New series ★★★★
Wednesday 5pm, ABC ME
Get your girls out! Wednesday, October 11 is International Day of the Girl, and ABC ME is celebrating with a whole heap of programming and live events, the centrepiece of which is this fabulous new comedy/drama. Cheeky, sassy and bubbling with energy it revolves around the struggles of a group of misfits to get an all-girls soccer team up and running (and – hopefully – winning).
That struggle to belong, and overcome adversity, is deeply familiar, of course: John Hughes built a career on it, and just about every piece of YA fiction has it at its heart. For good reason. It's pretty much the mission statement for teens and tweens everywhere. Who am I? Where do I belong? Who do I want to be? What's the best way to deal with injustice, indifference, ostracism? All those things are tackled in Mustangs, but with the lightest of touches.
Having a group of misfits also provides the structural advantage of allowing the diverse casting that ABC Me has made its trademark feel perfect natural. Our delightful lead, Marnie (Emmanuelle Mattana) is, broadly speaking, of European extraction (her mum is played, brilliantly, by Pia Miranda) but the group who eventually form the nascent team include a believable mixed bag of all the girls who might find themselves sidelined on the gladiatorial arena that is a high school playground.
Also, sadly, completely believable is the moment that sparks the birth of the Mustangs: Marnie and her mates had been playing mixed soccer until they hit their 14th birthdays, at which point they're expelled. Because people with breasts can't play soccer. Or something. There's also a bit of mean girl stuff in there (totally believable), an actual boy next door, and some domestic drama that combine to create a satisfyingly rich milieu.
But what's most impressive – and is going to make this must-see viewing not just for its target audience but most other members of the household – is the humour, finesse and freshness with which all those familiar elements are manipulated. Mustangs manages to be simultaneously comfortable, surprising and thoroughly modern – but never, ever preachy.
The performances are uniformly strong. Miranda is great, as is Stephen Hall as her new love interest, Kev. Jacek Koman is superb as the grizzly former soccer champion who reluctantly agrees to coach. And then there are the kids: man oh man, have we got some cracking talent coming through. It's bright, it's breezy, it's genuinely funny and it manages to leave you with an exhilarating sense of these girls' unselfconscious courage.
But wait! There's more! Unsurprisingly, Marnie's heroes are The Matildas and for Melburnians, Mustangs FC has a live launch at Federation Square at 5pm Wednesday where both the cast and crew, and our champion national soccer team will be in attendance. And Sydneysiders won't miss out. The ABC's Ultimo studios will host their own girl power showcase from 10.30am, including the girls from Skit Box and a panel on making content by and for girls.
There's also plenty more to watch out for on the box, the highlight of which is Advice to My 12-Year-Old Self (throughout the day from 7.45am, then on iView), a series of two-minute vignettes in which powerful women – from Julie Bishop to Dami Im – do precisely that. It's funny, it's enlightening, and it's extraordinarily moving. All these elements combine to create a day of viewing that's certainly celebratory and inspiring, but more importantly full of the humour, intelligence and the grit that we'd love to see in all girls, everywhere.