A TV series about a prodigal mother who revives her dying hometown by forming the local women into a volunteer fire brigade.
Peripeteia is a speed-through town on a rough road between The West Coast and Central Otago. It’s mainly used by trucks looking to avoid traffic, and locals who want to drive fast without being pestered by police. Things have only got worse for the town since the fish processing factory moved north, the price of wool crashed and dairy farms figured out how to use machines to replace most of the farmhands. The biggest employer these days is a prison on the outskirts of the town which incarcerates men from all over the South Island, and attracts scumbag WAGs to wait for their babyfathers to get out. Peripeteia has rugged coasts and gorgeous views of the Southern Alps, but hardly anyone to appreciate them. When it comes to human activity in the area, we’re talking dangerous roads, bad drivers, derelict housing, struggling businesses, unsafe work practices, broken homes, and twisted relationships between often desperate and frequently demoralised people who struggle to manifest their good intentions. It's miles from the nearest hospital.
Just before dawn, a siren wails across the valley. It’s the signal for the bleary-eyed men of the volunteer fire brigade to drag themselves of bed and into action. In this town, at this time of the morning, it's probably a drunk driver spun off the road or an old person who’s had a fall. The men assemble at the station to get togged up and into the rig. They’re an odd bunch. Late teens to early 70s. A tradie, the chip shop owner, the high school principal and a high school dropout, a retired farmer and an active farmhand, a prison guard and the tattooed chief of a local gang. It’s quickly clear that this one’s an actual fire - a woolshed is up in flames and burns bright in the distance. They drive up an unsealed goat track, barely wide enough for the rig. Coming round a bend they’re confronted by the headlights of a vehicle being driven erratically in the other direction. The firetruck brakes to avoid it, skids on the gravel, and hurtles down a steep bank. The men are shaken, upside down, but alive. Then their truck catches fire.
There are no survivors.
These were husbands, fathers, sons, brothers and mates. This disaster could spell the end of Peripeteia.
It’s Sophie Lyders 40th birthday. Instead of celebrating, she’s returning to Peripeteia from the city to grieve a very personal tragedy. Her estranged husband Pete was the tradie. Her father Jack the retired farmer who drove the fire truck. She finds the teenage children she abandoned calling another woman ‘mum’. They’ve been living with their father and his new partner Sheena since Sophie left eight years ago to make something of what she felt to be a wasted life. They don't know much about their mum, and what they do know, they don't like.
Sophie discovers her home town mired in decay, booze and hopelessness. Just like when she left. And now she’s back to attend the funerals of 8 of the most community-spirited people in town.
Sophie left Peripeteia - and her family - to become the best version of herself. She studied to become a management consultant, which sounds like a good job, and pays well, but it involves helping companies fire their way out of trouble. In getting wealthy, she's ruined more lives than she cares to remember and what's she got to show for it? No friends, an estranged family, no passion for life and she can't remember the last time she swam in a creek. The best version of herself proves just as elusive in the city as it did in her town.
After a tragic and awkward reunion with her family - including her mother Sonie - Sophie stays on for a few days to tidy up the affairs of her husband (they never formally divorced) and father. The longer she stays the more she comes to understand the gaping holes the deaths have left.
In a Damascus moment, Sophie makes the decision to stay and form a new volunteer firefighting brigade, comprised of the women of the town. They dub themselves the Sirens. What they lack in resources they make up for in resourcefulness. When it becomes clear that childcare is an issue for the volunteers, Sonie joins the brigade to run an on-call creche at the base. When the central fire service stalls on providing a replacement rig, Wee Ange, the elderly head of the local museum/junk shop works night and day with a gangwoman to refurbish an antiquated fire engine to meet and exceed modern firefighting and rescue standards.
They come together when the siren calls. It gets them out of their houses, out of their heads and out of their comfort zones. Sophie soon finds herself working harder than she's ever worked before. Can she use her skills to save rather than destroy? By giving will she receive the keys to true happiness? In learning to love herself, can she be loved?
Sophie and the town begin to revive, relax and gain an appreciation the beauty around them. Peripeteia becomes a town united by the Sirens. But there’s a firebug in the town. Who is it? And when will s/he/they strike again?
The Sirens job is to be first on the scene at fires, accidents, floods and emergency health problems. They have a visible presence at public events like rodeos, car rallies, rugby games A & P shows, wild food festivals, school sports, and anything that may require first aid. They also do community education and fire safety inspections. They’re the front line of protecting life and property against the forces of nature and human error. They get training but no pay. They all live full lives outside of their volunteer work. They also have different motivations for belonging, and varying levels of commitment.
Core and Supporting Casts
Sheena’s only been around a few years. She's taken Pete's last name, even though they’re not officially married. Sophie’s kids love her. Sophie finds her very superficial. But that’s because she’s not granted access to the depths.
Sonie’s Sophie’s mum. She’s been through all the awfulness that came with being a sheep farmer’s wife in the 1980s. She’s coped with the loss of her family farm to the bank, and nursed her husband through a black depression. She’s one to face facts. Unfortunately, many facts have been concealed from her.
Bully is a prison guard. Tulsi’s man is in jail, and she’s raising 3 young kids on the dole. Dale is a rousie. Nan runs the chip shop. Mel is a meek teacher seeking friends. Ngaio is a vivacious local artist. Happy is the widowed ‘woman’ of Hairy George the Bald Biker. Wee Ange is nearly 90 - but remains a sharp wheeler-dealer and incorrigible busybody. Stella, 18 is Sophie’s eldest daughter. Chance, 12 is her youngest. Paddy is 15 and her aggro only son. Noodle is 140 (cat years). Sophie rescued him from the shelter years ago and can’t believe he’s still alive. She’s allergic to him, so how can they be friends?
Other characters include shearers, cowpokes, rugby teams, care home residents, prison staff and inmates, passing tourists and people with business in the town, teachers, local business owners and local politicians.
Sirens is about saving lives and saving towns and the empowering nature of generosity. Over the course of the season, a small town pulls together in the face of extreme adversity, in order to become an extended family and turn lives around individually and collectively.
Sirens combines the style and inherent excitement of reality rescue/cop shows like Police Rescue with the emotional impact of heartfelt character arcs based on community - like McCleod's Daughters or Gilmore Girls.