New Stan drama exploring how a school community deals with grief, may not be a crowd-pleaser but it has a promising young cast.
The high school drama is surely a staple of small screen storytelling, with iconic shows such as Heartbreak High, Glee, Summer Heights High, Beverly Hills 90210, Skins, Degrassi and Sex Education to name but a few.
Year Of is the latest entry to explore Coming of Age by dramatising students, teachers and parents -this time set against a backdrop of grief.
Floated as a spin-off from the joyful, romantic Bump, I was anticipating it to focus on its rather wonderful supporting cast in their own series. But while both shows are set at Jubilee High School, they inhabit very different universes.
Year Of has an almost entirely new cast, dominated by its fresh new teen talent, and a raw, more “indie” tone.
There’s a hefty ensemble who collide at a teen party when the adults are not around. They include alpha-male Tully (Samson Alston) who is making out with Priya (Tharanya Tharan), best mate Mo (Samuel El Rahi), LGBTI students George (Samuel Dawson) and Brendan (Nicholas Cradock), Gus (Joshua Hewson), Kate (Sophia Wright-Mendelsohn), and Maya (Isabella Graiche).
Amid all the quickie sex, fence-jumping, selfies, dancing and substances, there’s also a visit from the cops, igniting mild panic from those in attendance who quickly disperse in different directions.
Also featuring are Jubilee staffers Engligh teacher Bowie (Christian Byers), soccer coach Ioane (Ray Chong Nee), art teacher Mae (Deborah An) and principal Lucinda (Danielle Cormack) who is married to Alan (Matt Nable). Other parents include the oversharing, bohemian Ophelia (Caroline Brazier), Adela (Sarah Armanious) and Tristan (Sam Johnson). It’s quite the stockpile of characters for a half hour drama.
The story takes a turn when a tragic event ricochets through the school community and the spirited, anarchic mood of the teens is brought crashing back down to earth.
With little experience dealing with grief, how the teen characters navigate and process their now world is the central premise of the show, created by Dan Edwards.
The diverse newcomer cast, under the watch of director Jessica Tuckwell, handle this with considerable skill. But it is the experienced actors such as Danielle Cormack who really give it gravitas -one schoolyard scene in episode two is hard to forget.
There’s also a deliberate clash of (societal) class, from the affulent Lucinda & family to the housing commission home of Gus -watch for Denise Roberts as a working class mum.
By episode three -which has a questionable relationship introduced- it’s impossible to ignore the glum mood that pervades and Year Of will need to find some levity quick smart -these are attributes expertly employed by John Edwards (a producer here) in other works such as Heartbreak High, Puberty Blues, Secret Life of Us and Offspring.
Comparisons with a superior Netflix title will be obvious but Year Of has its heart in the right place, as a gritty, urban portrait of 2023 teens, buoyed by its authenticity thanks and promising young performers.
Year Of is now screening on Stan.