The high school drama is definitely a staple of small screen storytelling, with iconic shows like Heartbreak HighGleeSummer Heights HighBeverly Hills 90210SkinsDegrassi AND Sex education to name but a few.
Year of is the latest entry to explore Coming of Age by dramatizing students, teachers and parents, this time set against a backdrop of grief.
Floated as a spin-off from the joyful, romantic Hit, I expected him to focus on his wonderful supporting cast in their series. But while both shows are set at Jubilee High School, they inhabit very different universes.
Year of it has an almost entirely new cast, dominated by his fresh new teen talent, and a gritty, more “indie” tone.
There’s a full-bodied ensemble that clashes at a teen party when the adults aren’t around. They include alpha male Tully (Samson Alston) making out with Priya (Tharanya Tharan), best friend Mo (Samuel El Rahi), LGBTI students George (Samuel Dawson) and Brendan (Nicholas Cradock), Gus (Joshua Hewson), Kate (Sophia Wright-Mendelsohn) and Maya (Isabella Graiche).
In between all the quick sex, fence jumping, selfies, dancing and substances, there’s also a visit from the police, igniting a mild panic among those present who quickly scatter in different directions.
There are also Jubilee staff members English teacher Bowie (Christian Byers), soccer coach Ioane (Ray Chong Nee), art teacher Mae (Deborah An) and principal Lucinda (Danielle Cormack) who is married to Alan (Matt Nable). Other parents include the oversharing, bohemian Ophelia (Caroline Brazier), Adela (Sarah Armanious), and Tristan (Sam Johnson). It’s quite the stock of characters for a half-hour drama.
The story takes a turn when a tragic event rebounds in the school community and the lively and anarchic spirit of the teenagers is brought back down to earth.
With little experience dealing with grief, how the teenage characters navigate and process their current world is the central premise of the show, created by Dan Edwards.
The diverse cast of newcomers, under the supervision of director Jessica Tuckwell, handle it with remarkable skill. But it’s seasoned actors like Danielle Cormack who really give it gravitas: A school playground scene in episode two is hard to forget.
There’s also a deliberate (social) class clash, from the wealthy Lucinda and family to Gus’s housing commission house – look at Denise Roberts as a working-class mum.
From episode three, which features a questionable relationship, it is impossible to ignore the somber mood that pervades and Year of will need to find some clever fast levity – these are attributes expertly employed by John Edwards (a producer here) in other works such as Heartbreak High, Puberty Blues, Secret Life of Us AND Offspring.
Comparisons to a superior Netflix title will be obvious but Year of has its heart in the right place, as a gritty urban portrait of 2023 teenagers, backed up by its authenticity thanks to promising young performers.
Year of is now projected onto Stan.