‘The Heights’ Is The Aussie Soap Opera You Should Absolutely Be Watching

A fresh and different Aussie soap opera.

The Heights ABC

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Over the last few weeks, I’ve sat down on the couch not to watch Netflix, as I usually do, but to view an Australian TV show.

In it, there’s a pub where everyone congregates, a corner store where gossip is traded over the purchase of bread and milk, and a community of neighbours who know the ins and outs of each other’s personal lives.

No, I’m not talking about Neighbours.

Something which is obvious if I continue the description: the community in question are all working class Australians from different cultural backgrounds, living in a block of social housing flats. The building, like the show, is called The Heights.

The Heights is ABC’s take on the beloved (and often derided) genre of Aussie soap opera.

The comparisons with Neighbours (and, to a lesser extent, Home and Away) are obvious and easy, but only at first glance. Absolutely no disrespect to those stalwarts of Australian TV, but it’s important to note that The Heights offers something fresh and different.

Even if you’re turned off by the words “soap opera” or even “Australian drama”, I’d urge you to a) let go of that elitism/cultural cringe and b) give it a go.

Let me tell you why: 

Hello, Diversity!

It’s not overstating the matter to say The Heights is the most diverse Australian TV show I’ve ever seen… apart from maybe Lift-Off back in the ‘90s.

There are characters who are Asian, Arab, Indigenous, disabled, gay, and even a token straight white person or two. Kidding! Well, not about there being straight white people, but about the tokenism.

Because the world of The Heights doesn’t feel remotely tokenistic: this isn’t a case of shoving “diverse” characters in for social justice brownie points. Rather, it feels like, maybe for the first time ever, what’s on screen genuinely reflects the real world that many Australians live in.

As someone from an extremely working class suburb, watching The Heights felt like a tiny revelation. I got that surge in my chest, that little flutter of recognition you feel when you’re represented on screen.

Arcadia Heights is peopled with the kind of Australians I grew up with – and not in a stereotyped, flannel-wearing, beer-drinking “fair dinkum howyargarn alright cobber” kind of way.

Soap operas are known for being glossy and over-the-top, but The Heights feels well and truly grounded in the real world, and it’s all the better for it.

We’re All In This Together

One of the things that struck me most while watching the first few episodes of The Heights is the sense of community at play.

Rather than the requisite back-stabbing and plotting, the characters routinely go out of their way to support each other and show up for one another. Take Iris, for example, a no-nonsense woman who develops a surprising and touching relationship with teen hustler Kam after she helps him find the time and space he doesn’t get at home to study.

Then there’s Uncle Max, who helps his elderly neighbour who can’t doesn’t speak English get the treatment she needs for her arthritis — thanks to the newly arrived Claudia, a doctor who doesn’t mind stepping out of bounds a little if it means easing her patient’s pain.

And, of course, there’s the way the community rallies around a baby found dumped in the veggie patch at the Heights in the very first episode.

The overall sense you get from watching The Heights is one of warmness and positivity. It’s strangely wholesome, which is refreshing and ideal for a little bit of escapism.

It’s Totally Bingeable

Don’t get me wrong on the whole niceness front — The Heights is still full of drama.

It is a soap opera, after all. There’s plotlines around drugs, sex, gambling, racism, classism, mental health, coming out, falling in love, finding yourself…there’s a lot going on, and for the most part it’s very compelling.

The episodes are short — all under half an hour — and frequently end with a solid hook to make you want to watch more.

Which is why it’s excellent that, while the ABC is currently airing two episodes of The Heights every Friday night, you can also watch the first 16 episodes of the season on iview at any time.

 However, A Bit Of A Bumpy Ride

With a large cast and a lot of plotlines, it inevitably means not every performance or story is as strong as some of the others.

There are a lot of new faces in The Heights — which is a great thing — but in some cases it shows. It takes a couple of episodes before things feel like they’re totally clicking, but once they do, the chemistry between the actors begins to shine.

Of course, there are naturally characters and plots you might find less interesting, but that’s the case with any show — especially one of this format — and if you’re anything like me, you’ll quickly have your faves that more than make up for that (I personally would die for Sabine and Iris, thank you very much).

So, should you bother watching The Heights?

Um, yes! Honestly I’m as obsessed with huge international shows as much as the next person (er, actually probably MORE – I watch a lot of TV), but there’s a lot to be said for seeing your own world and culture represented on screen.

The Heights is real, warm and engaging, with authentic characters you’ll come to care for and even a ship or two you can get on board, if that’s your thing (because it’s totally mine). It’s worth an hour or two of your time to check it out.

If you’re not hooked by then, I’m sorry. But I think you probably will be.

The Heights season 1 is currently on ABC iView, season 2 starts July 12.

Jenna Guillaume is a Sydney-based writer who loves all things TV and pop culture. She tweets @JennaGuillaume, and her new book, ‘What I Like About Me’ is available now.