New series ★★★☆
From Monday 7pm, 6.25am, ABC ME
Making great television is really hard. Making great television for under-15s is diabolically hard. If you’ve tried having a face-to-face conversation with a person in that cohort you’ll get some idea of the degree of difficulty. Some things – seemingly randomly – completely capture their attention. Other things, not at all. And just when you think you’re in the zone, they’re suddenly out of it. Translate that in to having a remote conversation with tens of thousands of the critters simultaneously, and, well …
That’s exactly the challenge the national broadcaster set itself when it launched ABC3 in 2009 (following a suggestion floated at Kevin Rudd’s in/famous 2020 conference). This week it relaunches as ABC ME, and while the new brand might send shivers through anyone who thinks our younger generation are already way too entitled and self-involved, a look at the content will buoy your spirits.
In the past seven years the channel has chalked up some serious successes. Scripted dramas such as Dance Academy and Nowhere Boys have not only been hugely popular with local audiences (the young and the not so young), they have become international smash hits. In the past 12 months we’ve had Ready for This and a mini-series adaptation of Tomorrow When the War Began, both cracking pieces of television. All these shows have not just been great entertainment, produced with the intelligence and care we expect from our top prime time dramas, they have been a vehicle for an extraordinary number of talented young actors.
And this week’s relaunch is a showcase for a host of programs that speak directly and eloquently to the target audience, in an unmistakeable Australian vernacular. On the scripted front is You’re Skitting Me, a sketch show with an entirely teen cast that manages to be both age-appropriate and easily as funny as most sketch comedy on TV right now. From lame YouTube videos to spoofs like the deliciously absurd Teenager Tonight; kooky animation and natural to-camera pieces, it’s a delightful hotchpotch that reveals some seriously good acting.
The channel also has a strong line in factual programming that’s goofy and engaging without belittling its subject matter, and joining the ranks this week is a new series called This Is Me that, as the name suggests, simply has young folk talking a bit about themselves and their lives. That might be a kid who lives on a boat off the coast of Queensland, a chap in his first year of high school already actively involved in animal welfare, a young Indigenous boy giving us his take on culture, or the girl who speaks three languages and loves fencing (with a rapier, that is – not garden fencing).
Uplifting, educational, definitely multicultural and always surprising, it absolutely fulfils its key brief: to provide others in that age group with a window in to what their peers are thinking and doing. But, like any good TV show, it’s also bigger than that, creating a snapshot for the rest of us of our own country, culture and society that we see almost nowhere else.
People generally understand that we need careful, age-appropriate programming for preschoolers. As a result, they’re pretty well catered for. And both networks and audiences demand quality grown-up programming in prime time. Tweens and teens, though, too often have their intelligence and sophistication – and their sense of humour – gravely underestimated. Thank goodness, then, for something like ABC ME, which not only hits the sweet spot for its target audience, but in doing so gives us oldies every reason to be excited about the fabulous generations coming up behind us.