Critic's choice: the week ahead in TV

The TV adaptation of <i>Puberty Blues</i>.
The TV adaptation of Puberty Blues.


Wednesday, 8.30pm, Channel Ten  ★★★★

For those of us who grew up with Puberty Blues - who read it in our teens and had our impressionable young minds completely blown - coming to this TV adaptation was always going to be fraught. For one thing, a story that captivated you at 14 may not hold the same power some decades down the track. For another, we knew in advance that to make this work on television, certain liberties had to be taken. How much creative licence is too much? The good news is that the clever people at Southern Star (Offspring, Rush, Beaconsfield) have really pushed the envelope here, but without completely destroying their source material. Getting a stellar cast on board certainly helps. The adults, who were all but invisible in the original, all have their own stories here, portrayed by a real who's who: Claudia Karvan, Rodger Corser, Dan Wylie, Susie Porter and Jeremy Lindsay Taylor. When that's your foundation, it's hard to go wrong. Just as impressive - especially considering the company they're keeping - are the young stars. The key roles of Sue and Debbie are played by relative newcomers Ashleigh Cummings and Brenna Harding, and they are both sensational: fresh, naive, feisty, and completely believable. Also terrific is Sean Keenan, who younger viewers may remember from Channel Nine's adaptation of the Lockie Leonard stories. In the original novel, Gary was a bit of a brute - that was kind of the point - but here, the writers have taken a real interest in his character, and the relationship between him and his dad (Corser) is one of the more powerful aspects of this opening episode. Stylistically, while this is distinctly 1970s, the period has been interpreted imaginatively rather than literally, no doubt to help a more youthful audience connect with its two young protagonists. (I definitely remember the clothes, hairstyles and general grooming being much less attractive and, now, much more dated than those depicted here. Check out a 1977 women's magazine for yourself.) But the heart of the story absolutely remains, and it's a timeless one: the struggle of girls into womanhood. The whole thing looks gorgeous. The one question hanging over this gentle opening episode is whether it's sufficiently compelling; whether there's enough here to draw viewers back next week. Let's hope so.

Tuesday, 8.30pm, SBS One  ★★★☆

How were you disciplined as a child? A whack across the bottom with an open palm? The strap? The dreaded wooden spoon? And how are you disciplining your own kids now? These heated questions are at the heart of a particularly strong instalment of this lively public-debate series. And, being a good SBS stalwart, Insight has gone out of its way to make this not just a conversation among the white middle class. At the centre of the discussion is a refugee family from Sierra Leone who appear perfectly cheerful and loving, despite dad Jeremiah still regularly dispensing the strap to his brood. In the audience are contributors of all colours and cultures, all with a slightly different take on the topic. The result is a great deal of food for thought and, even if nothing that's said shifts you from your position, the most dogmatic will be forced to acknowledge that - contrary to Tolstoy's edict - happy families actually come in all shapes and styles.

Monday, 8.30pm, Channel Nine  ★★★☆

Bent cops. Seedy crims. Ruthless hard men. Welcome to Underbelly version five, not so different from Underbellys one through three. As always, this is handsome, well-made crime drama with a forensic interest in violence and women's breasts, tight editing, a distinctive soundtrack and its eye firmly on accessible storytelling. My quibble is that one of the important things that made the Underbellys so powerful was the evident trueness of the true crime: we were dealing with characters who had entered the popular consciousness. This time around - and it might be just me - but I had never heard of either Terry Falconer or the Perish brothers, which just takes the heat out of things a bit. On the upside, this first episode certainly establishes some interesting characters - especially lead detective Gary Jubelin - and if you're prepared to take it on faith that all this really did happen, you're going to be satisfied.

Wednesday, 9.30pm, Channel Ten  ★★★☆

Kids in their mid-teens are often difficult to love, even if they're your own. So hats off to the teachers at Sydney's Bradfield College, who every day face up to roomfuls of troubled teens, determined to teach them something and maybe even improve their lives. Based on a Swedish format of the same name, this factual series has been in the pipeline for Channel Ten for years now and it's great to finally see it make the light of day. In the style of Jamie's Kitchen or even Choir of Hard Knocks - but even less confected - it follows a group of disenfranchised youths through 12 months at the college as they give the book learnin' one last chance. These are kids with no tolerance for boundaries, but who desperately need them, and seeing the different ways teachers reach out to them is inspiring. This is also about the kids, of course, and already some fascinating characters are emerging.


Wednesday, 7.30pm, Discovery  ★★★★

'That's part of what being a man is all about.'' So opens season eight of Deadliest Catch, one of the most influential reality shows produced this century. What began as a pretty rough 'n' ready high-seas adventure - badly shot on trembling handycam, accompanied by unintelligible audio - has evolved into something altogether more lush, glossy and meaningful. The big overhead shots of the boats in harbour, or pitching wildly in the Bering Sea, are truly spectacular. Even the footage on board is rich in colour and sharply lit. These days, it's a real eyeful. But what's cemented DC in popular culture is all the other things it's become. A family saga, for one thing. We've followed the illness and death of Captain Phil, the fortunes of his sons, and new generations of captains coming up through the ranks. Over the years, it's also stood as a microcosm of the US economy, rising and falling on waves of prosperity and troughs of want, and starkly vulnerable to environmental impacts, too. (The bad news that opens this season is the halving of the red crab quota.) Most compellingly, it's a study in a particular kind of masculinity, one that's almost extinct. A world of beards and brawn, beer and cigarettes, foul language and boisterous hazing, but also of real brotherhood. Fiercely competitive but also communal, this is high-risk, high-stakes and perilously hard work, and it's that human, sociological story that has made Deadliest Catch such a phenomenon, something many other series have tried to emulate but few have matched.

Monday, 8.30pm, Home & Health  ★★★

Is there anything more joyous than saving money? These ebullient housewives certainly don't think so, as they devote their lives to clipping discount coupons from junk mail, magazines, newspapers and shopping receipts. It seems you need to be something of a maths whiz to pull it off. You also need storage facilities to rival the doomsday preppers. And I'm not sure quite how willing your local supermarket would be to honour this kind of extreme use of coupons if the cameras weren't on them. But it's undoubtedly fun to watch as one woman caters her sister's wedding for a pittance (thanks to coupons), and sisters Shavon and Mandy engage in a bit of competitive couponing. Just don't let yourself get stuck behind one of these ladies at the checkout.

Wednesday, 9.30am, Nick Jr  ★★★☆

If the small people in your household have been inspired by the Olympic Games - or even if the whole brouhaha has passed them by entirely - they'll get a lot of fun from this special edition of Dora. As is the way of things, just as Dora and Boots are preparing to strut their stuff on the mat, the balance beam and the trampoline, that pesky Swiper ups and takes off with Dora's special rainbow-coloured ribbon, an essential piece of equipment for any budding gymnast. Off they go to track it down with the help of Map (and you at home), employing a variety of gymnastic moves along the way. Add some songs, some basic number skills and, of course, some basic Spanish, and you have a classic Dora package that lets us all exclaim at the end: ''We did it!''

Thursday, 8.30pm, Comedy  ★★★

Most of the filmed sketches are pretty lame but the live stand-up by US comics Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele delivers some real moments. A lot of the routines revolve around race and if they lack the bite of, say, Chris Rock, they also manage to avoid the obvious targets. While Key and Peele occasionally pose as boyz from the hood, they are clearly anything but, and it's their intelligence - along with an obvious fondness between them - that makes this fun. Definitely hit and miss, but there are more hits than misses.

This story Critic's choice: the week ahead in TV first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.