I’m sorry. Why is this show not getting more exposure? The Unusual Suspects—an Australian caper-heist-dramedy about women—stayed on my Hulu homepage juuuust long enough for me to binge all four episodes, and then—POOF—it disappeared into the crowded back alleys of streaming content. Even reviews of the series are few and far between. But that’s why I’m here, friends, to do my small part to help remedy that wrong. (She says as she wipes her sweaty brow and falls upon her sword, like any martyr worth her salt.)
The series explores the intertwined lives of women from various socio-economic and ethnic backgrounds living and working in Sydney. Though at first isolated by social class and prejudices, soon enough they are united by that all too common experience: getting screwed over in some form or another by the patriarchy. The series cuts back and forth between police interviews and other events that take place after the heist and the planning period leading up to the crime. And it is just a heck of a lot of fun to watch the story of women using their skills and wits to take revenge by becoming one-time only jewel thieves.
Sara Beasley (Miranda Otto) is an ultra-competitive Sydney business woman with a wellness website, a lot of all-white outfits (which give me heart palpitations about stains and leaking menstrual fluids), a kind husband, and three kids—whom she refers to as #MyLittleBeastlies or #BeautfiulBeastlies on her very popular instagram page. At home, she’s fairly hands off with the children, choosing air kisses when she realizes her youngest daughter is sticky, and hiding in the closet when the nanny is a few minutes late. You know, there’s really no point in dancing around it, Sara is a straight-up asshole in the beginning, though it’s not without good cause. She’s all bluff and bravado and bullshit.
She’s constantly shooting down her fairly easygoing and pleasantly schlubby husband Garth’s (Matt Day) ideas for his new app. She angles for as many free treatments as possible at Roxanne Waters’s (Michelle Vergara Moore) fancy salon, citing her position as an influencer or some such thing. And, although she tags her photos #LoveYourNanny, she routinely exploits Evie (Aina Dumlao), her incredibly capable, caring, and competent nanny, for her own personal and professional gain.
She says things to her assistant like, “I can’t do your emotional labor for you,” when she doesn’t recognize the origin of a quote. Sara is also desperately trying to sell her website for a very large chunk of change to some American investors, and she seems pretty damn close to landing the deal, which will mean financial security and possibly less grinding. Then, while her husband is ostensibly away in Melbourne, Sara reconnects with Nick (Peter O’Brien), an astoundingly atrocious artist and an absolute sleaze ball of an ex-boyfriend who has returned from the States. For some reason (most likely low self-esteem mixed with copious amounts of alcohol and nostalgia), she makes the horrendous decision to sleep with him, which she immediately regrets. No judgement on that, Sara—the look on your face afterwards was enough to break my heart a thousand times. Shame shags aside, Sara is constantly making rash decisions without thinking about their consequences or how they might impact other people. She sweeps through life, completely unaware that she’s leaving chaos and confusion in her wake.
Side note: Miranda Otto and Peter O’Brien are married in real life, and they seemed to be having an absolute blast in later scenes when their characters are utterly disgusted with each other.
Evie—in addition to running Sara’s household and showering her children with unconditional love—has a young daughter (Danielle David) and nasty husband (Miguel Castro) back in the Philippines to whom she sends much of her paycheck every month. (Sara and Garth, of course, have no idea they even exist. At one point Garth tells Evie that she’ll make a wonderful mother some day, and the look on Evie’s face is perfectly squished into an appropriate smile while trying to hide her absolute horror.) In fact, Evie’s husband refuses to let her speak to her daughter until her paycheck has been transferred to his account. Not only that, but he also monitors Sara’s social media accounts, and when a picture where Sara insisted that Evie pose at the table with the family shows up, he assumes she’s actually living like the one percent. He accuses her of abandoning her child and stealing money from them. No amount of arguing will dissuade him. He’s just a real peach of a human being, and I wish him all the absolute worst.
And then shit really starts to go sideways. The money for Evie’s paycheck isn’t deposited into her account. She confronts Sara about it, who squirms under Evie’s deferential but steady gaze. Sara eventually manages to slither away with promises that it will all be fixed. Of course, it’s not. Then Evie shows up at Sara’s office where Sara tries to hide from her under a desk. Oh, I’m absolutely serious.
Evie is unimpressed, but also stoically calm. Finally, Evie corners Sara when she arrives home after her rueful raunchiness with Nick, and demands an explanation for why she hasn’t been paid. Sara admits that she’s flat broke, penniless, insolvent, cleaned out, strapped, and mortgaged to the hilt. She sunk every bit of money she had into the website, which she now needs to sell to regain solvency. She’s been lying to everyone, including Garth. I mean, yes, she still has a bajillion purses that she could sell, each one of which would probably pay at least a month of Evie’s salary, but in the rich person sense, she’s broke.
Meanwhile, just down the street, Roxanne Waters is dealing with her own problems. Roxanne built herself up from a young Filipina immigrant of modest means to become the owner of one of the most coveted spas in Sydney. She and her husband Jordan (Toby Leonard Moore) live with their twin boys in a luxurious house that’s taken care of by their long-time maid, and Roxanne’s close friend, Amy (Lena Cruz). Just before a night out, Jordan gives Roxanne a $16 million emerald necklace that he later says is an “insurance policy,” which is super duper romantic and not at all cagey. Why doesn’t he just explain the shit to her instead of trying to be all secretive and hint dropping? So much energy could have been saved. She doesn’t quite understand why, but assumes it’s because Jordan’s horribly racist mother is moving in with them for an unknown amount of time.
His mother does things like warn Jordan to hide the good silver and suggest Roxanne only wants him for his money. She’s vile. But really Jordan gives Roxanne the necklace (which wasn’t really his to give because it still belongs to his xenophobic mother) because he’s about to get caught for running some kind of Ponzi scheme. In your face Jeannie! Your son is a sleaze ball! (Sadly, that’s not really a win for anyone.) Roxanne is irate that Jordan has lied to her and undermined all her hard work. But she also realizes that her first instinct—to take their children and run—will only make things worse for her, so she stays and simmers in her own anger. Amy realizes that all the money Jordan had promised was safely stored for her in a Filipino retirement account is now just— BLAMMO—gone, and she has nothing to show for the DECADES she spent overstaying her visa while living and working far from her family. She. Is. Hella. Pissed. And with good reason. She’s actually broke. Not just rich person broke.
Add to this Gigi, a young privileged Filipina woman sent to Australia to work as a maid by her parents to teach her a lesson about responsibility. She has the work ethic and fashion sense of a unicorn pool floaty. So it’s no surprise when she gets fired on her first day working at Roxanne’s and then again on her do-over second day. Though not before she manages to meet and flirt with the guy installing the safe for the necklace. Trust me, it will matter later. Gigi then wanders off to find her fortune, spouting stuff about attracting good things and manifesting what she wants. And I’ll be damned if she doesn’t manage to affirm herself right into a free room down the street from Roxanne and Sara with a retired lawyer named Birdie (Heather Mitchell) who is taken with all of Gigi’s babble about “manifesting [her] highest destiny through pure will and the power of intention” bullshit. Despite my best efforts to roll my eyes and scoff, I ended up liking Gigi a lot. I know, I know. I can’t stand any of that horse shit she’s saying, but she’s just pretty irresistible. Would I join her cult? Absolutely not. But she’s fun to watch, as is the whole vibe that she and straight-forward Birdie—who is concerned about the invisibility that comes with aging— have together.
So, someone tries to blackmail $50,000 out of Sara for photos of her crushing canoodling with Nick, which is, obviously, money she doesn’t have. To get out of that pickle, she throws a party to show his horrendous sculptures where everything goes absolutely tits up. But it does have the advantage of putting Sara, Evie, Roxanne, Amy, and Birdie on more equal footing and bonding them in their quest to stick it to the man and steal the $16 million necklace. The plan is Boho Bonkers and seems doomed to fail, not least of all because Sara is impulsive and has a propensity to drink far too much, far too often. It doesn’t matter, though; I was rooting for these women from the very start to steal every last little bit of dust out from under venomous Jeannie and the men who underestimated them along the way.
All of these women are fantastic in their own way. Watching Sara overstep boundaries and get rip snorting drunk is hilarious—as is watching her emerge from her cocoon of assholery to become a real whole person. Watching Roxanne tear her husband to shreds with angry words is gratifying. As is watching her cut loose with Amy. Watching Amy slowly unravel, only to pull herself back together again is fascinating. Watching and feeling the sense of community and release as Amy and Evie interact away from work—when they slip into Filipino and shed their work personas. Watching the times when they become the seasoned advisors to less experienced nannies and housekeepers. And, as I’ve said before, watching Birdie and Gigi as a duo is entirely charming. But it is Evie with her controlled calm, dogged persistence, searing honesty, epic eye rolls, cutting asides, and extreme intelligence who really stole my heart. She is for sure the absolute highlight and the soul of the show, but you’ll have to watch to the very end to really understand what I mean.
While, yes, a lot of the show is about the escapades involved in maybe pulling off a robbery in broad daylight, the series also addresses race, class, and immigration, specifically the migration of women from overseas to work in domestic positions while sending money home to support their families. Situations like Evie’s or Amy’s, where they are alone in one country while their children grow up in another are common, though we rarely see them depicted in shows as part of everyday life. And even less so in shows where they are the dramedic heroines of the show! This show treats them with respect, and doesn’t exotify their stories or narrowly focus on their struggles. Director Melvin J. Montalban and writer Vonne Patiag both said they wanted the show to feel like it reflected their experiences of growing up as children of Filipino migrants in Australia. Characters have conversations that flow between Filipino and English, they eat Filipino foods, and they pack up balikbayan boxes to send home. Roxanne’s children chafe when she speaks anything other than English, while Sara’s children understand Evie when she speaks to them in Filipino. The series isn’t really trying to teach an overarching lesson about all immigrants, but by telling this small story about these women who move between the world of the white upper class and Filipino working class, they ultimately are telling a very universal story. At one point Evie tells Sara, “it’s okay. We both abandoned our children.” And the crushing weight of the universal guilt and what society expects of women—and what it takes away from them—was captured in those few words.
This series also demonstrates what happens when barriers of class and race begin to crumble and when women start to interact instead based on their skills and personalities. It’s beautiful, fun, and hilarious to watch. Maybe we all don’t need to choose a life of crime to make that happen, but if that’s what it takes…
Oh, and the very end! The unexpected twisty turn that left me with the biggest grin!!