Last night, I ticked something off my bucket list I didn’t even know was there; hitting a red carpet for the world premiere of a new TV show. The show in question? Binge’s latest comedy Strife, brought to our screens by the women with the Midas touch behind Made Up Stories (the producers behind Big Little Lies, Nine Perfect Strangers and The Dry). Seriously, Bruna Papandrea and Jodi Matterson were just recognised by Marie Claire Australia as Creatives of The Year for 2023.
With a little more levity than the company’s usual fare, Strife also occupies a fairly unique space in the television landscape as it’s heavily inspired by, but not directly based on Work Strife Balance, a book by Mamamia Co-Founder and Creative Director Mia Freedman. Freedman has a long-standing friendship with Papandrea, and says she initially thought Bruna was “just being polite” when she mentioned adapting the book for screen a few years ago.
Well, she wasn’t, and what followed was Strife, a series anchored in 2012 when the internet was on the cusp of both a great many wonderful and terrible things. It explores the fictionalised chaos of the recently separated sleep-deprived Evelyn Jones (played by the masterful Asher Keddie) and her women’s website ‘Eve Life’ as she and her trusty team of burnt-out yet hilarious and eclectic crew of writers and journalists attempt to convince the world that women’s stories, in the digital age are worth telling. Hmm. Sounding familiar?
In terms of the actual event, it was glitzy, glamorous, and roasting hot. The mood was celebratory - this project has been a long time coming, particularly when you’re not used to the gap between ideation and delivery being a handful of years because you’ve usually got a deadline of 3pm.
For me, as someone who got her start at Mamamia at the tender age of fifteen, it was a nice full circle moment to ask the first person who ever took a chance on me professionally questions around how she was feeling about this deeply personal yet fictionalised project being out in the world. “Extremely nervous” was Freedman's answer.
She found it “strange but we worked hard to make them different” on the topic of what it was like to watch onscreen versions of her real-life children, and considered the overall adaptation and production process “a wide-eyed masterclass from the best in the business” and slightly surreal.
It was also surreal for me to chat to Clare and Jessie Stephens, who started as interns around the same time that I did, and have gone on to play a critical role in Mamamia's success. Outside Mamamia HQ, they were in the writer’s room on this project, helping to translate the chaotic, creative jumble of writer office life into a stretched and dramatised onscreen version that remains gritty and human. There are already plans and scripts for Season 2.
The love the cast, crew and executive team had for this show and each other was palpable, summed up best when the ever-charming Lincoln Younes (who plays a flashy morning TV host on the show, hilariously ignorant to and confused by the idea of women needing their own spaces online) interrupted an interview with his co-star Bebe Bettencourt (who plays a laugh out loud office quirk, desperately fighting off a yeast infection) to exuberantly say hello, share a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. The other standout moment; in a panel held after the screening, actress Asher Keddie said this was the first project she felt comfortable enough stepping up into an executive producer role beyond her well-established acting chops.
Keddie, who plays a fictionalised version of Mia Freedman in the show, was quick to note the similarities but also stark differences between Evelyn as a pioneer of digital media, and the might of Ita Butrose who Keddie has also portrayed in Paper Giants back in 2011 about print media epic Cleo magazine.
Keddie says “while this isn’t a biopic, playing two women driven in these media spaces has required a similar amount of passion and gusto.” Evelyn is a different character than her usual roles, perhaps a little sharper and more assertive than the loveable Nina Proudman of Offspring. One memorable moment involves Evelyn going toe to toe with her husband Jon (Matt Day) arguing her case for continuing to write publicly about her family and marriage in the name of connecting with readers, as does an argument between Evelyn and her best friend Lucy (Emma Lung). And yet, there’s still that neurotic wobble to Evelyn, the throughline of all Keddie characters.
I’ve only seen the first two episodes so far, but I can say with confidence that Strife is going to hit a nerve. Struggling to keep all the balls in the air is something that I – and many other women – know a thing or two about. Strife captures the highs and lows of that effort wonderfully.
Hannah Diviney received a complimentary ticket to attend the Strife premiere in her capacity as editor-in-chief of Missing Perspectives. All episodes of Strife are available to stream on Binge now.