Published in Metro magazine
Its subject matter may seem familiar now but when it first graced television screens, Love My Way offered a groundbreaking depiction of contemporary Australian life. Neha Kale reflects on the series’ unique approach and considers its impact on representations of adulthood.
In season one of Love My Way, Frankie Paige, the show’s heroine, shares a moment of reckoning with her wary lover: ‘I’ll be here Howard. I’ll be complicated and I’ll be possibly intense. But I’ll be here.’ Frankie makes this statement without a hint of apology, daring Howard to take her seriously, liabilities and all. Love My Way premiered on FOX8 in November 2004, to a theme song of the same name, a strangely addictive cover of a Psychedelic Furs track performed by rock band Magic Dirt. It followed the lives, loves and dashed expectations of four thirty-somethings and played out in an inner-city Sydney rendered in lush greens and blues. Created by John Edwards, Jacquelin Perske and Claudia Karvan, the team behind popular relationship drama The Secret Life of Us, Love My Way was labelled ground-breaking by critics and attracted a slew of awards for ‘quality writing, acting and commitment to reflecting the reality of being a thirty-something today.’ Six years on, this glowing critical reception often acts as a smokescreen for the real import of the show – its ability to emotionally resonate with an audience that Australian television drama had failed to take seriously.
Co-creator and script producer Jacquelin Perske says that Love My Way was born out of the desire to make a series ‘about the next stage of life’, the period following the ‘share house years’ explored by The Secret Life of Us. In his 2006 article ‘The Secret Life of Character’, Peter Craven writes:
Love My Way came, after all, out of the quest to find something that might follow The Secret Life of Us, the versatile, complex show about people in their twenties, committing themselves and not committing themselves, taking it hard and taking it easy, which seemed to represent some kind of paradigm shift in an Australian TV series because it appeared to speak to a youthful audience with a new intimacy: crotch to crotch, eyeball to eyeball, maybe even heart to heart.
Like Secret Life, Love My Way dispenses with the ‘cop/lawyers/women-on-horses formula’ often plaguing Australian TV drama and concerns itself, instead, with examining the condition of contemporary Australian adulthood. The show focuses on the journey of 31-year old Frankie Paige, a free-spirited artist who lives with her volatile flatmate Tom (Brendan Cowell) and splits custody of her daughter Lou (Alex Cook) with her ex-partner Charlie (Sam Wylie) and his wife Julia (Asher Keddie). At first glance, Love My Way’s interest in the search for identity and the breakdown of the nuclear family appears consistent with the defining themes of its genre. The show marks out new territory, however, by using the demise of the nuclear family and the failure of conventional markers of adulthood as the premise for its central narrative.
In Adult Themes: Rewriting the Rules of Adulthood, Kate Crawford takes a critical look at the way adulthood is typically defined and understood. She writes that adulthood in Australia has been historically measured by ‘following expected steps in process – be it taking your first full-time job, marrying your partner or getting your first mortgage.’ Crawford argues that this checklist understanding of adulthood does not account for a growing demographic that refuses to be motivated by money or power and ‘shies away from any of the aspirational cornerstones of Australian life.’ She deconstructs this ‘crisis of adulthood’ by asking the question: ‘what is a real adult and how does it differ from the kind of adult we’re programmed to be?’
Love My Way sets out to explore the emotional reality of this crisis by speaking directly and intimately to an audience embroiled in it. The two households depicted in Love My Way seem to tell the story of rival versions of adulthood. The first house, a whitewashed rental by the sea is home to Frankie and Tom and fuelled by wine, weed and laughter. The second, an imposing warehouse conversion owned by Charlie and Julia is home to IKEA furniture and a baby monitor – tracking their baby Toby as well as the rift in their marriage. Despite these polarities, the characters all occupy a middle ground where the reality of life has eclipsed expectations of what it is to be a ‘grown-up.’ Crawford writes about the mainstream media’s failure to ‘attempt a deeper engagement with the social, cultural or economic circumstances’ of this demographic, portraying them instead as ‘underdeveloped and simplistic, yet also mysterious and threatening.’
By charting the emotional terrain of its characters, Love My Way gives this demographic a voice and reworks dominant understandings of adulthood.
The relationship between Frankie and Charlie and their shared custody of Lou forms the basis for the extended family portrayed by Love My Way. Though passionately involved in their twenties, the couple took different paths: Charlie toward marriage and an architecture career and Frankie toward art and adventure. For Jacquelin Perske, this notion of the seldom-represented ‘happy divorce’ is at the heart ofLove My Way. She says,
So much is made of the wrench of separation and divorce and it seemed to us that many of our contemporaries and indeed our parents generation, were very successful at working through the issues and had established a new kind of extended family that included step-siblings and your partners ex and their families and we hadn’t seen this working model represented on TV.
Love My Way attempts to explore both the dynamics of this model and the tensions underpinning it. The show depicts Frankie and Charlie, along with their parents and partners, as a clan-like extended family for which Lou is central. In Love My Way, the characters cast aside their chequered histories to engage in each other’s lives, sharing problems as effortlessly as they share sun-drenched barbecues. If conventional notions of adulthood are linked to the privileging of the nuclear family, then Love My Way makes a compelling case for an adulthood of a different kind