Last month, Chinese series Miss S – a sassy murder mystery about a cluey fashionista who gets to the bottom of various crimes and acts of jiggery-pokery in 1930s Shanghai – premiered in Australia. If watching it brings out a bit of déjà vu in local viewers, it’s because the show is a remake of the beloved Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, which of course stars Essie Davis as a glamourous detective with a Jessica Fletcher-like habit of rocking up to places where people soon dramatically die.
Miss S might be the first Australian series to form the basis of a Chinese production, but it’s far from the first to be rebooted. In recent years, dusting off hit homegrown shows and pumping out new versions of them – either as remakes or belated additional seasons – has become rather de rigueur.
Netflix recently, for instance, announced a remake of ’90s drama Heartbreak High, and Amazon Prime Video will premiere a new season of Packed to the Rafters later this year. Recent years have also the arrival of new versions of SeaChange, Halifax f.p. and TV spin-offs of Wolf Creek and Romper Stomper.
All this begs the question: what other classic Australian TV productions should be remade, and what would their new versions look like? Here are five shows I reckon are ripe for reimagining. (Though I came of age during the years of Agro’s Cartoon Connection, you won’t find that show mentioned on this list – because I fear it might inspire some numbskull producer to make a new show that uses CGI to animate the great, crotchety puppet. Which would be a disgrace.)
Round The Twist
“Have you ever… ever felt like this?” Countless Australians who were children or teenagers in the ’90s still have the opening jingle of Round the Twist lodged deep in the their brains, in the bit labelled ‘fun stuff you used to watch that may or may not have aged terribly’. Lots of older people probably have it stuck in there too.
Actually, the four seasons capturing the whacked-out adventures of the Twist family – adapted from Paul Jennings’ popular books, full of ghosts and curses and fantastical creatures and magical machines and so forth – hold up pretty well, if one approaches them with a bit of generosity, particularly with regards to the amusingly dated special effects.
Conjuring more up-to-date effects would be one benefit of a Round the Twist reboot. New storylines could also incorporate weird tales about modern technologies, from drones to robots to virtual reality. And a more ethnically diverse cast would be welcome, given the community depicted in the original show (which is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video) was rather whitebread. Deborah Mailman as the family matriarch, Ms Twist?
The production company Kennedy Miller (co-owned and co-operated by Mad Max director George Miller) delivered several popular and acclaimed mini-series throughout the 1980s, among them the cricket-themed Bodyline, prison and concentration camp bust-out dramas Bangkok Hilton and The Cowra Breakout, and the six-part political drama The Dismissal.
The latter, which was co-directed by Miller and Phillip Noyce, explored the tumultuous 1975 Australian constitutional crisis, which resulted in the Governor-General of Australia sacking Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and replacing him with the leader of the Opposition. Because democracy.
I’m not suggesting a reboot of The Dismissal, per se. Rather, I’m suggesting a dramatic series told in the broad style of the show (with big name directors, a lengthy running time and a captivating procedural-like approach) but focusing on 2010’s infamous ‘night of the long knives’, which saw the Labor party roll then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and replace him with Julia Gillard. Because democracy. There’s many ways into this story and several elements to juggle, from the egomaniacal leader to his scheming subordinates to the bittersweet rise of Australia’s first female PM, et cetera.
Sarah Snook would be perfect as Gillard (she’s a natural redhead to boot) and for Kevin Rudd I propose the character actor Daniel Henshall, who is best-known for playing the killer in Snowtown and the drug-addled artist Adam Cullen in Acute Misfortune. He’d need to be aged a bit, and maybe tone down the wildness of some of his more… unhinged portrayals. Though, the real Rudd can also be kind of unhinged.
“A Round The Twist reboot could also incorporate weird tales about modern technologies and a more ethnically diverse cast”
Working Dog’s satirical comedy series that takes swipe at TV current affairs shows, Frontline, premiered in the mid-‘90s, which was a very different time for the media. The internet was its embryonic days, for instance, and social media was yet to be invented, and a “blog” still sounded like something you did on the toilet. In the very first episode, vain presenter Mike Moore (a classic performance from Rob Sitch) decides he’s tired of being regarded as a pushover, so he decides to let it rip by grilling guests and editorialising.
These days, of course, everybody editorialises and everybody lets rip with an opinion about anything, no matter how stupid or uninformed these opinions may be. Which is to say: Moore would fit right in. And if he ends up espousing disgraceful views that offend large portions of the population and have absolutely no place in a civilised modern world, he will always be embraced by the wingnuts on Sky News.
How would Moore behave online? What kind of controversies would he find himself embroiled in and how would he navigate a more complex media landscape? There’s only one way to find out. Frontline 2.0 would absolutely require the return of Rob Sitch in the key role, as well other members of the original cast, including Jane Kennedy as Moore’s tenacious reporter colleague and Santo Cilauro as the network’s weatherman.
Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush
Japanese game shows are known for their batshit crazy weirdness and ability to evoke “there are no words” type responses. Maybe you’ve heard about the one involving contestants playing soccer with binoculars strapped to their faces, or the one with humans taking on the role of bowling balls, being launched at huge pins?
But… have you ever seen a game show in which the host charmed the audience by using a golf club to pelt them with various icky things, including jam roly-polies, a pavlova, a sponge cake and maggots? If you answered “yes”, you’ve seen Don’t Forget Your Toothbrush. The title reflects the audience’s requirement to arrive at the studio with their luggage packed and passports with them, ready to take an immediate holiday should they emerge victorious. But there’s a catch: they might win an international trip, or they might win a visit to a crappy town in the middle of nowhere.
The show actually originated in the UK, but was made unforgettable by local host Tim Ferguson (who co-hosted with Wendy Mooney). A reboot could either wait until international travel bans are lifted, in this era of COVID-19 stayhomery, or embrace nothing but local destinations. Sammy J could host (like Ferguson he can bring song and dance skills) or, for an edgier vibe, the rather more outré comedian Sam Simmons.
“Frontline 2.0 would absolutely require the return of Rob Sitch in the key role”
Mother and Son
A large part of me doesn’t want this classic show (which ran from 1984 to 1994) remade, because I love the original – it’s my favourite Australian sitcom. Ruth Cracknell and Garry McDonald play the titular characters, who live with each other in suburban Sydney. Maggie (Cracknell) is a scheming and snarky old lady who is losing her marbles, and Arthur (McDonald) her pressed-upon son desperate to carve out an independent existence, but who is always there to pick up the pieces when things go awry.
Mother and Son is made up of endless, explosively argumentative conversations, the characters bickering and pestering and retorting in a proto-Costanzian style. They wail about any and every issue at hand – most of them coming down to Maggie being cruel, or confused, or both. The reason I’m suggesting it could be remade isn’t because I think the chemistry between Cracknell and McDonald can be replicated, but because it’d be interesting to see a contemporary TV series pared back in this way: treating the set as a theatre-like stage and really focusing on dialogue.
Sitcoms recorded in front of live studio audiences – Seinfeld, Friends, The Big Bang Theory – embrace this approach, to some extent. But I mean a really small number of characters (usually two or three) and a reliance on long, drawn out exchanges that feel more like products of the theatre rather than moments machine-tooled for television.