Australia’s latest comedy/drama darling, adding to our long production line of outstanding and matter-of-fact life reflections on television, started last week as Adelaide was shrouded in our blackout. So there might be a few people who are late to the party.
What you missed was a lot of ground work, mostly following from Zoe Foster-Blake’s 2014 novel, ‘The Wrong Girl’. If you haven’t read that either, don’t worry because Channel 10 have been relentlessly promoting the show over the last week during prime time so you should be up to speed (and if you’ve missed those, then you’ve clearly been spending too much time on Netflix).
In watching the first episode, we must admit we were slightly sitting on the fence as to whether or not we’d stick with this one. A quick catch is that Lily Woodward (played by Jessica Marais), is something of a mess. She’s longing for more in life, especially in romance, but her actions constantly throw her off course. She’s just slept with her best friend Pete (played by Ian Meadows) who is about to have a child with someone else; is incredibly talented at her job as a producer on morning television but shoots herself in the foot through what can only be described as of socially awkward instances. Her parents are hilariously, if not dysfunctional in their divorced relationship, all the while Lily’s housemate is sleeping with a bloke she has a mad crush on… who she happens to work with.
Cynics might say this is all in the script, but the refreshing take The Wrong Girl offers is that it’s entirely human. While you might recoil from certain scenarios (it’s not light watching necessarily), the fallibility of the characters, their current suppression of emotional as a coping mechanism for the circumstances they find themselves and the wonderful reality that each character can be grey; great at some things, lacking in insight in others, flawless at times and a mess just moments later is reflective of something greater than simply the writing on this show. It’s what drew both leads, Marais and Meadows, to be a part of this show and with a relatively short 8 episodes scheduled, tonight’s episode would certainly be the time to pick up the show (or stick with it).
“It’s based on Zoe Foster-Blake’s book obviously, and the first episode follows a lot of that,” begins Meadows, “but it leaps off into the new territory immediately afterwards. Even if you’ve read the book it continues on and we hope it can be surprising. Personally, Pete’s character is trying to be a music journalist, but is stuck as a barista. He’s someone who is trying to establish something in their lives but struggling to follow through. At a deeper level than that, Pete is at a point in his life where big changes are happening, and it’s indicative of what a lot of guys of our generation go through. There’s not really any initiations or rights of passage anymore and we’ve got lots of man-children running around trying to figure out how to express themselves in a certain way, in a modern context. Pete is just trying to find his way to be what he wants to be in a world that doesn’t necessarily have the same milestones we look for. He’s coming to some big rights of passage that have just been put upon him and trying to figure out how things going.”
Right away, this is not your typical scenario and while shows like The Secret Life Of Us (one of it’s writers, Judi McCrossin, is involved in this script too), Offspring (again one of its writers, Michael Lucas, is involved here) and Love My Way have explored characters expressing themselves amongst more realistic and relatable circumstances, never before has Australian drama hit the nail so perfectly on the head when it comes to capturing the current condition of our 20-to-30-somethings. Marais agrees that her character Jess, is reflective of a similar timely snapshot.
“Lily is relatable but she makes mistakes, and I don’t think her mistakes are there to morally guide anyone who might be watching. What appealed to me about her is that she shows that you can struggle, you can make mistakes but that doesn’t make you a bad person. She can be flustered, in all states of mess but she’s also at the end of the day, a good person, kind, brilliant at her job and smart. As the series goes on, she becomes more aware as well so while in the beginning she’s pushing down a lot of feelings, and they come out sideways in the way she deals with circumstances, throughout the 8 episodes the heart of her journey is exploring the myth that myth that you either have your life together or it’s a mess – that it’s one or the other. It’s a dangerous myth, especially for young women.”
“What happens for one person’s life experience at 30 may happen to someone else at 20, and another person at 40,” Marais continues. “Some people that are my mum’s age say that just because they’re older doesn’t mean they don’t think and feel like they’re still 30. We’re trying to figure out the same issues. We don’t just learn to adult and stop trying to work out who we are, what we’re doing and how to better ourselves at work or in our relationships. I think that goes on forever, you just become more aware of it at some point, irrespective of age.”
This exploration of the modern condition is what makes The Wrong Girl such a different type of show on the network, and one which risks falling into the malaise of network promotion to pitch is as some sort of romantic comedy. At the heart of the show are moments which have a comedic value, but ultimately you’re more likely to laugh because, with the benefit of hindsight and the magic of television, you can watch incredibly painful situations for each character, traumatic experiences or tough moments in a friendship and see the humour inherent in these very relatable moments.
But at the same time, it’s not to be overthought. To say that a television show is set for some ground-breaking significance is to discount the fact that everyone will view it through different eyes and perspectives. But what can be said for The Wrong Girl is that it’s an evolution of Australian drama. It pays appropriate homage to it’s predecessors and a long history of quite wonderful explorations of relationships and life which Australian producers and writers have been crafting expertly over the last two decades. But it also grows from there, into something which looks like it will expand beyond the ‘star’ cast to resonate as something of a milestone program – perhaps not at first, but in retrospect – a consistent theme which it is only just beginning to reveal itself on the screen.
“At some stage in your life you start to look at whether you’re at the place you want to be in your relationships, in your work life,” says Meadows. “Did all the things you imagined that would happen when you were 17 actually happen, and now are you where you were sure you’d be at 25, 30, 35, whenever. It’s obvious that life isn’t like we imagines, so it’s about coming to terms with where you actually find yourself, appreciating the things you have and trying to let go of the things you haven’t achieved. That point in life where you choose to either approach things with positivity or just get bitter about it all. Character wise that’s certainly what we’re facing.”
Catch The Wrong Girl at 8.40pm Wednesday nights on Channel 10, or catch up on Tenplay.