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Family Christmas torture and triumph

  • 29 November 2012

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