Stephen Curry and Michelle Vergara Moore in The Time of Our Lives.FREE TO AIR

THE TIME OF OUR LIVES Sunday, 8.30pm, ABC1★★★★☆

These are exciting times for Australian television, no question about that. The big reality shows may be grabbing a great wedge of the ratings (and there’s nothing wrong with that – we make great reality shows, too) but our local dramas just keep getting better. This new 13-part series from Amanda Higgs and Judi McCrossin (The Secret Life of Us) is easily equal to the best in the world. Warmer than Tangle but more sophisticated than Offspring, it combines the best of both. The centre of the drama is the Tivoli family: siblings Chai Li (Michelle Vergara Moore), adopted from Vietnam; middle son Luce (Shane Jacobson), an easy-going musician; and classic eldest child Matt (William McInnes), high-achieving and responsible. We also meet their parents, Ray and Rosa (Tony Barry and Sue Jones), rather more in the traditional mould than Offspring’s Darcy and Geraldine. Rounding out the clan is Luce and Chai Li’s best mate, the unofficial third son of the family, Herb (Stephen Curry). As the action opens, they all have partners, and some former partners (Claudia Karvan plays Matt’s wife, Caroline; Justine Clark is Luce’s long-time partner, Bernadette). Some have children. It’s the kind of big, messy, diverse family that’s full of dramatic potential, and the superb cast and crew make the most of it. It’s extraordinary how quickly this manages to generate real emotional power. Often when big events are thrown at us from the get-go, the effect is the reverse. There’s no time for tension to be generated, we don’t know who any of these people are. But this is magnificently built to deliver a succession of escalating ”moments” that pack a huge punch. That’s largely because the script and performances are so flawless. But everything here contributes. The locations are fabulous. The houses in which each of these couples live beautifully embody something essential about them and their relationships. The styling, too, is spot on, from Caroline’s razor-edged asymmetrical bob to the pile of dirty laundry in Luce’s lounge room. All those details create a wonderfully rich experience, even if they’re working on us at a subconscious level. To round things out, The Time of Our Lives is also keenly interested in big contemporary social questions, not just the love lives of its characters. It’s the complete package. Don’t miss it.

MASTERCHEF Sunday-Thursday, 7.30m, Channel Ten★★★☆

I didn’t think the boys-versus-girls thing was the end of civilisation – or feminism – as we know it, but I did think it was a pretty cheap shot. The promos of the girls squabbling at the supermarket checkout made my heart sink even further. Had the success of MasterChef’s rival earlier in the year motivated the producers to tinker disastrously with my beloved show’s formula? Thankfully, no. As anyone who’s actually watched season five so far would have realised, that was all just a bit of pepper to get people to sit up and take notice. This is as warm and collegiate as it’s ever been. There’s a wonderfully diverse cast. Indeed, I get the feeling that as each season features more people from more varied backgrounds, more people from more varied backgrounds are encouraged to apply next time around. Not so much a virtuous circle as a virtuous snowball. Tonight marks the beginning of kids’ week, with the first challenge being to create a dish from ingredients found in a playground lunch box. Bread crusts, anyone?

MAJOR CRIMES Monday, 9.30pm, Channel Nine★★★

This is an old-fashioned kind of cop show, from the serif type on the credits to the preponderance of middle-aged guys in the cast. About the only things that separate it from the classic procedurals of the 1970s are the fashions, the technology and a mature woman heading the homicide squad. Exposition is handled by people asking each other pointed questions or muttering gravely to themselves (“This looks bad”; “I’m worried about what’s in that landfill up north”). Everyone’s awfully polite to each other, courtly even. Even the camerawork is stately, sedately moving from action to reaction shot and back again. On the upside, the plotting is tidy and there’s something rather peaceful about this orderly universe, in which well-mannered, unambiguously good guys reliably uphold the law.


Artscape’s done it again with this terrific two-part special (this is the second half) – it’s managed to make me appreciate something I formerly had no time for. As the title suggests, visual arts commentator Andrew Frost talks us through some of the gnarlier issues surrounding contemporary art (not modernism – that’s something different, as he explains when we get to M). His approach is both informed and irreverent, and I imagine that, while people who are already across the subject matter might not find a great deal to hold them, for a novice like me, it was fabulous. I took three important things away from this instalment: 1) thinking about why you don’t like something can be as rewarding as actually liking something; 2) every thinking person hates those dire art catalogue essays, and; 3) if a piece of art needs an essay to explain it, it’s probably not very good to start with.The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.