Is Australian TV in its golden era? The 2024 Aacta awards has a huge field of quality contenders

<span>Among the best shows in recent memory: (L-R) The Newsreader, Deadloch, Colin from Accounts, Love Me, Safe Home and The Artful Dodger.</span><span>Composite: ABC / Amazon Studios / Paramount / Ben King / Narelle Portanier / Disney+</span>
Among the best shows in recent memory: (L-R) The Newsreader, Deadloch, Colin from Accounts, Love Me, Safe Home and The Artful Dodger.Composite: ABC / Amazon Studios / Paramount / Ben King / Narelle Portanier / Disney+

The lead-up to this week’s Aacta awards seems to have unfolded in the usual way, with industry folk feeling tinges of excitement while the general public remains largely indifferent. But in terms of screen content, 2023 was no ordinary period – particularly for Australian television.

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There was the occasional lemon (looking at you, Warnie) but I can’t recall another year since streaming took off that provided so many well-produced shows in such close succession. Let’s start with productions recognised by the Aactas.

Among the 12 titles nominated for best drama series and best miniseries, all bar one (Bay of Fires) are good, solid shows and two are excellent. The good and solid include the beautifully shot The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, the highly ambitious domestic violence drama Safe Home, the doomsday cult thriller The Clearing and the rousing, if a little patchy musical In Our Blood.

The excellent ones should be watched post-haste if you haven’t seen them. Revolving around a TV newsroom in the 80s, The Newsreader is a class act: the storylines are engaging, the characters well-drawn, the performances top-notch – including Anna Torv and Sam Reid as romantically attached news anchors.

Also up there with the best is Love Me, about a middle-class Melbourne family navigating a series of romantic and personal challenges. It too features a rock-solid cast including Hugo Weaving, Bojana Novakovic, William Lodder and Heather Mitchell.

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Moving on to the nominations for best narrative comedy series. Two are absolute gold. One is Deadloch, a wickedly entertaining series created and written by Kates McCartney and McLennan that rightly turned heads, injecting fresh blood into the police procedural. The plot involves a boisterous, decorum-breaking detective (Madeleine Sami) who helps a small town cop (Kate Box) get to the bottom of a grisly murder or two.

Another – which actually arrived in December 2022 – is Colin From Accounts, a spritzy romcom created, written by and starring Harriet Dyer and Patrick Brammall. It begins with a meet-cute bringing together Dyer and Brammall’s characters: a student doctor and a brewery owner respectively. My colleague Lucy Mangan liked this delightful series even more than I did, dishing out five stars just on the basis of the first two episodes.

Another quality series to score an Aacta nod – for best children’s program – is the under-appreciated Crazy Fun Park, a sassy young adult production with a memorable central location: a dilapidated amusement park populated by ghosts.

But what about the stand-outs that the Aactas didn’t recognise? Top of the list is The Messenger: a surreal, noirish story about a teenage cab driver (William McKenna) who receives mysterious playing cards inscribed with addresses. At each of them there’s some kind of problem for him to solve.

And lest we forget the fabulous The Artful Dodger: a zippy Dickensian comedy that relocates the titular character (of Oliver Twist fame) to Australia, now working as a surgeon.

Going into 2024, the big question is whether this glut of quality content can continue. Early signs are positive, even if streamers have been spending less on local content. The year got off to a cracking start with the second season of The Tourist, re-uniting Jamie Dorman’s amnesiac protagonist and the affable Constable Helen Chambers (Danielle Macdonald), who are now romantically entwined. As Leila Latif wrote: “The twists come thick and fast: some funny, some cruel, almost all ludicrous.”

Meanwhile, Boy Swallows Universe did a mostly great job adapting Trent Dalton’s acclaimed novel of the same name. But the best of the year so far is the megachurch drama Prosper, which I smashed through in no time, greedily gobbling up its sordid twists and turns.

Phew! So many impressive shows; too many, in fact, to squeeze into one article. That’s a pretty good problem to have.