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Melinda Houston TV highlights: Little Lunch is great for adults too

Far Flung, with Gary Mehigan. Photo: SuppliedLITTLE LUNCH New series ★★★★ From Monday, July 20, 4.25pm, ABC3
Nanjing Night Net

It’s quite possible that the best of Australian children’s television is actually better than the best of our grown-up television. Lockie Leonard, Dance Academy, Nowhere Boys: they’ve all been absolutely  world class, and now this completely delightful series for sub-tweens  joins the ranks. It helps that kids’ TV traditionally has a pretty flimsy  budget, wherever it’s made. So while often an Australian mainstream drama – even an excellent one – can seem a little pale in comparison with, say, a US series in which millions are spent on every episode, in this genre it’s a much more level playing field. That means the things we do splendidly – storytelling, characterisation, acting – really shine.

In fact (having watched possibly too much children’s drama), our young actors really are among the best in the world. There’s a wonderful naturalness to Australia’s junior performers that makes them a delight to watch for adults, and genuinely relatable for their target audience. It’s certainly one of the things that makes Little Lunch an absolute joy. The ages of the cast aren’t given but they are all surely under 15 and most would be close to the 10- and 11-year-olds they play. Produced and largely written by Robyn Butler and Wayne Hope (Upper Middle Bogan) and based on the books by their mate Danny Katz, the show is a series of vignettes filmed in the mockumentary style, set during play lunch and recounting recent memorable episodes from the schoolyard. The six core cast members take turns in both telling the stories and featuring in them, and while they’re certainly types, they’re beautifully drawn. Credit too, to the directors (in this first block, that’s Hope), who wrangle their tiny charges splendidly. The production is full of small touches that are laugh-out-loud. And perhaps the most enjoyable aspect is it’s so clear that the kids themselves are completely in on the joke, and having the time of their lives.

WINNERS AND LOSERS ★★★ Tuesday, July 21, 8.30pm, Seven

The fifth season of Winners and Losers got under way last week, and while its original premise evaporated long ago (what changes when  you win Lotto), it’s actually holding up pretty well as a homely dramedy  about women’s lives. In fact, these first couple of episodes are rather stronger than last year’s mid-season slump in which it felt like every ep was simultaneously treading water and rushing every plot point to an anodyne conclusion. If you’ve watched in the past and enjoyed it, it’s well worth taking a fresh look.

FAR FLUNG WITH GARY MEHIGAN New series ★★★ Saturday, July 25, 6pm, Ten

Chirpy new series from the MasterChef judge, following the familiar food/travelogue format. Each week Gary Mehigan jets off somewhere exotic, explores the local food and culture, has a go at something in situ, then comes home and cooks up a dish inspired by his travels in  his home kitchen. First stop is India (a nation that rightly requires two episodes to even begin to explore), where  highlights include his visit to  a tiffin house, preparing “home cooked” lunches for office workers all over the city.

RACHEL KHOO’S KITCHEN MELBOURNE New series ★★★½ Thursday, July 23, 8pm, SBS

Made, as it undoubtedly is, with an international market in mind, this new series from Rachel Khoo tends to flit from one pretty obvious  landmark to the next (Chinatown, Melbourne’s CDB laneways, and so  on). But the handsome production certainly does our most liveable city proud. There’s something particularly heart-warming about hearing the huge range of accents captured as Rachel trips from coffee house to yum cha joint to fine  dining establishment. And of course then she goes home to cook us up something in a very funky warehouse conversion in (I’m guessing) Fitzroy.

ORDINARY LIES New series ★★★½ Saturday, July 25, 8.30pm, BBC First

Built in the classic British kitchen-sink style, this comedy/drama created by Danny Brocklehurst (The Street, The Accused, Clocking Off)  is comfortable territory for him. It’s certainly a very confident production. The setting is a Manchester car yard staffed, as the title suggests, by ordinary people in ordinary kinds of trouble who find themselves cornered into telling porkies. In this first episode I’m not sure erstwhile gun salesman Marty’s lie is ordinary. “Ludicrous”, “whopper” and “WT…?” are more the descriptors that spring to mind. But what it does set in train is a rather clever examination of the psychological fallout of the lie, both personal and for the group. There are some wonderful observations of everyday workplace characters and interactions. We also gradually meet the other members of the JS Motors team, each of whom have their own stories, their own troubles, their own secrets, and – no doubt – their own fibs to tell. The cast is free of big names but solid. Comedian Jason Manford as Marty is particularly good: a real lower-middle-class bloke-next-door, maybe not too bright, who very slowly realises the enormity of what he’s done. The situation certainly has us flinching and cringing, but this is also a really bright production with lovely spikes of humour and a well-developed sense of the absurd.

PAWN STARS AUSTRALIA New series ★★★ Tuesday, July 21, 7.30pm, A&E

These pawnshop shows are always pretty lo-fi but this local version of the popular US series doesn’t quite hit the mark. In the first couple of eps, at least, our talent – brothers Aaron and Ben and their mate Shanon of Happy Hockers​ – aren’t especially comfortable in front of the camera, and the various interactions and negotiations verge on painful. On the upside, we do get to see a nice collection of objects and learn their history – including why pawnshops traditionally have three balls hanging outside.

PLONK ★★★½stan南京夜网419论坛

Plonk is very silly, but it’s also very good fun. Chris Taylor playing an awful version of himself is priceless, and while this ain’t UnREAL, if you’ve ever wondered what goes on behind the scenes of those food-porn travelogues, well, let’s hope it’s not this. As Taylor and his crew traverse New South Wales seeking out wine destinations, the real people taking part in this mockumentary are awfully good sports and each ep delivers LOL moments. Fresh eps have recently been added, too, so if you’ve already had a taste, come back for a second glass.

WAYWARD PINES Series final ★★★½ Thursday, July 23, 8.30pm, FX

Impossible to discuss the best aspects of this terrific finale without delivering massive spoilers but let’s just say it goes out on a high. Or maybe a low. Or both. It’s a series that’s been full of weirdness and full of twists from the outset and that certainly holds true as the adventures of the residents of Wayward Pines come to a (sort of) close tonight. There are some moments that will have you leaping out of your chair. There’s an equally unexpected cleverness to the final pieces of plotting that really satisfy.

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