The Wrong Girl, aka Channel Ten’s latest attempt to force drama and comedy to breed together, is probably the closest the network is going to get to a sitcom any time soon. Lacking the dramatic heft of Offspring – c’mon, John Edwards and Asha Keddie are basically the Scorsese and Streep of Australian TV drama – or the quirky plotting of Mr & Mrs Murder, story-wise this is chick lit by the numbers. Our heroine falls over twice in the first ninety seconds; we’ve got nothing against pratfalls but maybe space them out a little, ok?
That’s not to say we didn’t get a laugh or two out of the first episode. “Based on an original book by Zoe Foster” was a pretty good one, considering the whole set-up – bubbly yet also deep blonde heroine works on a television show while torn between two suitors – struck the one of us who’s read Bridget Jones’ Diary as somewhat familiar. But familiar is what people want from these kinds of stories: it’s the little things that make genre novels work, the details around the edges of a safely predictable scenario.
So good news! If you live in Melbourne’s inner west you’re going to love the way this authentically re-creates the train trip from Yarraville Station to North Melbourne (presumably the TV station our heroine works at is based in Docklands, though in that case Southern Cross Station is closer), even if it does look like they maybe fudged the stop at Footscray (too hard to film there without getting stabbed). It’s this kind of accurate detail that can turn an average show into a winner. Did you know that The Wog Boy was also filmed in Yarraville? Now that’s a comedy pedigree to be proud of.
The first taste of actual comedy – aside from hilarious pratfalls, of course – comes around six minutes in, where our heroine Lily Woodward (Jessica Marais) a): delivers a rant about the evils of “manspreading” on public transport, then b): takes a bunch of photos of the offending manspreader and gets sprung by a couple of ticket inspectors. She then gets a ticket. The show moves on. Is manspreading really that funny that it deserves to be the first comedy bit in the first episode of a show that’s largely being sold as containing comedy?
Also, we totally get that a big part of the appeal of chick lit is that the heroine has a super-cool fantasy job which somehow also contains loads of totally relatable angst, but having the lead in a sad sack funk at the very start of your show because she’s going to have to produce a cooking segment for breakfast television sounds like, as they say, “one of those good problems”. Sure, she’s got to be bummed out now so that when the chef turns out to be a stud we get a hilarious comedy reversal, but still: “woe is me, my job making television is slightly onerous because they wouldn’t greenlight my segment about female labour around the world” feels like a sentence with at least one too many points where your lead sounds like a stupid whinger. A performance that’s around 30% pouting doesn’t help.
But you know, that’s just bad writing and things can always get better. “We’re best friends, we can tell each other anything” is not a great line; putting it just after the best friends have shagged just makes Lily seem like a hefty bag stuffed with whatever dumb actions the writers see necessary to jerk the plot along. It’s not even that “the besties just shagged and now things are totes awkward” is a bad idea, though really it kind of is when you put it right at the start of your first episode so we’ve barely had a chance to see them together as friends before the status quo goes out the window; having our heroine then fly off the handle and demand he goes home is… actually, it’s kind of consistent characterisation, considering how we just mentioned her career woes are only woes if she’s an idiot.
Before we continue, here’s a question: what kind of television show goes to the trouble to accurately portray Melbourne’s public transport system but then figures “sure, breakfast television producers get up at 7.10am every morning”? Seriously, we don’t know if this is genius – of course you want to get the details your viewers actually know about correct – or just a sign that the producers don’t actually know what people find interesting. “Train timetables or how television gets made… they’re both as exciting as each other, right?”
[hey, do they still sell “music from the hit TV series” CDs? Because this crams so many “hit tracks” into the first fifteen minutes we figured they either got the music in bulk or had a sweet CD deal lined up]
Still, this is not a show that’s completely without redeeming features. The cast! They’re pretty good, especially the broader comedy characters (her parents, the TV show’s hosts). The central trio are generally solid too, even without any strong chemistry in week one; it’s totally possible to see them growing into characters that are both likable and funny, which is more than you can say for a lot of dramedy casts. There’s the occasional smart moment in the script too – the bit about using lemons to get into a nightclub was surprising and plausible in a way that most Australian television is not – which gives us hope that things might get better.
Because as this stands this just has a few too many rough edges to be considered a success. The viewers didn’t exactly flock either: it only pulled in 684,000 people nationwide, which wasn’t great even with pretty much all of SA plunged into darkness. It’s the kind of show that seems perfectly serviceable just so long as you don’t look too closely (as we’ve been doing). The problem with making that kind of television in 2016 is that the only people left watching television are the ones who are actually paying attention – everyone else is off checking social media.
And if there’s one thing people aren’t talking up on social media, it’s The Wrong Girl.