The Family Law, based on Chinese-Australian writer Benjamin Law’s successful memoir, is a modern comedy series that proudly keeps one foot in the nostalgic terrain of a classic sitcom. Each episode places the cast of memorable characters into hilarious or touching situations as they negotiate their places within a packed family dynamic and the world outside the homestead.
First and foremost, The Family Law is about family – which makes it easy for audiences of all persuasions to see something of their own in the goings-on. On a second tier, it’s about a finding a place within the broader Australian community, balancing it with the culture of an international heritage. For the majority of us in Australia, a nation built on immigration, it feels like a universal experience.
The great thing about Law’s creation is that it mines the mixed heritage for hilarity without judgment, citing differences with affection rather than condescension.
As a thirtysomething male with four siblings (one older brother, one younger brother and two younger sisters) from an Italian-Australian family, I feel an undeniable affinity with the Law family. Here’s why...
The inappropriate matriarch
Intentional or not, Jenny Law (Fiona Choi) sure knows how to make her children blush with embarrassment through detailed references to her (and their) private parts.
It's a feeling I understand all-too horrifyingly well. When referring to her own pregnancies, my mother loves to (publicly) remark that my eldest brother kicked softly and slipped out like a velvet pillow, while I was like a rock in a washing machine that passed through like a kidney stone.
Similarly, like Jenny, my late Nonna and very-much-alive Zia have always loved to remind everyone how many compliments they receive about their own breasts.
Drama queen prone to tantrums
As a teenager, my younger brother was a pretty fantastic performer. He spent every waking moment practising Shakespeare monologues even though he barely understood a word of it.
Like the fictionalised Benjamin (Trystan Go), his dramatic tendencies often seeped into real life via predictable tantrums. These eruptions of melodramatic pain never lasted very long, and we quickly learned not to take them too seriously.
The odd one out
Like Andrew Law (George Zhao), who demonstrates a degree of multicultural cringe over his family’s relentless high energy, I too was that teenager who buried his head in shame any time we were out in public.
In fact, my family make the Laws sound positively British in comparison, as each of the women in my family project their voices like impassioned opera singers wearing headphones, and that’s being diplomatic (CAN YOU PLEASE PASS THE SALT!).
Elaborate and tacky birthday parties
In episode four of season one, Jenny and Benjamin put together a birthday bash for Andrew, who would rather take the reins and organise something discreet. No dice.
As kids experiencing birthdays or Christmases, my parents and aunts and uncles would pool their deep love for us and let it churn into a cyclone of cellophane and tinsel. The more decoration (and fuss) the better.
The father with one foot in each culture
Danny (Anthony Brandon Wong) is the Homer Simpson of The Family Law, making foolish errors despite his heart being in the vicinity of the right place. He is a man of contradictions, which is no more evident than in his patriotic (and Australian) despising of too many products being manufactured in China and his patriotic (and Chinese) love of Chinese cinema.
Many of my family members are the same. When referring to other Italian families, the phrase “if they want EVERYTHING to be Italian, why are they even here?” was commonplace (but isn’t anymore, because progress). At the same time, they would all get together for a game of Briscola following a screening of Cinema Paradiso while wearing Italia jumpers.
Meddling in love lives
When Andrew musters the courage to invite a neighbour/love interest to his 18th birthday, most of his family are conducting surveillance from an open doorway.
Two words: Kara O’Reilly (not even close to her real name) in the townhouse opposite ours, and my sisters hiding behind our front fence chanting her name over and over again. Man, I thought I’d blocked that from my memory.
The Family Law airs on SBS every Thursday night at 8:30pm. New episodes and the entire first season are streaming now via SBS On Demand: