Turning 13 and heading to the emotional wilds of high school can be tough enough at the best of times for kids trying to find their place in the world, but indigenous teenager Fuzzy Mac (Kyliric Masella) has to contend with otherworldly ghosts popping up in her bedroom too.
That’s the brilliant premise behind NTIV’s first ever live-action series, the spooky cool coming-of-age drama Grace Beside Me. A 13-part family show, it’s set in the fictional rural community of Laurel Dale and is based on the wildly popular YA novel by Sue McPherson.
The ghosts that pop up all over town, seen only by Fuzzy and not by her besties Tui (Mairehau Grace (Tjiirdm McGuire) or the eccentric Yar (Tjiirdm McGuire), aren’t menacing forces. They’re actually the spirits of Fuzzy’s ancestors who have walked the land before her and in their own mysterious way help guide her through those teenage travails.
It all starts with a dream that becomes reality as Fuzzy’s birthday morning is interrupted by a ghostly girl about her own age appearing alarmingly at the end of her bed. Following her, at first unwillingly, to a sacred watering hole in the nearby woods, Fuzzy begins to realise that her new powers can unravel the town’s secrets, all the while helping her feel more connected to her heritage and more in control of her day-to-day life, replete with the homework and house work.
With Fuzzy’s mum dead and her dad not in the picture, she lives with Nan (Tessa Rose, Cleverman) and Pop (Charles Passi, Mabo), with the former in particular giving her ample cultural guidance and her Aunty Min (Roxanne McDonald, 8MMM Aboriginal Radio) something of a local historian too.
Masella, brilliant in her first big acting gig, is an immensely charismatic lead - sporting a shock of wild hair in the show that some of her snootier fellow students would like to see tamed. Even the bullies have a heart here, exhibited by way of one of Fuzzy’s newfound abilities that helps her tease out not only her own family history, like the rumours swirling around an indigenous bushranger, but also that of her schoolmates. That includes the Chinese heritage of Emmy (Lucy Adair), dating back to the gold rush.
Making glorious use of the South-East Queensland Scenic Rim setting, Grace Beside Me has a hint of Jasper Jones and is a smart and sassy introduction to Australian history and its aboriginal heritage. Never stuffy, it’s told from an indigenous teen perspective that we haven’t seen anywhere near enough of on Australian television.
Grace Beside Me airs from Friday, 16 February at 7.30pm on NITV (Ch. 34). #GraceBesideMe
Episodes will be available from Friday, 16 February on SBS On Demand.