Puberty Blues: Journey back to the good old days

Branching out: Characters and story lines develop beyond the book in series two of Puberty Blues.Claudia Karvan and Jeremy Lindsay-Taylor are shooting a scene for the second series of Puberty Blues in the kitchen-diner of a southern Sydney bungalow.

With its archways, tile-topped coffee table and vinyl-covered chairs the interior of the Blakehurst house is classic 1970s kitsch.

It’s the perfect backdrop for the action, which is placed somewhere in the late 1970s and, amazingly, everything is original. Pretty much all the set dressers had to do was hang a couple of pictures and put out some ashtrays to recreate an era that seems to hold so much fascination for modern TV viewers.

Call it nostalgia, a yearning for a more “certain” time in our history or maybe it’s just that middle-aged viewers want to see shows that remind them of their own youth; the fact is we can’t get enough of the 1970s and ’80s.

Puberty Blues co-producer John Edwards knows better than most about our irresistible attraction to that period, having produced a string of dramas, including Howzat! Kerry Packer’s War, Paper Giants: The Birth of Cleo and Power Games: The Packer-Murdoch Story.

“It was the making of modern Australia and that’s what is appealing about the period to me,” he says. “It seemed to me that Australia changed forever during the Whitlam years. That was the Camelot period and the first throes of the change that continued through the ’70s and into the ’80s when we were becoming more completely ourselves.”

The first series of Puberty Blues, based on Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette’s iconic surfie coming-of-age novel, was a strong performer for Ten last year, in part because it tapped into that vein of nostalgia but also because of the strong narrative that was surprisingly dark and gritty at times.

Lindsay-Taylor, who plays Debbie’s father, Martin, describes the first series as unquestionably the “highlight” of his career.

“I was blown away by every aspect of it,” he says. “When I saw it I knew it was something special. I was amazed and proud that Australia could produce TV like this.

“It was something unique. It was fearless but beautiful as well – this story of these two young girls that is basically a love story.”

But where series one closely followed the story of the book, heavily featuring the adolescent trials of Debbie Vickers and her friend Susie Knight, crucially the second series develops the same characters beyond the scope of the book.

Inevitably there were some misgivings about how going “off piste”, as it were, would work out. “There was a lot of pressure on everyone,” says Lindsay-Taylor. “But the writers have led from the front. Tony McNamara and Alice Bell, our two key writers, know all the characters and the actors playing them. In the first read- through the characters just jumped off the page. The beauty of this series is that every character really gets their moment and really features.”

Karvan, who plays Judy Vickers opposite Lindsay-Taylor, is equally excited by the creative freedom afforded by the second series.

“I think in series one on any show you are finding your feet,” she says. “It’s a bit of an unknown quantity. But the second time around it has an audience and the characters have dropped deep down into themselves.

“The writers have taken ownership over the material, which has given it a bit of an octane boost. There is a lot more story this time and each character has a really quite surprising, extraordinary arc – including Judy.

“I think last time it was even more difficult to bring the adults into a book that was primarily about two teenaged girls. Now the adult characters are soaring. They are really meaty and surprising and fun.”

Karvan has her own theories about why the ’70s and ’80s appear to be resonating with modern audiences but there is also one very practical reason why the era works for this sort of drama – mobile phones were not even thought of then.

“For storytelling, email and mobile phones are a bit of an obstacle because communication is so easy,” she says. “When you don’t have instant access to everyone all the time it is better for drama. You can’t just solve a problem by picking up the phone.”

Puberty Blues is carrying a lot of Ten’s midweek ratings hopes and Edwards is hoping season two will benefit from promotions during Ten’s Olympics coverage.

“There’s a good promo base coming off the Winter Olympics where we can get some of that wider audience. It’s not as if Ten have had that many shows that they can promo in.”

And, not unnaturally, he’s talking up the potential of the show to continue beyond this second series.

“We are, frankly, contemplating the prospect of doing seasons three, four, five and six,” he says.

Puberty Blues, Ten, Wednesday, 8.30pm

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