The Straits owes a great deal to the mode of storytelling established by HBO. It was the US cable giant that brought the essence of independent film to the small screen with its quirky and post-modernistic approaches to traditional (and well-worn?) formats. The influence of HBO can now be felt across the multitude of high end scripted TV programs now appearing on cable stations in the US and in new scripted shows across the world. With The Straits, ‘Aunty’ has made a relatively successful attempt at an HBO-style program. It’s not TV, it’s ABC1.

Set primarily in Far North Queensland, The Straits concerns a family of drug-runners at a time in which the family patriarch is ascertaining the future of the family business. With three sons who are not quite cut out for the job, Harry Montebello is determined to mold at least one of them into a suitable replacement. The three sons each believe that eldest son Noel is the rightful heir to the empire, but with the wife of the middle son Marou playing Lady Macbeth, Marou just may make it to become the anointed head of the family.

While The Straits may have HBO-inspired ambitions, it never quite makes it over the line. Thematically the show is a tad too shallow, while almost every action is telegraphed in advance. Characters too frequently share exactly what’s on their mind (ironic considering that Harry chides Noel for this very behavior early in the first episode). The second episode feels all over the place structurally, feeling almost like 3 mini episodes squeezed into the one episode. While episodes 1 and 2 serve as a 2 hour premiere, the first episode clearly has its own stricture and sense of purpose. The second episode flails about.

Several glaring issues also hamper the show. The accent of imported actor Brian Cox (THE Brian Cox) is impossible to place and he seems to almost be mimicking Michael Caine. Furthermore, with Brian Cox being very much a white man while the rest of his family are comprised of islander-types, some sign-posting to the origins of the family would be appreciated. Nothing is quite clear enough to assume and the issue is distracting as all heck.

All of that said, there is quite a bit to like about this show. The cast are quite wonderful. Particular note must be made of the amazing Brian Cox, with industry stalwarts Kym Gyngell and Andy Anderson in supporting roles. While I’m still yet to be particularly impressed by any of the sons in the show, Suzannah Bayes-Morton brings a grounded humanity to the role of the sole daughter in the family.

It’s worth noting that the show is mostly gorgeous to look at. The Straits uses its locations to full effect. Watching the coarse violence and life attitudes of the series protagonists against the exotic and picturesque beauty of FNQ makes for a wonderful juxtaposition. While some directorial/editing choices are questionable (a 2nd episode sex scene is particularly awkward to watch due to the visuals), the show is a fine-looking production.

Despite some flaws, The Straits signals the maturation of the change toward mature high-end scripted storytelling in Australia. The show simply demands goodwill from the audience and I’m more than willing to give in to it. A great cast and visually amazing locations are enough to keep me tuned in for the 10 episode run of the series. It’s great to see a local production reaching for the blue sky heavens.

The Straits commences Thurs 2 February on ABC1 at 8:30pm.