In a world full of sometimes beige Australian TV shows, Homecoming Queens is a brilliant flash of colour.
The new SBS series sprang from the real-life experiences of writers and friends Michelle Law and Chloë Reeson, two people who bonded over their shared experiences of navigating the ins and outs of adulthood while also both managing life-changing illnesses.
The two creatives, along with director and executive producer Corrie Chen, were able to see both the brutal darkness and the side-splitting humour that comes from managing long-term health conditions while also attempting to live their lives as average 20-somethings.
As the first ever commissioned SBS On Demand series, Homecoming Queens impressively packs a whole lot of storytelling into seven episodes.
In her first ever on-camera role, Australian writer Michelle Law plays a fictionalised version of herself called ‘Michelle Low’, a children’s television presenter who returns to her hometown of Brisbane after an Alopecia diagnosis shatters the facade of the perfect life she was living within the bright lights of Sydney’s media industry.
Michelle lands on the doorstep of her high school best friend Chloë Easton, played by actress Liv Hewson (best known for her roles in Santa Clarita Diet and Top of the Lake) who is recovering from breast cancer and is now determined to make up for lost time by crossing off items on her reverse bucket list.
Homecoming Queens is set in the suburbs of Brisbane and has the uncanny ability to effortlessly switch between TV show genres at a rapid fire rate.
One moment, you’ll find yourself laughing out loud at Chloe and Michelle’s antics, from the scene where they draw a face onto Michelle’s bald scalp to meet-cutes with pretty girls in lingerie stores and a funny little moment about vaginal discharge, each joke lands with a precision that lets you know you’re in the hands of gifted comedic storytellers.
Then, without a hint of warning, you're suddenly thrown back into the somber side of this story. From Chloe's painful coughing fits that remind you of the hell that her body has just been through to Michelle staring up from her bed in the darkness and whispering to Chloe, "I just want to be beautiful", the show also succeeds in driving home the harsh realities of living within a body that feels like it has turned against you.
It's a method of storytelling that never really allows you to settle into a comfortable viewing groove, but that's also part of what makes it such a unique Australian show to get lost in.
Homecoming Queens is a project that began as all good TV shows do, with a creative drive to tell diverse and compelling stories that viewers could really relate to and a comically over-sized vibrator.
"Chloe and I met about five years ago, it was after Chloe was diagnosed with breast cancer and we bonded over the fact that we both have chronic illnesses and we would go to parties and feel really disconnected from our peers," said Michelle, an award-winning writer working across film, TV, theatre and print who has Alopecia just like her Homecoming Queens alter-ego.
"We felt like we weren’t really old but we weren’t really young either. We would commiserate with each other after these parties and joke that there wasn’t anything out there that reflected our experiences. We thought that maybe we could do something like that one day. The rest is history.
"It was a bit tricky because the show was inspired by our lives and in this case fact is much stranger than fiction. So a lot of the characters and events in Homecoming Queens are inspired by real people and real life events but we really had to pick and choose which scenes would work best with the narrative.
"Often things that happen in real life don’t always make a great story on screen, but there was one joke that we kept in from the very beginning and that was the scene with Chloe's character and the vibrator.
"So that was inspired by Chloe's real life. She was in remission from breast cancer and trying to kick-start her sex drive and so she ordered a vibrator online and then it was not the right size. At the time we were very fearful that it would get stuck inside Chloe. So that really spawned a ridiculous joke where we asked each other ‘what if it did get stuck inside you, what would you do?’ That is one scene that remained very true in plot from an early draft."
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Aside from watching the story she had written unfold on screen, Michelle also got the opportunity to make another creative dream come true thanks to Homecoming Queens.
"The challenge for me personally, because I was acting as a version of myself and it was my first professional on-screen acting credit, was just the challenge of separating myself as the writer from the character in the story.
"When it got to those really personal moments, especially scenes like where Chloe and Michelle are having a fight on the beach, I had to really access difficult moments from when I was a teenager and even now being a bald woman. Certainly at school I was bullied but it's even about the strange looks you get on the street as an adult. I guess those memories were quite painful to revisit, but in a good way, because it really served the story.
"I always wanted to be an actor and a large part of why I became a writer was because I knew there wouldn’t be any roles for me as an Asian Australian women in Australia. So I really wanted to have the agency to create my own characters and to create my own work with characters that weren’t necessarily two dimensional or stereotypical.
"From the very get go we had some of the very best people in the industry helping us with the story and the development and we really wanted to tell this story in a way that was very palatable and accessible. We wanted to undercut the dark moments with some lightness without shying away from seriousness of it."
Every episode of Homecoming Queens is available to watch now on SBS On Demand.
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