Melinda Houston TV previews: Comic opera The Divorce hits high notes

A scene from comic opera The Divorce on ABC. Photo: SuppliedTHE DIVORCE New series ★★★½ Mon-Thurs from December 7, 9.30pm, ABC 

What a crazy idea. And yet, it kind of works: a comic opera about a couple celebrating their “conscious uncoupling”, made explicitly for television. The brainchild of Lyndon Terracini, artistic director of Opera Australia, this bold experiment draws together a fabulous collection of talent including Elena Kats-Chernin as composer, Joanna Murray-Smith for the book, and producer Andrea Denholm (It’s a Date, SeaChange) to deliver something completely out of the box, a kind of Mozart-meets-Noel Coward with a distinctly Australian, 21st century bent. The plot is certainly deliciously Byzantine. Jed and Iris – after decades of marriage – decide, in a loving way, to call it quits. So they throw a huge party at their country estate to celebrate their divorce. Of course, most of the guests have complicated secrets: one is in love with the soon-to-be ex-husband; one has professional designs on the host; one is up to her neck in debt to gangsters. And Iris’ not-at-all-secret new boyfriend has also been invited. Murray-Smith returns to some of her favourite themes – mature relationships, class structures in Australia – but gives it all a dizzy twist. There’s much partner swapping, scandal, champagne-swilling. And, of course, singing. The cast includes some obvious choices: Marina Prior as Iris, Lisa McCune as her sister, Louise, Hugh Sheridan as the struggling artist. But there are also some delightful surprises, including Kate Miller-Heidke as Iris’ PA, really showing her chops as a classically trained soprano. (Bob Franklin also pops up as one of the gangsters, but – for better or worse – doesn’t break into song.) Kats-Chernin’s score is terrific and if sometimes some of the performers don’t quite hit their marks many passages are sublime (Prior and Miller-Heidke’s duet in the first episode is glorious). And it pays to listen closely to the lyrics. There are some cracking lines. The result is quirky, experimental, ebullient and, on the whole, a resounding success. Exactly what our ABC should be doing.

SHAYNNA’S WORLD OF DESIGN New series ★★★½ Monday, December 7, 8.30pm, Lifestyle Home

Although her near-ubiquitous presence on the small screen sort of makes you want to not like Shaynna Blaze, she’s hard to resist. Despite that ubiquity – and her line of business – there’s something resolutely natural and down to earth about her, and those qualities are very much front and centre in this new two-part series. The shtick is that Blaze has been invited to design a signature line of interior lighting, requiring her to immediately jet off around the world for inspiration. Unsurprisingly she heads to Italy where design fairs, artisan workshops, architecture and residential interiors fire her imagination. All of this could have been pedestrian (or worse, unbearably pretentious) were it not for Blaze’s frankness and enthusiasm. She doesn’t love everything unreservedly. She’s pretty good at explaining why she loves something when she does. And part of the structure of this show is to scatter through plenty of take-home tips: simple ideas to encourage everyone to spruce up their own homes through acts of imagination as much as pictures in fancy magazines. By the end of this episode she’s come up with designs for her range, and they actually look rather nice. Next week – along with more travel, this time to New York – comes the rather trickier business of getting them made.

TBL: FAMILIES Season final ★★★½ Tuesday, December 8, 7.30pm, Ten

This hasn’t been the best-ever season of Biggest Loser but of all the reality show finales, TBL has to be the most satisfying. (Yes, even more so than seeing Sam or Sam find true love.) The ordeal the contestants have been through and the truly astonishing changes wrought to their bodies and, hopefully, their psyches, inevitably has me reaching for the tissues. Whatever happens to them when the cameras stop rolling at this moment in time they have never been fitter, healthier or happier, and that truly is something to celebrate. Also, The Commando will probably cry a little bit, which is always worth seeing.

SUPERGIRL New series ★★★½ Sunday, December 6, 8.30pm, Fox8

Delightful reimagining of the lesser Super-being that sits neatly alongside The Flash and its more serious cousin, Arrow. Melissa Benoist is terrific as Kara Danvers/Kara Zor-El/Supergirl and plenty of classic DC tropes are ticked or tweaked (wait till you meet Jimmy Olsen!). This is also an energetic tale of a young woman coming in to her powers – and relishing the journey – in a narrative dominated by strong women including Calista Flockhart as media magnate Cat Grant, and Laura Benanti as both Kara’s mother, and her super-evil aunt, Astra.

SCREAM QUEENS Series final ★★★½ Wednesday, December 9, 8.30pm, Eleven

It’s been a fantastic year for surprising television and this silly show from Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk has to be high on the list. Bringing together all the pair’s favourite themes – horror, high school, outsiders, and fantastically lame gags (and talented actors) it’s been a delirious romp. And even though we think we know who the Red Devil is – well, we’ve thought that before, haven’t we? And been proved wrong. So tonight’s special double-ep finale still has plenty of surprises up its sleeve. Or hidden inside its cape. Or behind its mask.

THE SLEEPING BEAUTY ★★★½ Sunday, December 6, 7.30pm, Foxtel Arts

To be honest, I don’t know enough about ballet to say definitively whether this is great or not, but it looked rather beautiful to me. The first full-length feature work by the Australian Ballet’s artistic director David McAllister, it completely honours the romance of the story and its fairytale origins (and Tchaikovsky’s glorious score) in both its style and its opulent production values. No edgy modern revisionist work here. This is pure fantasy, and bound to please ballet lovers of all ages.

REVENGE PORN ★★★ Monday, December 7, 8.30pm, ABC2

There’s some really interesting information in this British documentary – and it raises a number of thought-provoking questions – but, as with so many contemporary documentaries, presenter Anna Richardson spends far too much time talking about herself and not quite enough pursuing her topic. Indeed, the central event in this program is Richardson uploading nude photos of herself to a revenge porn site, just to see what happens. What happens? Well, people post nasty things about her. Quelle surprise.

GETTING ON Series return ★★★ Tuesday, December 8, 7.30pm, Showcase

It doesn’t quite have the magic of the British original but this US remake of Jo Brand’s mordant masterpiece is still quality viewing. It certainly has the same bone-dry irreverence (and the same ruthless pillorying of budget healthcare). It also has a wonderful cast, including Alex Borstein as Dawn (the character played by Brand); Laurie Metcalf as the incompetent director of medicine; and the wonderful Niecy Nash – currently also in Scream Queens – as one of the few half-competent nurses on the ward.

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