Is this the end of the line for Off­spring?

Off­spring wraps its sev­enth sea­son, but do view­ers ac­tu­ally want more? asks

The Press - The Box - - VIEWING GUIDE -

What’s the right time to end a se­ries? When it’s de­liv­ered sev­eral strong sea­sons, built a de­voted fol­low­ing and can bow out leav­ing view­ers clam­our­ing for more? (Think of SeaChange or Se­in­feld). Or when the ideas start to sag, the cast looks as if they’re op­er­at­ing on au­topi­lot, ev­ery pos­si­ble se­cret rel­a­tive has been dragged from the wood­work, and ev­ery po­ten­tial story an­gle seems to have been ex­ploited? (Think of The Se­cret Life of Us or The Af­fair).

It’s a rel­a­tively good prob­lem for a pro­ducer or a TV net­work to have, prefer­able to cop­ing with a dud, but it’s still a prob­lem. And given that the TV busi­ness is re­lent­lessly com­pet­i­tive, that it’s so hard to es­tab­lish a show and build a loyal au­di­ence, no one would want to let go of a prized pro­duc­tion pre­ma­turely. Still, stay­ing too long has its traps: in­stead of go­ing out on a high, the show limps away leav­ing a sour af­ter-taste, the pre­vi­ous glo­ries over-shad­owed by the sub­se­quent de­te­ri­o­ra­tion.

That dilemma con­fronted the cre­ative tal­ents in­volved in Off­spring, which ends its sev­enth sea­son on TVNZ1 on Wed­nes­day night (8.30pm). Built around the life of ob­ste­tri­cian Nina Proud­man (Asher Ked­die), the se­ries com­bined ro­man­tic com­edy with do­mes­tic tri­als, in­cor­po­rat­ing the joys and tragedies of a ma­ter­nity ward. Five sea­sons of the Mel­bournebased pro­duc­tion screened be­fore it ended un­der a cloud of un­cer­tainty in 2014. Af­ter a two-year ab­sence, it re­turned last year for two more sea­sons.

As well as Nina’s dilem­mas, Off­spring de­ployed a large and like­able core cast to of­fer a roller­coaster ride through the pleasure and pain of mod­ern ro­mance and par­ent­hood. At its warm heart was the cel­e­bra­tion of a messy, lov­ing com­mu­nity re­volv­ing around the Proud­man fam­ily.

It was an invit­ing en­vi­ron­ment. The char­ac­ters glowed; their clothes were well-cu­rated and ac­ces­sorised state­ments of per­son­al­ity; their homes in­spired real-es­tate envy; an abun­dance of at­trac­tive places to eat and drink ex­isted in close prox­im­ity. The Proud­mans’ world looked like a bit of an ur­ban dream­scape.

Be­fore the break, there was an al­most-pas­sion­ate public en­gage­ment with the show. View­ers in­vested in the love af­fair be­tween Nina and Pa­trick (Matthew Le Nevez), and the out­pour­ing of grief when he died just be­fore she gave birth to their baby daugh­ter at the end of the fourth sea­son was pow­er­ful. How she would go on was the press­ing ques­tion that pow­ered the fifth, with Ked­die de­liv­er­ing a su­perbly nu­anced por­trait of fragility and re­silience, ably sup­ported by Kat Ste­wart as Nina’s fire­cracker sis­ter, Bil­lie. Many of their scenes to­gether were mag­nif­i­cent.

In the early days, Nina was the spine of a se­ries built around her work and love life. But as it went on, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the sis­ters be­came the foun­da­tion, Nina’s anx­ious un­cer­tainty con­trast­ing with the im­pul­sive Bil­lie’s as­sur­ance and com­bustible en­ergy.

Yet the post-hia­tus sea­sons haven’t achieved the spark or mo­men­tum that dis­tin­guished the ear­lier ones. Yes, there was some snappy di­a­logue and an en­gag­ing sense of com­mu­nity. But the show seemed to strug­gle with what to do next and cre­ated the im­pres­sion that, rather than ad­her­ing to a solid un­der­ly­ing phi­los­o­phy, it al­most stum­bled into its stronger scenes. There was too much pad­ding, de­tours that didn’t lead any­where es­pe­cially in­ter­est­ing.

The most re­cent sea­son fea­tured the re­la­tion­ship be­tween Nina and Harry (Alexan­der Eng­land), and the doc­tor and the cri­sis-man­ager proved a good match as she was so of­ten in cri­sis mode. Which has been fine, if not ex­actly elec­tri­fy­ing. Off­spring has al­ways been at its least sat­is­fy­ing when Nina ric­o­cheted around in a state of fraz­zled anx­i­ety. It has shone when its idio­syn­cratic char­ac­ters have been al­lowed more space to breathe.

Yet there’s been a nag­ging feel­ing that the writ­ers didn’t know how to keep some mem­bers of the ensem­ble pro­duc­tively oc­cu­pied, no­tably ma­tri­arch Geral­dine (Linda Crop­per), but also Will (TJ Power) and Elvis (Lawrence Le­ung), who’s long been re­duced to an ec­cen­tric or­na­ment.

Al­though Geral­dine was even­tu­ally granted a cou­ple of mo­ments of au­then­tic emo­tion, re­veal­ing a fear of grow­ing older and be­ing alone, for much of the sea­son she seemed in­sen­si­tive and child­ish in her self-ab­sorp­tion.

Aus­tralian net­work Ten, now fac­ing takeover by CBS Stu­dios, has yet to an­nounce a de­ci­sion about the fu­ture of Off­spring. But if this is the end, what’s likely to be re­mem­bered are the heights at­tained in its mid­dle pe­riod, rather than the sea­sons that fol­lowed.

As Off­spring has pro­gressed, the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the Proud­man sis­ters has be­came the foun­da­tion.

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