Fresh TV writing: twists, genuineness and empathy…


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CAUTION: SPOILERS

My latest binge-watching obsession? Dance Academy – an Aussie teen serial drama set in Sydney following the lives of new students at the Dance Academy. It’s easy to see why it was twice awarded the Logie for “Most Outstanding Children’s Programme”.

I’m 28, and it had me hooked. And the end of season two? I cried. This is very rare for me – I don’t tend to *do* visible emotions, be it laughing or crying. But Dance Academy broke every fan’s heart with a phenomenally sad season finale; a much-loved character suddenly and completely unexpectedly died right before a prestigious competition.

Brings “kill your darlings” to a whole new level. The characters in Dance Academy are all fantastic in their own ways. Even if they’re selfish or pompous or plain mean, each and every character had depth and substance that gave them and the show a real sense of genuineness.

At the heart of the show is friendship and self-discovery. The teens go through a lot of stuff; relationships, body issues, sexual confusion, and Dance Academy specific issues such as competition, jealousy and injuries that could spell the end of their careers before they’ve even got started.

Despite having a rigid format, bookended by narration (the purpose of which ties in very well with the final, last ever episode of season three) the characters and their stories develop slowly, drawing us in and keeping us in continual suspense as to how things will pan out.

Ever watched something and thought “yeah, I know how this episode/story’s gonna play out…”? I had this thought on numerous occasions, but not once was I right. Characters’ reactions to situations, contemplative plot thread/episode endings, shock twists that no one saw coming… Admirable writing.

You’ll cry, too, because you come to love these characters. They’re not perfect. Their storylines aren’t cheesy (except when character personality calls for it). They’re genuinely all trying to do their best in a prestigious environment, chasing dreams and all the while battling with self-esteem and the trials and tribulations of “growing up”.

I’m not gonna lie. I kept prancing around – these aren’t just actors but seriously good dancers. That show is so inspirational on more than just a writing level – it got my lazy booty shakin’. Aspirational TV is so important for kids and adults alike.

We watch TV to find common ground with actors and feel less alone in our troubled worlds, but we also watch it to be inspired and to help us gain the courage to be who we want to be. Dancing is one of those things that we all wish we could do – even if we don’t particularly like it.

This, combined with the plot opportunities that such a unique setting provided, meant that Dance Academy’s treatment of issues felt fresh and genuine. Sammy’s sexual confusion wasn’t just your usual “coming out as gay” storyline, but remained a subtle but constant part of his personality.

Abigail and Kat’s eating disorders weren’t what you might consider “usual”. Abigail’s obsessive training and ruthless ambition combined with the disappointment in her breast size which she felt was too large for a professional ballerina resulted in her situation. Kat had never before had a problem with food until she lost best friend Sammy.

And then there’s Christian; the broody one, whose anger at his parent-less situation resonated throughout all three series. Just when he seemed to get on track to do well, something else would happen to throw a spanner in the storylines and relationships he shared with the other characters.

By the end of series three, all of the characters had evolved and matured; made who they are by the experiences they have been through at the academy. Many of them don’t end up how you expected them to. But the series is so much richer for it, and valuable lessons are learned.

Dance Academy is one of those series that you may disregard at first glance as a cheesy kids’ show. But I wholly recommend it for teens and adults alike; especially those of you who like writing for TV.

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