For three seasons, and populated by a raft of memorable and much-loved characters such as Kevin and Phrani, Bob and Heather, Diver Dan, Max and the never-seen Bucket, Pearl Bay became an urban dweller’s fantasy, a place where life had meaning and friendships sparkled.
A reboot such as this must, in order to work, commit a couple of sins. It doesn’t wholly rewrite history but to some extent Laura Gibson has to be dialled back to the neurotic city girl whose life lacks meaning that we met in the first episode, rather than the tempered, woman who, by the end of the original series, was living in her paradise found.
Sacked from a charitable expedition in Africa, the new series lands a rattled Laura on the unwelcome doorstep of her daughter Miranda (Brooke Satchwell) where she is slowly reintroduced to local life: publican Ben Russo (Dan Wyllie), police sergeant Anna Kazan (Katrina Milosevic) and radio personality Riley Bolt (Wayne Blair).
Still in the mix is caravan park manager, and acting shire president, Kevin Findlay (Kevin Harrington), disgraced real estate developer Bob Jelly (John Howard), who as the episodes play out is still plotting to develop the unspoiled Pearl Bay coast, and his estranged wife, and the town’s conscience, Heather Jelly (Kerry Armstrong).
This isn’t SeaChange as we left it in 2000, nor should it be, though it does take the nostalgic heart a moment to adjust to the change. All of the original series’ most powerful qualities are still there: its beautiful sentimentality, the glimpses of melancholy and the lovely, crackling humour.
Visually the series delivers a more comprehensive view of Pearl Bay than its predecessor, perhaps in part to the advent of drone photography. But perhaps the most striking difference is the difference in speed between the original and the remake; the former was slowed-down, and almost dreamlike, while the reboot runs at a cracking pace.
And the series navigates nicely around its own heritage, exploring the estrangement of Bob and Heather, introducing Laura’s younger daughter, Stella (Ella Newton) and bringing back another of the town’s most-loved former residents, as the subsequent episodes roll out.
Seachange is a big show which relishes playing in small notes, and they land here with impressive accuracy. Sigrid Thornton’s easy command of Laura’s neuroses is a sight to behold, and Kerry Armstrong’s Heather, a jangle of suppressed insecurity, is still bursting with love for Bob, even if she cannot yet let him back into their “Camelot”.
Television is, perhaps, ultimately a kind of electronic medicine cabinet, an odd collection of panaceas and placebos intended to alternately thrill, dull or distract. Whatever ails you in 2019, there isn’t much that a dose of Seachange cannot fix.
Michael Idato is entertainment editor-at-large of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.