There’s an ‘N’ word in America which black people can use amongst themselves, but in anyone else’s mouth is considered to be extremely derogatory. To a lesser degree the same might be said of the Australian descriptor ‘bogan’. It could be a friendly bit of slang; it could be a cutting insult. This new ABC comedy aims to introduce us to the real people who live behind both senses of the word.
Upper Middle Bogan is set in the suburbs of Melbourne where Dr. Bess Denyar (Annie Maynard) and her husband Danny (Patrick Brammall) are raising twin teens while juggling the pressures of a medical career and an opinionated grandmother. When a collapse puts Bess’s mum into hospital, a simple blood test reveals the snobbish old woman is not her biological mother. Bess believes her adoption will explain so much about her troubled life – “I’ve never felt normal; I’ve felt there’s something wrong with me every day of my life!” – and sets off to find her natural parents. Enter Julie and Wayne Wheeler (Robyn Malcolm and Glenn Robbins), the mum and dad managers of a family drag-racing team. Bess’s wish is granted; she’s discovered the family she feels she’s always been missing. But will the Wheelers and their loutish brood end up being the blessing she’s been hoping for?
I tuned in to Upper Middle Bogan expecting to see a new twist on Kath & Kim and I’ve got to admit I was pleasantly surprised. As funny as K&K can be, I always felt that we were being encouraged to laugh and look down on people at the same time. Upper Middle Bogan has a few more sexual references to be cautious of and it does drop the F-bomb when we venture into bogan territory. But the comedy is of a gentler sort, diminishing rather than increasing the difference between ourselves and the families on the small screen. The insight it offers is pretty clear: there’s not as much distance between upper class locales and lower class suburbs than Real Estate agents would have us believe.
Upper Middle Bogan is built on the premise that good parents, wherever they come from, all want the same thing for their children: the best start to a happy life. And it follows we’ll do whatever we can to make that happen. In the Bright household it involves giving Edwina ballet lessons and Oscar access to a mathematics tutor. Over at the Wheelers it’s encouraging young Shawn to get back behind the wheel in the junior drag racing division. The same applies to harder decisions, like the unseen years that led up to this sitcom. Margaret Denyar didn’t tell her daughter Bess she was adopted because she didn’t want her to feel different; Julie and Wayne gave her away because they knew they couldn’t offer her the best start:
Julie: “I was 15 and I’d already left school … your father was 14.”
Wayne: “We would have been living on the streets”
Julie: “Yeah, we would have. We had no right to be raising a baby back then.”
Whatever the decision, good parents will do whatever it takes, even if the action involves a certain amount of suffering for their kids – and that’s exactly as it should be. It’s a comedy, certainly, but Upper Middle Bogan should give us pause for thought the next time we decide to do something primarily because we don’t want to cause our children distress. Too much occurs under the label of ‘good parenting’ today which is actually self-serving pain-avoidance for the adults involved. It takes more courage to inflict suffering for the right reasons, because it hurts us too. But the Bible tells us the best parents will do it nonetheless because happiness isn’t their first goal:
“Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? … We have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live!”
I don’t think there’s any problem coming to God with the pain we’re suffering. But the next time we find ourselves asking ‘Why this pain?’ we should begin by remembering that our Heavenly Father is a ‘do whatever it takes’ parent. We don’t suffer randomly; our pain is always carefully measured, jointly endured, and delivered solely for our good.