Just as we enter the final days of 2021, along comes another very fine homegrown production to cap off a bumper year for Australian television.
The first original series from streaming platform Binge, Love Me is a classy Melbourne-set drama directed by Emma Freeman (Stateless, Glitch) and written by Alison Bell, Leon Ford, Adele Vuko and Blake Ayshford. Adapted from the Swedish series Älska mig, it’s a romantic drama with a familial twist – we don’t realise the three distinct main characters whom the show follows are related until they congregate around the dinner table.
We’re first introduced to Clara (Bojana Novakovic), in her late 30s, while she’s on a date with a bloke she met on an app, who discusses “ethical non-monogamy” over breakfast before pointing out she’s underpaid her portion of the bill by 50 cents.
Focus shifts to Aaron (William Lodder), a 20-something law student who misses his bus to uni due to sexy times with his girlfriend (Shalom Brune-Franklin), though we soon learn he’s not the reckless, carefree type; he takes his schooling seriously.
Finally we meet the middle-aged Glenn (Hugo Weaving) while he’s booking a vacation at a travel planner for himself and his wife. After he balks at a $20,000 price tag, the lady behind the desk informs him there are “gold, silver or bronze” packages, to which Glenn returns one of those thinking-out-loud responses: “How about copper? Or tin?”
The screenwriters want us to know that these characters are individuals first and foremost, and a family unit second. Glenn’s wife and the kids’ mother Christine (Sarah Peirse) is headstrong and standoffish – giving the script a prickly dimension – but also chronically ill and not long for this world.
Describing the subsequent narrative as one about “finding yourself” and “learning to love again” sounds a little twee, but it’s nevertheless apt, the former applying particularly to Aaron (the youngest of the trio) and the latter to Glenn, who may be soon to experience a new romantic opportunity, or at least a new friend.
All the characters are vividly detailed and well acted, with Clara the most dynamic – brought to life in an affably hard-nosed way by Novakovic, and whom we really root for: we want her to find someone decent. The ever-reliable Weaving begins in downcast mode then lightens up, playing an avuncular kind of everyman, at one point describing himself as “just like anybody”. Lodder plays the brasher and more intemperate – perhaps less likable – member of the bunch, as a man who lacks maturity and life experience but is gradually coming into his own, learning some things the hard way.
Love Me is more middle class in its Melbourne-ness than, say, the scuzzier and cooler Jack Irish or The Secret Life of Us, which are more likely to visit laneways and dimly lit bars. The cinematographer Earle Dresner (who shot The Newsreader, 2067 and The Commons) filters the city through a handsome lens, making even the brown and sludgy Yarra River – hardly a beatific body of water (I can say that, as a proud Melbournian) – look crisp and almost pretty.
The drama is peppered with small moments that paint larger impressions of the people involved, fleshing characters out with lightness of touch – a joke, or some badinage, or a humorously relatable circumstance offsetting the heavier moments. Freeman et al do a fine job illustrating fresh sparks of romance: those early, exciting moments when the person in front of or next to us represents a universe of potential, with all the risks, uncertainties and exhilaration that comes with getting to know somebody new.
Four episodes in (with two remaining that I haven’t seen), the character arcs are broad and the various story tangents loosely defined; this is a show that greatly prioritises people over plotlines. At times I wanted a little more flair in the writing and presentation, though Love Me has an endearing level-headed quality, and a gentle way of probing characters for information. In the fourth episode, for instance, Clara mishears the question “are you hungry?” as “are you happy?”, triggering a more meaningful exchange than one about breakfast.
The writers don’t dwell on that moment for long, breezing into the next scene, which typifies their approach: avoiding the signposting of “important” moments. Despite the polished aesthetic, it all comes across quite effortlessly. Buoyed by thoughtfully developed characters and relatable circumstances, the series has a knack for making conceptually ordinary or even unappealing things interesting. It even makes the Yarra look nice.