Reflections on being reflected back by the simply delightful and wickedly funny The Family Law
The Family Law is a show about family. So it was only apt that I watched it with mine. This new addition to the Australian television landscape is a damn good reason for us to laugh together as a family, get nostalgic about our childhoods, be reminded of the little things that make us who we are and dream of a future where it is totally ok for Asian people on television to have Australian accents.
Not since the 80s and 90s have I huddled with my family around the telly to watch such families as the ones on American sitcoms like Family Ties, Full House and Family Matters, so it was with deliberate ceremony that I wrangled my family together to witness a new, six-part sitcom about an Asian-Australian family. We skipped our usual weekly family meal around the dinner table, complete with overlapping conversations and affectionate pay-outs and put-downs, for a TV dinner (as my mum and dad would call it) and the SBS premiere of The Family Law. With take-away pizza in our hands, we squished together on my sister’s couch or lay about on her lounge room floor (there are a few of us), and tuned in for Australia’s newest small screen family. And from the very first line of laugh-out-loud dialogue from the “mum with the mouth”, we were hooked.
First, we saw ourselves mirrored in the Law family. Within minutes of the opening, my sister noticed that the Laws had the same number of kids in their family as ours, but the make-up was opposite. Where the Laws are made up of three girls and two boys, we are a family of three boys and two girls. (And in typical Kwok family fashion, my brother picked up on this same fact a few minutes later, declaring it louder than my sister and thus claiming credit for the discovery #FamilyCrackers). But the comparisons didn’t stop there. While the Law’s had a Chinese restaurant on the Sunshine Coast, my mother’s father had a Chinese restaurant on the Gold Coast, where she also worked following her migration to Australia at the age of 16, 14 years after her father. As we watched Ben play clarinet “like the black man”, we squealed in delight when we realised that he was the middle child, just like my sister, who also played clarinet when she was in high school.
Next, we saw our Chinese-ness captured. While we fully recognised and appreciated the broader value and importance of Asian representation and telling the story of first and second generation Australians, complete with Australian accents, we delighted in the detail, design and direction of the seemingly small and incidental, the mundane and happenstantial Chinese moments. Ben’s dad washing his hair at the sink reminded us of our dad and grandmother doing the same (and sometimes making us do it too). Ben’s mum’s floral top with extra sparkles, a favourite amongst Chinese mothers, it would seem. Nosy Chinese women, only interested in your children in order to brag about their own. The Canto-fantasy melodramas reminding me of the VHS copy of the copy of the copy of Hong Kong’s latest TVB soap opera rented from the hole in the wall video store in Darra or Sunnybank, traded between friends and extended family members to be binge-watched between work and chores, all before Netflix was even a thing.It was these moments, the idiosyncrasies of the Chinese-Australian experience, at least of our experience, that made us laugh even harder at a show that was already choc-full of searingly funny dialogue and physical comedy.
Finally, we saw Brisbane. Recognising familiar locations and faces brought an extra layer of thrill. We could identify the location of Ben’s school by the Sunnybank High School uniform, the pastel shade of the buildings, and the cultural diversity of the students loitering as extras in the hallways. We could spot the iconic New Chung Shan restaurant in Chermside on Brisbane’s Northside as the Law family restaurant. Then there were the people – actors I’ve seen on Queensland stages or performed with in the past playing supporting roles to my brother’s ex-girlfriend who turned out to be a key member of the cast (what the?). I’m sure playing spot-the-location or “famous face” will become part of our regular viewing practice with this show, something you can only really do when you’re enjoying locally-made Australian content.
This pocket of the population thoroughly enjoyed watching our family lore mirrored in The Family Law, delighting in the moments that are distinctively second generation, Chinese-Australian experiences, and playing spot the location and the face. And I for one, am really looking forward to next Thursday night, when we will once again huddle together around my sister’s television, savouring the next episode and all the episodes to follow until the very end, very likely over another pizza.
If you missed seeing The Family Law you can catch up on SBS on Demand, or tune in Thursdays at 8.30pm.