Australia’s ABC offers a creative musical drama with In Our Blood, exploring the country’s response to the height of the AIDS crisis. The four-part series weaves 1980s hits with a camp aesthetic as it follows a young gay political operator who finds himself working in government as the crisis emerges.
Tim Draxl (The Newsreader, Into The Woods) plays David, a young political up-and-comer who moves from the gay suburbs of Sydney to Canberra to work for the new federal health minister Jeremy Wilding (Blithe Spirit’s Matt Day). As a queer man, David is the first among his colleagues to understand the urgency of the unfolding crisis. Back in Sydney, a group of community activists and friends, including a lesbian couple Deb and Mish (Jada Alberts and Anna McGahan), band together to form grassroots organizations.
Inevitably, there are some similarities with other US and UK set HIV/AIDS dramas; the creeping threat, government inaction, and a gay community initially divided between denial and fear. While the Australian response to AIDS was both faster and more compassionate than in those countries, the stories are just as devastating, as chronicled by the terrific documentary Rampant: How A City Stopped a Plague (also avaiolable to stream on Australia’s ABC).
What makes In Our Blood standout from works like Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, is the show’s storytelling choices and there’s less of a sense of rage here. A Greek chorus breaks the fourth wall, to drop in factual data or set the scene as the story unfolds. At key moments the chorus breaks out into 1980s pop hits that feel like music video montages.
At times, the glitz of the execution cuts against the seriousness of the material, with the emphasis on the striking visuals giving the piece a slightly artificial quality. The chorus is used too sparingly to really land, serving to pull us out of the story rather than bring us further in. There aren’t enough songs to class this as a musical, and too few to make them feel like an integral part of the show. In fact, they would have worked just as well on the soundtrack.
One of the most interesting threads in In Our Blood is how the dual battles to decriminalize gay sex and that to slow the spread of AIDS worked against each other, with potential volunteers reluctant to participate in AIDS treatment studies for fear of being arrested for having sex with men.
While the series is hit and miss, there are some brilliant moments and things definitely improve in the second half under director Nicholas Verso, who gets the balance between genuine human emotion and stylized visuals right. Juxtaposing the notorious 1987 “Grim Reaper” advertisement with tender scenes of caring for the sick, hits the right note. Draxl proves himself an engaging leading man, while actor and playwright Nicholas Brown (Sex/Magick) really grounds things as a gay doctor. One short scene where Mich (Anna McGahan), an activist and school teacher, risks her career to speak to a scared student really shines.
This may not be “the Australian It’s A Sin, but when In Our Blood works, it is great television, and by the final episode it really hits its stride.
By Chad Armstrong
In Our Blood is available to stream in Australia on ABC iview.