Life, death and the mess in between. This is a summation of "Still Breathing", M-Net’s compelling new drama.
In many ways, it reminded me a little of "A Million Little Things", where suicide becomes a sort of Pandora’s Box to exposing a scandal, which has a ripple effect on the lives of several close-knit friends.
That said, "Still Breathing" is unique with its storytelling. I cannot even begin to tell you how impressed I was by the first episode.
Sadly, this column had to be written before I could catch the second episode last night. So by the time, you read this, you will: a) know a little more b) be able to binge on two episodes if you missed it.
"Still Breathing" looks at how the death of one person can be a devastating blow to their loved ones and friends, who all grieve differently. More so, when it reveals an affair that marks an unforgivable act of betrayal among a close group of friends.
Trent (Brendan Pollecutt) is as suave as they come. Well-heeled, he is a charmer of note. Married to Abi (Kate Liquorish), the couple have been trying to conceive. Abi wants the perfect family. But every attempt to get pregnant has been unsuccessful.
Abi is consoled by her sister Jessica (Tiffany Barbuzano) and their close friend Candice (Shannon Esra), who works closely with Trent.
Then there is Danny (Brandon Auret), Jessica’s henpecked husband. Jessica, a former wild child, and Danny were high school sweethearts. They now have three kids and the spark seems to have gone from their marriage as they deal with dysfunctional family issues. With Helen (Abi and Jessica’s mother), played by Michèle Maxwell, suffering from dementia, the sisters are coping as best they can.
Then there is T-Boss, played by Siv Ngesi. A surgeon, he has two beautiful daughters and a wife. He also has two mothers: Innocent (Nandi Mvembe), his biological mother, who is a domestic worker for Mrs Jones (Dorothy Ann Gould), who adopted T-Boss as her son.
Growing up, he has had the best of both worlds, which has made it difficult for him to truly understand his roots.
Three minutes into episode one, I was taking my hat off to Barbuzano, who penned this ingenious series, too.
The opening scene was of a school play. Jessica rallied family and friends to come to watch their son perform.
When he suffers a bout of stage fright, Danny gets up and starts to sing to him. It seems to help ease his son’s anxiety, more so when the entire group joins in.
Witnessing that bond and love was such an incredible moment.
Viewers are taken on a roller-coaster of emotions. They will laugh, cry and be surprised.
Tiffany has woven such incredible arcs for each character. She explores their frustrations, joys, fears, vulnerability and hopes with remarkable perception.
And the drama has a proudly South African feel, especially in the scene where Abi alerts the neighbourhood security of a robbery in progress. The character is calm throughout, which is indicative of how most people respond to acts of crime.
Johnny Barbuzano, who is the executive producer and director, also deserves praise for his adroit direction. Each scene is perfectly framed. The narrative flows beautifully.
When handling a multi-star show, there is a risk of some characters getting shortchanged for screen time. That is not the case here. Every character gets their time to shine and, in so doing, gets the viewers invested in their respective and interwoven journeys.
"Still Breathing" is a first-rate show with flawed characters that engage your every emotion. Goes without saying, the casting is spot-on.
Tiffany and Johnny Barbuzano have raised the benchmark for homegrown dramas.
Be sure to tune in as emotions run high when an old lover returns, an estranged best friend arrives to lend support and a long-lost son rocks up, too. The drama will take your breath away, so keep those tissues close-by.
"Still Breathing" airs on M-Net (DStv channel 101) on Thursdays at 8pm.