Appellate Judge Rob Lineberger revisits Drovers Run and decides he can get used to the scenery.
Our review of McLeod's Daughters: The Complete First Season, published December 6th, 2006, is also available.
Ordinary women facing the adventure of life on the land.
What did that say? Did that say "ordinary women?" You'll know from Frame One that there's nothing ordinary about McLeod's Daughters—unless your idea of ordinary is statuesque models with perfect hair and perfect teeth who can rope cattle with the best cowboy. Let's see how Season Two of this ongoing South Australian series pans out.
Facts of the Case
Tess Silverman (Bridie Carter, The New Girlfriend) tries to add value to the ranch by planting a hemp crop, then toys with moving back to the city when it doesn't go as planned. Her half sister, Claire McLeod (Lisa Chappell, Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) is invigorated by a new love who might be hiding a nasty secret. It's business as usual for McLeod's Daughters. Will the devotion and hard work of their housekeeper Meg (Sonia Todd, Shine), her daughter Jodi (Rachael Carpani, Hating Alison Ashley), and farm hand Becky (Jessica Napier, Cut) be enough to keep the peace at Drovers Run? Or will the wily charms of the neighboring Ryan brothers stir the pot?
The episodes include:
The Season One set of McLeod's Daughters included the original telemovie that kicked off the whole phenomenon. After bonding with those characters and living in their gritty world, the transition to the series proper was jarring. Jack McLeod's beautiful but down-to-earth daughters had been replaced by blithe changelings with perfect teeth and a comparatively trouble-free life. These girls didn't have blood on their hands nor survival at stake. If Drover's run didn't work out, the new Tess had friends and a catering business waiting in the city. Instead of burying bodies, the new Claire brushed hair out of her eyes and looked annoyed. In short, the series seemed like a dumbed-down version of the movie I had just enjoyed, one with a focus on perfect skin over complex relationships.
Time heals all wounds, they say. With Season One in the bag and a gulf of months between that viewing and this one, the new McLeod's Daughters have become the real McLeods.
The comparison wasn't even fair in the first place. Five years separated the telemovie and the series. It's not like Australian audiences watched the telemovie and then caught the series premiere the next day. Times changed and the cultural climate did too. Five years isn't an eon, but it is long enough to forgive a change in tone and style. A series also has to tell 22 stories instead of one.
Whether ire at the transition clouded my enjoyment then or the series improved over time, there's no doubt that Season Two is much more entertaining. Season One's predominate "ranching problem of the week" formula has given way to serial plotlines. The McLeod sisters get more dirt—literally and figuratively—under their nails. In fact, some stretches of this season threaten the telemovie in terms of sheer darkness. To bring things full circle I watched the telemovie again after watching these episodes, only to find I missed the complex relationships and banter that the cast had forged over two seasons of television.
Season Two kicks off on relatively neutral ground. The sisters are not at war, nor are they completely at peace. Tess tries to grow hemp, to Claire's (and Alex's, and Meg's, and the new constable's) bemusement. Yet when push comes to shove, Tess learns that she is on her own and that it was a bad idea. This sets the stage for a growing distance between the sisters. When Claire picks up a love interest, the relationship stretches even more thin. And as Alex Ryan (Aaron Jeffery) would say, he's a real bastard.
Meanwhile, the supporting cast has taken greater importance. Becky, Meg, Alex, Nick, Jodi—and even the no-good farm hand Terry—get spotlight episodes. These forays open up the world and recharge our batteries enough to absorb more of Tess and Claire's relationship.
We'll need every ounce of those batteries to weather the changes that occur in this season (mini-spoilers ahead!). Tess leaves. Drover's run gets sold. Relationships blossom, then turn bitter and haunt the characters throughout the season. The writers take real risks and the series becomes richer for it. The block of "A Dry Spell," "Three's a Crowd," "The Bridle Waltz," and "To Have and to Hold" kept me glued to the screen. There was a lull, then the series raced to the finish line with a dizzying spiral of plot twists and character turns. By the time the Season wrapped, it was easy to see why McLeod's Daughters became Australia's most popular show.
The DVD experience was also better this time. The misflagged aspect ratio problem seems to have disappeared, leaving each episode in glorious, sparkling widescreen. Koch Vision also added chapter stops, which allow you to skip past the "Previously on McLeod's Daughters" and opening credits.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Though McLeod's Daughters seemed a little more involved this time around, the plots wouldn't qualify as deep. McLeod's Daughters is a nicely shot soap opera with an Aussie attitude. This isn't a condemnation so much as an expectation setter.
In fact, when my wife sat down to watch, she said "Oh, is this Montana Sky?" Apparently, the perennial best seller Nora Roberts wrote a novel in which three half-daughters are given equal parts in Jack's ranch. One of them falls for the neighbor who has a helicopter and a nice smile. They don't get along at first, but are forced to work together to make the ranch solvent. It all sounds very familiar. Oh, and Montana Sky came out the same year as the telemovie. Who copied who? It is a mystery to this day.
Unlike the previous season set, there are no extras; given the upcoming cast shakeups, a little commentary would have been welcome.
Sometimes, you just have to sit back, turn off the high falutin' critical eye, and bask in the dazzling reflections of perfect white teeth and flawless, glistening skin. For my part, I wouldn't say no if Jessica Napier wanted to drop by for a chat. Whether you're a soap-opera hating bloke like me or a red-blooded woman with a yen for handsome cowboys, someone in this cast will strike a chord in you. The plots are engaging, if sometimes shallow, and the chemistry becomes real some time between Season One and the end of this season.
Who can coop up McLeod's Daughters?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Koch Vision
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