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Design: Tina Tiller/Tara Ward
Design: Tina Tiller/Tara Ward

Pop CultureMay 7, 2024

A ‘blistering’ ‘tour de force’: Australia loves After the Party too

Design: Tina Tiller/Tara Ward
Design: Tina Tiller/Tara Ward

International audiences are starting to discover what New Zealand already knew about After the Party.

When After the Party aired in New Zealand last year, the response was fast and furious. In his preview for Rec Room, Duncan Greive said it was a “gritty, wrenching and highly confronting” series. By the end of the season, we called it “the best TV drama we’ve ever made”. Everyone seemed to be watching it at the same time, a rare feat in a world of non-stop streaming, with audiences gripped by the devastating fallout that takes place after Wellington teacher Penny (an incredible Robyn Malcolm) accuses her husband Phil (Peter Mullan) of a sex crime.

Now the rest of the world is also discovering how good After the Party is. Last month, Robyn Malcolm won a best actress award at the Séries Mania Film Festival in France, the first time a New Zealand television entry had been considered at the festival. Shortly afterwards, esteemed entertainment magazine Variety called Malcolm’s character Penny one of “TV’s most beloved anti-heroines”, comparing her to iconic characters like Kate Winslet’s Mare from Mare of Easttown and Frances McDormand’s Olive Kitteridge. 

Australia also fell for After the Party when it screened on ABC at the end of last month. Co-creators Malcolm and Dianne Taylor told The Spinoff they were unsure about how the show would be received, with executive producer Helen Bowden revealing that she’s often frustrated by the lack of interest in New Zealand movies, TV, books and art across the ditch. Having seen French audiences respond with such enthusiasm at Séries Mania, the trio hoped Australians would connect with the series too. 

Malcolm in a scene from After the Party (Photo: TVNZ)

And connect with it, they did. After the Party has garnered glowing praise in every Australian review, and Malcolm, Taylor and Bowden are astonished at the overwhelmingly positive response. “People are loving it,” Bowden says. “As a Kiwi living in Australia, and producing TV here for 30 years, getting such a passionate response to my first New Zealand show is an absolute thrill. The numbers already tell us that it is going to be huge over here.”

The series has resonated with Australian audiences just as strongly as it did in New Zealand. “The thing that’s blown me away is how much people just want to talk about it,” Taylor says. “The week-by-week episode drop on TVNZ helped build the conversation here, while in Australia all the eps went up online at once, but it’s having the same effect; one reviewer called it a ‘water-cooler’ drama, which I love.”

Plus, “no accent jokes in sight!” Malcolm reckons. “We truly didn’t expect it.”

Peter Mullen and Malcolm in After the Party (Photo: TVNZ)

At a time when New Zealand stories on screen are under threat, here’s exactly what the Australians have been saying about After the Party. 

The Guardian (⭐⭐⭐⭐): ‘This great performance ranks among the best television portrayals in years, from anywhere in the world.’

After the Party was executed with a “white knuckle intensity” that swept viewers away, according to this rave review. “No one impresses more than Malcolm, who really gets under your skin and pinches you from the inside,” The Guardian’s Luke Buckmaster wrote. “The anguish she feels for being alone in her beliefs makes her increasingly desperate; watching Malcolm illustrate her reach and reach and reach is exhilaratingly painful.”

It ends with this absolute banger: “It’s no overstatement to say that this great performance ranks among the best television portrayals in years, from anywhere in the world.” 

Sydney Morning Herald (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐): ‘Malcolm is astonishing’

“There are no heroes in this complex tale, and each episode throws up more doubt and questions,” reviewer Kylie Northover wrote, noting how rare it is to see a “ballsy-middle aged woman” on our screen. “Malcolm is astonishing as a woman determined to seek justice, even as her behaviour affects her job and starts to alienate her closest friends and her own family. It’s disappointing that her portrayal of a complicated middle-aged woman often seen without make-up or styled hair, remains noteworthy; not since Kate Winslet in Mare of Easttown has someone in a TV series looked so … real.”

TV Tonight (⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2): ‘An uncomfortable but utterly compelling ride’

Malcolm’s “tour de force performance” is compared to Sarah Lancashire’s Catherine Cawood from Happy Valley in this TV Tonight review, while her co-star Peter Mullan also is recognised with fierce praise. “In Robyn Malcolm Penny is a firebrand central character who performs with searing conviction, superbly matched by Peter Mullan who goes toe-to-toe in riveting feuds. You could watch it for this alone and be satisfied,” they write.

Mediaweek (⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐): ‘One of the best dramas of the year’

Mediaweek’s review notes that Malcolm is no stranger to Australian screens, but that New Zealand dramas have always been “treated with contempt by Aussie programmers”. After the Party appears to have changed all that. “This is one of the best dramas of the year — 5 stars”.

Screenhub (⭐⭐⭐⭐): ‘Australian drama could learn a thing or two’

In a review that made everyone in Summer Bay sit up straight, Screenhub noted that New Zealand TV content has surpassed early “sub-par” expectations and is now outshining Australian efforts. “Smartly observed, sharply told, and with a brace of convincing performances, it’s a family drama wrapped around a mystery, telling a story that’s satisfying on both levels. Australian drama could learn a thing or two.”

After the Party streams on TVNZ+. It will screen on Channel 4 in the UK later this year.

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