While it might have been tempting for a show to play it slightly safe in its debut season, the narrative of Ready for This! instead is marked by a particular fearlessness, introducing twists that mark it out as genuinely groundbreaking, not just in terms of Australian television, but English language programming aimed at young adults on a more global scale.
It’s refreshing to see that the producers and writers continue to push the bar in terms of what stories are they choose to tell, tackling both personal themes of loss and love, while keeping their intersectional focus vis a vis issues of class, sexuality, and race. This allows the narrative to tackle some pretty heavy themes, but its deft handling of the subject matter allows the tone to remain energetic and infused with humour: in particular, the individual narrtive threads relating to Ava (Majeda Beatty), Dylan (Liam Talty), and Lily (Leonie Whyman).
Ava: I’ve never kissed a girl before…In fact, I’ve never kissed anyone before!
While the first six episodes were largely concerned with the Romeo-and-Juliet-esque romantic travails of Levi (Aaron L. McGrath) and Zoe (Madeleine Madden), the second part of the season has expanded the spectrum of relationships. This is seen most strongly in the arc concerning Ava, as she meets and falls for a roller-derby enthusiast, Macy (Tessa de Josselin). The fact that Ava’s queerness is not signposted in any overt way before this relationship develops allows the introduction of a love interest for her in a way that is neither played for shock value nor treated as a nod to some kind of “diversity checklist”.
The relationship progresses extremely naturally from an initial spark between the characters, to strong flirting, to finally a kiss. By not explicitly foreshadowing Ava’s romantic interest in girls to the audience, the arc also plays on the double standards by which queer relationships are often treated within media texts. Essentially, the audience is made to do the “work” of shedding their “default” lens of assumed heterosexuality as they follow the relationship’s development.
The show therefore forces a rethink of how queer characters are allowed to negotiate and express their sexualities, particularly in the context of shows aimed at young viewers. In the scene of the kiss, Ava confesses to Macy that she’s never kissed anyone until that moment, but rather than this reflecting an uncertainty about her desires, it’s made clear that she’d just like to go slightly slower in her journey of self discovery.
So far, there’s a remarkable lack of angst around this arc, which also signals departure from the norm when it comes to writing about queer characters. Ava’s “big reveal” is not treated as particularly shocking by any of her friends, with the thorny issue of how to approach the complicated relationship between Macy and her “not girlfriend” taking precedence.
That is not to say that it’s all smooth sailing. A possible point of conflict is signaled when Zoe asks, “But what will they think back home?” referring to Ava’s family. Ava clearly anticipates some trouble on that front, but is more focused on her immediate predicament. How the show handles the continuation of this arc, both in terms of Ava’s relationship with her family and community as well as with Macy, is poised to be one of the most interesting aspects of the last half of the season.
Dylan: Are you really from the streets?
In contrast to Ava’s sense of rootedness to her family, Dylan’s arc continues to be concerned with his search for an identity distinct from that of his father. The writers, however, have made the intriguing decision to examine the ways in which his relatively privileged upbringing impacts this quest.
Dylan’s need to rebel and break away from the expectations of his parents has so far manifested in his preference for rap and electronic music rather than the more classical violin. He is clearly in search for an “authentic” voice, one that he feels needs an edginess or a grittiness that he associates with the “street” or the ghetto areas of the city. This is something that has largely been outside his experience.
His desire to get more experience in this world is further explored when he gets involved with a gang of taggers (graffiti artists) who seem to share his artistic vision. This is an interesting angle to take, as young aboriginal boys are often portrayed as “anti-social elements” or troublemakers, but rarely as related to activities like street art.
Dylan’s willingness to push his boundaries, even to breaking the law, is put to the test when he is dared by the other gang members to prove his street cred by robbing a store. His failure at this task opens him up to accusations of being a poser by the rest of the gang, but Dylan refuses to give in to their idea of machismo and finally breaks off his association with them.
Dylan’s status as not “street” is further underlined in episode 10, when a fellow aboriginal artist visits his school. Dylan asks him for an honest assessment of his work, and is told that there’s a lack of personal connection in the music. Dylan insists that he has a real respect and admiration for the struggle of his community that he’s attempting to communicate, but it’s clear that something is still missing.
This conundrum exhibits a skillful reflection of the issues with the notion of “authenticity” when it comes to marginalized communities. Dylan has clearly not had exposure to the same experiences as other famous aboriginal rap acts like Tjimba & the Yung Warriors, Pott Street, and Konect-a-Dot, who have used the genre to great effect to communicate their angst and anger at the condition of their communities. However, this does not mean that Dylan has no contribution to make to the contemporary artistic landscape for aboriginal youth. What form that contribution will take, however, remains to be seen.
Lily: Ready to Party?
Lily’s arc encapsulates both the personal and political themes of Ava’s and Dylan’s narratives, remaining concerned with the loss of her mother, while also weaving in a particularly gendered consideration of what it means to be a young aboriginal person in Australia. I’ve previously written about her being considered “angry” or “out of control” because of her refusal to tolerate micro-aggressions and, in this section of the show’s arc, the ways in which this non-compliance and “uppitiness” are punished by white masculinity is brought to the forefront in a particularly hard-hitting way.
The incident that triggers this arc occurs at a birthday party that Lily throws for Reece (Christian Byers) in an attempt to make up for his neglectful mother. Unknown to anyone, the day also marks the anniversary of Lily’s mother’s death. This is an understandably difficult time, and Lily retires to her room to regroup, only to have it invaded by two white boys who’ve gatecrashed the party. The boys behave in a threatening and crude manner, and manage to engineer a photograph that seems to place Lily in a sexually provocative position. The photograph is then uploaded to the internet as a crude meme and goes viral in the school circuit.
This has the effect of both humiliating Lily in a public forum and forcing her to keep a low profile for fear of further embarrassment. It’s heartbreaking to see the female character who was originally introduced as someone who was unafraid to speak her mind in most situations hiding in the school bathroom so as to get a break from the knowing stares and sniggers of her peers.
In effect, this is not simply the tracing of an individual instance of bullying but rather reflects on the larger issue of how aboriginal women in particular are stereotyped — as provocative and highly promiscuous — in mainstream Australian society. This stereotyping and its attendant mockery reinforces ideas of aboriginal women as requiring controlling and “managing”, primarily by white patriarchal authorities.
This fact is reinforced when even Reece, who is ostensibly Lily’s best friend at this point, believes that Lily willingly invited the boys into her room (despite her multiple protests to the contrary). Reece’s reaction is particularly effective at showing how even “good” white people, who seem socially aware and well-educated, continue to internalise extremely racist and sexist assumptions that have an extremely damaging effect on young and vulnerable individuals like Lily.
All these threads look set to combine for a truly intriguing finale within the last four episodes of the season. Each of the characters have hard decisions to make, and I look forward to seeing how the writers orchestrate the resolution of all the individual arcs, as well as the larger systemic issues they’ve raised throughout the narrative. The show runners have been remarkably ambitious in the scope of their storytelling, and while the possibility of overreach remains a genuine threat, I remain optimistic that they might just pull this off.