Only a few television series can successfully touch on a vast array of themes. Some themes are immensely dimensional and complicated, and may require more context than others to communicate to the audience.
Many well-known stories found in classic novels, poems, and films are memorable because they carry one or two core themes throughout the entirety of the plot. For example, in Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet, the theme of “love” never tapers once from the story. Or how J.R.R. Tolkien could dichotomize every character, event, and line of dialogue into the categories of good and evil in The Lord of the Rings. Part of the reason these stories are classics is because they contain prime examples of well-conveyed themes, even if there are a lot of different plot points.
Themes are integral to any real story, no matter the length. I believe the ones that involve more diversified tones, notes, flavors, and themes are the most indelible and tend to leave a better-lasting emotional and introspective effect.
While I still have a lot to learn about the science behind the design of fictional stories and characters, some common narrative structures are found across hundreds of stories, making them seem more predictable to the audience. As our collection of documented stories grows, between written novels, on-screen portrayals, and other mediums, fictional and non-fictional narratives are becoming more grey.
With each new story I read, I resonate more with ones containing a grey-area plot, filled with chaos, unpredictability, and realism, than with those that perfectly mirror a traditional narrative structure.
I often encounter a story I haven’t consumed yet, a shared experience most people are familiar with. Since many movies, TV shows, and books contain predictable and conventional storylines, I try to vet them as much as possible before deciding whether to invest my time in watching or reading. Unless I've heard otherwise, if a candidate for consumption seems too easy to foretell, I probably won’t be intrigued enough to engage with it. At this point, what excites me about new non-fiction and fiction stories depicted in films/TV or books are the aspects of ambiguity, obscurity, and eccentricity.
The pairing of plot individuality and well-communicated themes make for my absolute favorite types of stories. I recently stumbled upon a television series that perfectly exemplifies this type of story and want to tell you all about it.
"If life gives you lemons, you can make lemonade, or you can squirt it in someone's eye and see if it makes them laugh." - Lucky Flynn
The Show Is Called Upright
Upright is an Australian TV series that follows the journey of two mismatched travelers, Lucky Flynn and Meg Adams. Through a mix of comedy and drama, the show explores their struggles and the unlikely bond that forms between them as they confront their past and navigate the challenges of the open road. From stolen cars to broken arms, bar fights, and being stranded in the desert, both seasons 1 and 2 of Upright follow Lucky and Meg as they lean on each other for guidance in their personal lives and all-out survival while trekking across Australia.
Categorized as a “comedy-drama” series, it entertains and engages viewers by providing a balanced mix of comedy and drama, often exploring complex themes and character development while still incorporating humor.
Overall, the friendship between Lucky and Meg is the central and most heartwarming aspect of Upright. It highlights the idea that sometimes, the most meaningful connections can be formed between people who, on the surface, appear to have little in common or who are in totally different positions in life. Their unique friendship is a testament to the power of human connection and the potential for personal growth through shared experiences.
Lucky (portrayed by the beloved Australian artist Tim Minchin) is a talented but troubled musician who has been anxious to visit his family on the other side of the country due to deeply buried trauma from his past. Shortly after hitting the road, he crashes his car into Meg’s ute, leaving him in desperate need of her help, both logistically and emotionally. In the beginning, the audience isn't quite aware of why, but he insists that transporting his vintage upright piano is a vital reason for his journey to reunite with his family after eight long years.
"It's the middle of the desert, not a pharmacy." - Lucky Flynn
Meg (portrayed by Milly Alcock) is a fiercely independent and resourceful teenager in Upright. She is initially an unwilling companion to Lucky on their outback adventure, but her tough exterior conceals a troubled past and a longing for connection. As the journey unfolds, Meg's character evolves, revealing her vulnerabilities and the profound impact Lucky's presence has on her life. Even though every other word that comes out of her mouth is an expletive, her complete lack of filter and disregard for others’ opinions or judgments make her one of the most forthright and fearless female characters I have ever seen represented on screen.
"You know what, I'm in the middle of something. It's called my life." - Meg Adams
To me, the fictional story depicted in Upright stands out for many reasons. For one, the performances of Tim Minchin and Milly Alcock were astounding… truly perfect casting. Both characters find themselves in positions that push their emotions to the limit, requiring them to be quick-witted, resilient, and relentless in most moments.
What I admire about Lucky and Meg is their shameless ability to visibly showcase their emotions at all times; they never hide it. Clearly, they both are so burnt out by the chaos in their lives that they don’t have spare energy available to give two f***s. In an era of curated personalities and suppression of emotion, perhaps innate expressiveness is the real cure for ingenuity.
Between the varying wildlife, weather, and local jackaroos, we can all agree the Australian jungle isn’t the most forgiving. In fact, the setting of the show, mainly the Australian wilderness, was one of my favorite parts. I learned so much more about the geography of Australia, how culture differs from the west side of the country to the east, and some common customs that I didn’t know prior.
Much of the first season was filmed in Western Australia, particularly in remote and picturesque locations in the outback. Without giving away too many spoilers, Season 2 includes a significant storyline set in Tasmania, and the filming locations on the island capture its unique beauty. These filming locations were carefully chosen to reflect the diverse Australian landscapes, adding authenticity to the road trip aspect of the story.
"Lucky, don't get distracted. We're on a journey." - Meg Adams
Friendships Formed Around Grit >
The friendship between Lucky and Meg in Upright can be described as both obscure and unique due to the stark differences in their personalities, backgrounds, and life circumstances. Meg, an alleged 16-year-old, seems to have no problem throwing slurs at a full-grown strange man in order to advance her wishes to achieve her immediate goals and desires of reaching “her Mom’s house” in Kalgoorlie. While Lucky, many years older but not much wiser, can hold his tongue better than Meg but lets his emotions and anxieties get the best of him.
Both characters have a plethora of stand-out one-liners throughout the series. Generally, several one-liners capture the humor and wit woven throughout the series and contribute to its charm.
Some of my favorites are:
- Lucky (to Meg): "Life is like a piano. White keys are happy moments, black keys are sad moments, but remember, both play a sweet melody."
- Meg (to Lucky): "You're like a walking human embarrassment."
- Lucky: "You know what's more boring than silence? Self-pity."
- Meg: "You wanna talk about pain? I fell asleep during my wedding."
These quotes capture the blend of humor and heartfelt moments that Upright is known for, but the show is full of many more witty and touching exchanges. I think it’s beautiful how one can almost envisage the entire dynamic of a relationship by reading just a few lines of dialogue.
One of the main traits I observed in both Lucky and Meg is their gritty demeanor. They both exhibit the ability to respond to traumatic events with unwavering determination, showcasing their shared trait of grit in the face of obstacles presented to them on the road and in life. The show does a phenomenal job of visually depicting the physical “barriers” they encounter throughout the story while never failing to acknowledge the more nuanced, intangible, and emotional hurdles that both characters endure on the journey.
"I'm not trying to be funny. I'm trying to be not sad." - Lucky Flynn
Lucky & Meg’s Complimentary Qualities
Their friendship in Upright works because they fulfill each other's emotional and practical needs, share a genuine connection based on mutual trust, and learn and grow together through shared experiences. While significant, the age gap becomes less relevant as their friendship deepens and they recognize the value they bring to each other's lives.
Meg's youthful optimism and curiosity balance Lucky's world-weary and cynical demeanor. Meg's intelligence and resourcefulness often help them out of tricky situations, while Lucky's street-smart skills provide a counterbalance.
Their friendship plays a pivotal role in their personal growth and transformation. They inspire one another to face their demons and make amends for their mistakes. The best friendships are where both parties can hold the other accountable for attaining higher standards of actions, behaviors, morals, and expectations. Through this, a deeper connection and trust can develop, regardless of the relationship circumstance.
The last example of a complimentary quality that became a recurring theme throughout seasons 1 and 2 of Upright is emotional support. While completely different, both Lucky and Meg have their own emotional baggage and personal issues to contend with. Throughout the series, they provide emotional support and guidance, helping each other to confront and heal from their past traumas.
I spent some time thinking about other famous duos that remind me of Lucky and Meg from other films and shows, and a couple of prominent examples came to mind. -
- Thelma and Louise (Thelma & Louise): Thelma and Louise are two women with different backgrounds who embark on a road trip that becomes a journey of self-discovery. Their friendship deepens as they face various challenges and form a bond that defies societal norms.
- Elliot and E.T. (E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial): In this classic film, a young boy named Elliot befriends an alien named E.T. Their friendship transcends language and species, and they help each other navigate the complexities of the human and extraterrestrial worlds.
These two platonic and epic friendships that developed over gritty, physical journeys that take place in the real world are prime examples of relationships that mirror Lucky and Meg’s in Upright. I think a part of me somewhat yearns for a relationship of this sort, which could be why it stood out to me so much.
"You know, people have been traveling across this country for millions of years without GPS." - Lucky Flynn
Part of the reason we have our five senses (sight, touch, sound, taste, and smell) is to remember key moments and details present to us throughout our lives. From what I’ve experienced thus far, the moments that engage more of my senses tend to live in my vivid memory much longer than other lesser dimensional and sensory-activating ones.
As we increase our knowledge in the realms of film-making, videography, and writing to engage the audience’s senses, technology can unlock new capabilities, giving us more visceral experiences with new stories.
Upright also really impressed me with its ability to activate the audience’s senses. For instance, Tim Minchin, known for his talents as a comedian, musician, and actor, not only stars in the series but also plays a significant role in its creation. He wrote the script, composed the music for the show, and was deeply involved in its production. Much of the show's soundtrack consisted of original tracks written and performed by Tim’s character, scattered among the episodes and even on the infamous upright piano that was virtually its own standalone character throughout the first season.
The upright piano in the Australian comedy-drama series Upright is the story's most central and symbolic element, carrying several layers of significance. Aside from being the perfect vintage instrument to write into the story, it’s the only instrument with enough size and weight to justify the reasoning for lugging it via trailer instead of checking it on a plane.
I’ve never owned an upright piano myself, but I’ve played a couple at friends’ houses and galleries. Upright pianos are special for their combination of affordability, space-saving design, and typically raw-sounding clavier capabilities. I appreciate them.
The series gets its name from the upright piano that the main characters, Lucky and Meg, transport across the country. This piano is not only a central plot device but also a symbol of their journey and the emotional baggage they carry with them. When I tell you, this piano is thrown through the wringer…
“I'm a musician. I don't have a girlfriend; I have loads of fans." - Lucky Flynn
Upright is an “everything” show. With the amount of relevant modern themes, genres, lessons, and emotions it intertwines, there isn’t a single viewer who can’t find at least some element of the story to relate to.
The characters of Lucky and Meg taught me heaps about reconciliation, forgiveness, being forthright and unafraid to be authentic, and the ability to regain one’s zest for life.
All hinged on underlying family issues, the story's plot resonated tremendously with me. Friendships formed in lew of family feuds can approximate a new “family” of sorts. Lucky and Meg are deprived of family support for different reasons and can fill the void for one another. I respect shows and stories that celebrate “imperfections” in characters’ personalities and pasts. There isn’t a single person alive today who’s perfect in both. There’s just naurrr way.
“If I was dying, I'd want to be dying with somebody I like." - Meg Adams
- Minchin, Tim, et al. Upright, Season 1 & 2, episodes 1–16, Sky Comedy, Fox Showcase, Sky Atlantic, 2019.