Pastor Cal Quinn and wife Abi are about to celebrate their 40th anniversary, but first he has a little announcement.
The family faith, and booming business, evangelical church U Star, is embarking on expansion plans in the USA.
Outwardly the Quinn clan is a testifyin’, prayer-loving family wielding great power amongst its many devotees. But the inner sanctum is a dysfunctional family of egos and ambitions, led by its charismatic patriarch.
In Stan’s new 7 part drama Prosper, there are also dangerous links to politics, profit and pop music. If it all sounds familiar, it probably is, but this is strictly a work of fiction by creators Matt Cameron and Jason Stephens.
Cal (Richard Roxburgh) and Abi (Rebecca Gibney) are also hoping for a reunion with their ‘prodigal son’ Jed (Jacob Collins-Levy) who has turned his back on the family empire in pursuit of greater good, by running a local community kitchen.
More loyal is Cal’s “right hand man” eldest son Dion (Ewan Leslie), insecure of his father’s love yet devoted to the church. Daughter Issy (Hayley McCarthy) is musically gifted and married to US-born musician Benji (Jordi Webber), both enjoying the spotlight’s collision of music and gospel.
In reality Cal’s real right hand man is Eli (Jacek Koman), a shifty suit who cleans up after his boss and manoeuvres silently between the shadows for U Star.
Money is no object for this Church, as donated by desperate worshippers. In the early episodes there are black SUVs, an ocean mansion, a private chopper, a Blue Mountains retreat. Cal is also wheeling and dealing with a conservative politician (James Saunders) to ensure he has the ear of key players in Canberra. There’s a visiting American pop star (Alex FitzAlan) ready to convert and pose for press photos. And there is even a scandal involving Pastor Cal and one parishioner Rosa (Brigid Zendini) which threatens to bring down the entire church unless it can be contained.
Yes, fiction and truth surely collude in Lingo Pictures’ new drama.
Roxburgh as the charismatic, immaculate leader of U Star strides through these scenes with all the swagger of Rake‘s Cleaver Greene. Cal may be blinded by power and an utter desire for world domination, but he is convinced he has a direct line to his God -even if it means suppressing the spirit of his own offspring.
Rebecca Gibney’s Abi is every bit as warm and devoted as more famous TV mums she has played, but there is a self-preservation streak which will doubtless unveil a strong hand as episodes unfold -if not revealing her as the most powerful player in the room?
Ewan Leslie, who struck me as a little old to play their first born, is nevertheless fittingly restrained as the aspirational son. It’s also great to see Jacek Koman in a key supporting role.
The cast is decidely top-heavy and other characters played by Hayley McCarthy, Ming-Zhu Hii, Fayssal Bazzi, Andrea Solonge (who is particularly good), Alexander D’Souza, Matthew Backer, spread the story focus wide.
Given the subject matter and, dare I suggest, the Succession-esque approach to the world, not many of the characters are particularly likeable. Which means we have to care why they are as objectionable as they appear. Director Jennifer Leacey keeps things fairly cold, including colour grading out vibrant hues for a grey-blue look. It’s obviously a lot more serious than The Righteous Gemstones, but less intriguing than Messiah, albeit on a smaller budget.
However there is still a lot of potential given the themes in play.
One final observation, the building which doubles as the fictional U Star is the Sydney Coliseum Theatre in Rooty Hill, which works brilliantly as a centre for zealous showbiz. Last year it was even the home of Australian Idol. Touchdown.
Prosper screens Thursday on Stan.