How Rafters had its pro-choice cake and ate it too


Packed to the Rafters (PG). Starring: Rebecca Gibney, Erik Thomson, Angus McLaren, Jessica McNamee, Jessica Marais, Hugh Sheridan, Michael Caton, Zoe Ventoura. Channel 7, Tuesdays, 8.30pm

Packed to the Rafters, Rebecca Gibney, Erik ThomsonClean-cut TV drama doesn't get any better than Packed to the Rafters. It's charming, funny, well-written and packed ... well ... to the rafters with likeable and multi-dimensional characters.

In case you've missed it, Rafters, which has returned with the premiere episodes of its second season, is set in suburban Sydney and concerns the lot of would-be empty-nesters Julie and Dave Rafter (Gibney and Thomson), whose freedom has been dented by the return of their adult offspring.

There's Rachel (Marais), who is beautiful and confident but troubled; Nathan (McLaren), who's married to rich girl Sam (McNamee) and resents his blue-collar roots; and big-hearted man-child Ben (Sheridan) who, to be fair, has moved out ... next door. To ensure this is a multi-generational household, there's also Julie's widower dad, Ted (Caton).

As with any good story, sympathy is key. Rafters presents ordinary human situations to which its audience can relate. Recent episodes saw Ben feeling insecure over his girlfriend Mel's (Ventoura) friendship with a handsome doctor, and Rachel dreading the prospect of attending her high school reunion.

Sure, there's a formula at play. The above scenarios have been fodder for many a TV drama and sitcom. What sets Rafters apart is the cleverness of the scripts. The writers appreciate every nuance of every situation and character. The hour-long time slot allows them to unpack every skerrick of emotional baggage.

This mastery of plot is never more obvious than when it comes to dealing with controversial storylines.

Consider last season's climactic episode. Julie learns she is pregnant. Dave, yearning for the empty nest, and fearing the risks to Julie's health, advocates termination. Julie can see his logic, but is also overcome by powerful mothering urges. It becomes a point of tension between them.

To heighten the dilemma, they learn that Rachel previously had an abortion. Emotionally, Rachel confesses the pain, trauma and regret that attended the experience.

The episode ticked all the politically correct boxes, as various characters debated the pros and cons of terminating the pregnancy. A woman has the right to do with her body as she pleases. The health of the unborn baby can not be put ahead of Julie's. After 20-plus years of parenthood, Julie and Dave have earned the right to be selfish.

In the end, Julie makes the 'right' choice, in the pro-life sense. And so Rafters managed to have its pro-choice cake and eat it too. The situation was impressively, deftly handled by the writers, in a way that was unlikely to alienate parties on either side of the abortion debate. It was also compelling, emotive television. A high point for the series.

If Gibney's 2009 Logie success capped Rafters' popular and critical appeal, McNamee's role on Dancing With the Stars and prime time product endorsements from McNamee and Ventoura cement the series' place as a commercial juggernaut. Let's hope that commerciality does not undermine the quality of this top-notch program.

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. His articles and reviews have been published by The Age, Inside Film, the Brisbane Courier Mail and The Big Issue.

Topic tags: Packed to the Rafters, Rebecca Gibney, Erik Thomson, Angus McLaren, Jessica McNamee, Jessica Marais



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Existing comments

It's a very 'secular left' way of tackling the issue, though. Not having seen the show, it's hard to comment. But from the review it doesn't seem there was any discussion in the program of the rights of the child to life. A full discussion of the issue of abortion shouldn't marginalise this perspective, whether it's justified by religious or non-religious arguments.
Joseph Vine | 09 July 2009

Point taken Joseph but the great thing about the right choice is that it always turns out to be the right choice for everyone. In the end no - either ... or. God desires only our own good. By the way Tim don't knock the moving out next door-have two daughters in their 20s who have done this, to seperate houses, and we all highly recommend it!
margaret | 09 July 2009

Tim, why the sneer marks around the word 'right' (as in "the 'right' choice in the pro-life sense")? That is the sort of nod to nihilism one might expect from a journalist in the Age, not a Catholic magazine. How 'right' would a decision have to be for you to leave out the quote marks? I hope that is not an 'inappropriate' question...
David van Gend | 10 July 2009

Agree with Tim about the writing prowess of 'Rafters'. Will be interested to see whether commercial concerns affect the plot in the future ... glimmers of these commercial signs appeared in the season opener - every tv ad break featured Rafter's stars... a bit off putting.
Andy | 10 July 2009

Julie's choice wasn't the 'wrong' choice from a pro-choice perspective, either. 'Pro-choice' means just that. She made her choice, under no legal threat. The political meaning of 'pro-life' is to be against such choices being made without such threats in play. A prominent pro-choice blogger identifies herself primarily as a devoted mother of two, with the comment - you chose to have them, you put them first.
jphn fox | 10 July 2009


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