My Life With the Laws

Three years ago, the SBS screened the first season of The Family Law, an adaptation of Benjamin Law’s collection of memoirs. In 2019, the third and final season will be screened, and I thought it would be appropriate to put in words my thoughts and feelings about the impact the how has had on my life.

The Land Before Laws

I moved to Australia with my family almost 16 years ago from Singapore, and the I honestly could count the number of people that looked Asian on Australian television on both my hands. I didn’t know how to articulate it back then, but I think I would’ve been a little disappointed that there weren’t more people that looked like me on screen. Fast-forward to 2016, the first season is released and I felt overjoyed. This was the first show to feature a main cast of all Asians on Australian television. To me, that was good enough. I didn’t expect it to be perfect from the second the premiere episode was broadcast. It was amazing; the dynamics of a large family, bilingual conversations, the emphasis on traditions, and the challenges of trying to live in both cultural worlds. Hearing accents I had never heard on Australian screens except on Border Patrol (BOY OH BOY) brought back all these memories of Singapore, talking to the aunties and uncles at the markets and hawker centres, shoving four or more languages into one sentence, and celebrating Hari Raya, Deepavali, and Lunar New Year alongside Christmas and Easter.

via Stranger Films

Meeting The Laws

The second season, which premiered around 18 months later, was also the first season I’d live-Tweeted alongside each episode’s broadcast. To engage with a lot of people who were laughing at Jenny’s inappropriate words of wisdom, getting thirsty over Shirtless Klaus (played by the very fit Takaya Honda), shipping Heidi and Andrew, living for demonic Medea, and tearing up over the emotional things, was another thing altogether. I’d also never expected to interact with the cast, and to do banter about stuff with them at the same time was incredible. Then it ended. We, the audience, didn’t know if we would be getting another season, and I was happy if it ended there. Towards the end of 2017, however, we got the news that there had been a third and final season commissioned, and I was ecstatic.

In the last 18 months, we’ve seen the international release of Kim’s Convenience (another show that I absolutely love to watch), and the premiere of Crazy Rich Asians, the premiere of Ronny Chieng: International Student, and many others that tell different stories of the Asian experience. And Season Three of The Family Law will bring about the finale that we all wanted — Ben’s journey to finding who he is. Why is this such an important thing to show? Because there aren’t enough queer stories and experiences in media at this moment, especially queer stories from the Asian perspective.

Four months ago, I had the fabulous opportunity to see the real-life Benjamin Law in person, who was presenting a talk on being out both personally and professionally. At the same time, I’d been planning on coming out to my own family and had already set out to do so. I’d let him in on my plan and he was so immensely supportive. A few days later, I went ahead with it and, well, I’m here to tell the tale. 2018 being the year of twenty-gayteen (as highlighted by the release of the brand new Queer Eye, the premiere of Love, Simon and Boy, Erased) was I think the best time to do it, and now with this season of The Family Law telling Ben’s story is just the icing on the cake.

(WARNING THIS SECTION HAS SPOILERS. KINDA. SO SCROLL DOWN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO SEE THEM)

What are my thoughts on the final season? For context, I’m writing this all down now after having spent the last 3 hours binging all of the episodes, so bear with me if this isn’t completely coherent. If you want my complete stream of consciousness, I’ve made an entire react thread here.

It’s so incredibly wonderful to see Ben finally be happy in his own skin, even through all the pains of puberty and high school. Whilst I may not have gone through exactly what happened on the show, I know how Ben felt being bullied by others. Throughout the course of this season, we finally get to see a lot of the other characters like the Kerrs and Ming-Zhu come into their own and become part of the bigger Law family, even if it means bringing more quirks. Melissa, who has been a part of the show since its first season, finally returns to the wingwoman she was always meant to be, and is so incredibly supportive of Ben, even if he wasn’t comfortable saying who he was. The last three episodes, culminating in the finale where Ben telling his whole family that he’s gay, were the ones that hit home the most — especially the final episode. I feel like if this show was around when I was going through high school, I think I would’ve been more confident in doing a similar thing. But as we know, hindsight is 20/20 and I’m still happy to finally have jumped that hurdle and have my family still be around and supporting me. Thanks, Ben.

The Land After the Laws

So what now? I don’t know. I am forever grateful for SBS and Matchbox Pictures for making Ben Law’s memoirs come to life in such a vivid, relatable, and very Australian way. Even if the characters themselves are Chinese-Australian, there are traits, behaviours, and mannerisms that anyone and everyone can relate to (Yes, even those times when Jenny refers to her vagina.) It shows many elements common to many Asian cultures, such as the importance of maintaining the family unit, the preservation of ‘face’, the deference to seek intervention, and the struggle that children of first-generation migrants will seek to try and combine elements of their own family’s culture and Australia. It’s a show that was a long time coming, and is really the first of many similar shows that I hope Australia will be producing in the future.

Yám sing, y’all.

You can watch The Family Law at 8,30pm on the 12th, 19th, and 26th of January on SBS, or binge every episode like I did on SBS on Demand now.

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Josh | abangpinoy

Josh | abangpinoy

Binger of Netflix, podcaster, and constantly unpacking culture.