Upper Middle Bogan shines

MEET THE WHEELERS: Glenn Robbins and Robyn Malcolm play the car-loving Wayne and Julie in Upper Middle Bogan.
MEET THE WHEELERS: Glenn Robbins and Robyn Malcolm play the car-loving Wayne and Julie in Upper Middle Bogan.

Bess Denyar (Annie Maynard) is a hypochondriac with a really bad case of reflux.

Her work-from-home architect husband, Danny (Patrick Brammall), is a horny bugger, constantly trying to jump her, even with the kids in the next room.

Her children sit at opposite ends of the IQ spectrum: Edwina (Lara Robinson) is a sharp-tongued high achiever; Oscar (Harrison Feldman) is a mouth-breather whose understanding of the world is, let's put it this way, a bit simple.

Her mother, Margaret (the incomparable Robyn Nevin), is a blue-ribbon matron, brimming with disapproval and busy with interference. Bess lives in a lovely suburb in a classy house and drives an expensive car. Despite her comfortable existence, she has never felt comfortable in her life.

Bess is also a doctor, so when her mother ends up at her hospital after a minor diabetic episode she quickly twigs when her own blood type does not match either of her parents': she was adopted. Furious about the deception, Bess decides to meet her biological family. Cue tin opener applied to can of wriggly critters.

Bogans - the "lower socioeconomic sector", "hoi polloi", "unwashed masses", pick your label - are free meat for comedians, easily taken down with cheap gags about taste and about how they talk, what they wear and their coarse, uneducated, unmannered ways. Upper Middle Bogan doesn't go there.

Instead, series creators/writers/producers Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope - the husband and wife team behind the fabulous The Librarians and Very Small Business - have taken a more respectful route.

Their portrayal of the car-mad, drag-racing outer-suburban Wheeler family is affectionate, not judgmental. The humour is honest without being belittling, as Kath & Kim was, nor patronising, like The Castle. And they are not depicted as dumb, as those two productions did their characters.

The habits and fashions and idiosyncrasies of the "lower" class are in plain view - and implicitly made fun of - but that's OK, ribbing can be worn as a badge, too. Besides, every comic observation is played straight and rings true. I write as someone with flourishing bogan branches on his family tree.

Hope's direction is accomplished, the scripting is tight, observant and very funny, and the performances are top shelf. The humour has a satisfying depth that comes of a storyline that creates genuine drama and pathos.

It's unfair to single out anyone in a universally terrific cast, but special mention must go to Glenn Robbins, who is brilliantly restrained as Wayne Wheeler, the one-glass-eyed bogan dad, loving, loyal, head of the family drag-racing team, and to Michala Banas as Amber, Bess's new-found foul-mouthed bogan sister unwilling to accept her new sibling.

Quibbles? The jiggling camera work, jumping in then out, wobbling left then right, is annoying. That aside, if Upper Middle Bogan fulfils the promise of its opening episodes, it'll be a gem. 


Upper Middle Bogan, Thursday, 8.30pm TV One

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