious relatives. The emotional through-line for the series is Dan's troubled romantic entanglement with his execrable cousin Hayden's (Edmonds) fashion designer girlfriend Cora (Harber).
The time-lapse structure is very effective. It helps to hammer home a point about the bittersweet nature of growth and change. At the start of each episode, we find characters' situations or attitudes have altered from the previous episode, and must guess (or learn) what has happened since last Christmas to produce that change.
During episode one Dan's sister Bridget (Gordon) announces she is pregnant; yet when we meet her again next Christmas she and husband Roger (Lloyd) appear still to be childless. The various implications of this materialise over the course of subsequent episodes. Similarly, because of the year-long time jumps, Maree's tussle with breast cancer is seen only in snapshots, and as a result, somewhat startlingly, is played mostly for humour.
The series is topical in its attention to social issues. In episode one a drunk uncle (Field) makes snide remarks about 'boat people', and later uses this to embarass Dan. In another episode Dan offends a homeless woman (McElhinney), then invites her to join them for lunch to make up for it; her presence provokes varying degrees of prejudice from family members. The episode finds surprising ways to assert the homeless character's dignity.
But the series is at its best with its heartfelt portrayal of often tense family dynamics. This is seen most obviously in Shaun, a man-child who still manages to be big brother to the ostensibly more grown-up Dan. His antagonistic relationship with his father, who wants him to join the family business, is too persistent not to be based in mutual affection. A near family tragedy in episode three exposes the extent of Shaun's soft side.
The series' portrayal of family conflict and unity hits home for me. Christmas 2012 will for my family be a time of contrasts. This year, among my immediate family members alone, there has been a separation, the sale of a beloved home, the purchase of another house that brims with promise for the future, and, most recently, the birth of a child, my brother's son and my parents' first grandchild, who by Christmas will be a little over a month old.
The causes for joy will be suitably celebrated, while hopefully the sources of grief will prove also to be sources of growth in the long run. Certainly once Christmas Day comes around we will strive to simply be grateful for the time that we have together. Who knows what next Christmas will bring?
The final episode of A Moody Christmas will air at 8.30pm next Wednesday 5 December on ABC1. Watch previous episodes now on ABC iview
Tim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street.