Wonderland

By David Knox on August 18, 2013 / Filed Under Reviews, Top Stories 51

2013-08-17_2127If you’re a friend of Michael Dorman’s just be sure you never ask him to a wedding.

In the opening episodes of both The Time of Our Lives and Wonderland, he single-handedly manages to ruin the whole thing.

In the ABC drama he got cold feet and walked out on the bride (Michelle Vergara Moore) at the last minute. In Wonderland he plays Tom, friend to the groom, but who still manages to send the wedding reception (also at a seaside backdrop) off course. But that’s about where the similarities end.

Wonderland from FremantleMedia Australia is defiantly light, bright and very, very white -this cast could have all stepped out of a catalogue.

It has a principal cast of 8 being 4 males and 4 females mostly in their late 20s, and most of whom live in a rambling apartment block on Sydney’s eastern shores. Two of the couples are married, one is a sibling and the others are part of a wider group of friends who socialise together. Supporting characters include Tom’s mother Maggie (Tracy Mann) and hipster collector Harry (Michael Booth), who also live in the Wonderland apartment block.

The series opens with Dani (Jessica Tovey) and Steve’s (Tim Ross) wedding. Grace (Brooke Satchwell) and Colette (Emma Lung) help Dani prepare for the big day, while Steve’s mates Tom and Rob (Ben Mingay) hit the beach and rib him about leaving single life behind. Tom isn’t enamoured by the idea of the same woman every day, but Steve has “never been more pumped” about marrying Dani.

Tom has a history of sleeping with his female housemates and bets Steve that he won’t sleep with another for 12 months. If he does he loses his pride and joy -his 1964 Ford. I’m unclear what he wins if he actually succeeds, but I’m tipping he will lose it in the first season finale.

Also attending the reception are Steve’s sister Miranda (Anna Bamford) and friend Carlos (Glenn McMillan), both of whom comprise part of the core cast, plus guests Kirsten (Christie Whelan-Brown) and Dani’s father (Roy Billing).

If there is a theme to the first episode it is commitment, with various juxtapositions of characters discussing and venting about single life, fidelity, lust and wedded bliss. Sarah Walker’s script takes a light approach to the topic without much jeopardy in its first outing. But first episodes are notoriously difficult with an urgency to fill in with character backstories.

Wonderland publicity has made much of the show’s weekly FAT night (Food Appreciation Time) in which the characters surrender their mobile phones for a dinner party where they compete to create the best dish (is this MasterChef in a drama?). The first episode doesn’t actually have a FAT night but one in the second made me feel this aspect was oversold. Aside from giving up their phones, it was just a standard dinner party, with little focus to the food or the competition element. Who knows if this will rise or fall in series importance?

At this early juncture the characters seem to live carefree, charmed lives, endlessly talking about relationships and first-world problems without worrying how to bay the bills. Tom is a skilled furniture maker and by the looks of his rather fabulous apartment, is doing so well for himself that he neither has to work much nor fret about the rent.

Wonderland boasts TV’s sexiest cast, which compensates for material that is sometimes pedestrian and antics used in place of character-based humour. Brooke Satchwell does her best to keep things grounded, Tim Ross may well give Offspring‘s Patrick a run for his money and Glenn McMillan is distractingly good-looking.

But aside from McMillan’s Latino roots, this show feels too white-bread to reasonably reflect suburban Australia. Dani is apparently Greek-Australian along with Billing playing her father. The diversity score-card also scores 8 heterosexual characters and 0 homosexual and Tracy Mann is the sole resident cast member over the age of 40.

TEN has had several successes with dramas based around apartment blocks (The Secret Life of Us and Number 96 amongst them) but also a few oceanside dramas that have struggled (Echo Point, Out of the Blue). In tone, this feels like a sibling to Seven’s Winners and Losers, or maybe Last Man Standing.

Wonderland begins from a pleasant launch pad, but has big shoes to fill in the Offspring slot. With a bit more grunt it may just get there.

Wonderland airs 8:30pm Wednesdays on TEN.

51 Comments »

  1. martin x August 23, 2013 at 4:19 pm -

    Haven’t watched it yet, will do tonight. My ethnicity is Anglo, an immigrant from the UK. The comment by Riga ‘I think it is patronising to tick ethnic boxes for the sake of it. It smacks of tokenism.’ Well it might be that but living,loving and working in this country puts you amongst all sorts of people with different backgrounds and histories.There’s a lot of interesting story opportunities out there not being taken up.

  2. tvf August 23, 2013 at 4:04 pm -

    At the end of wonderlands promo for next week it says that australia is falling in the love with wonderland. How do they know? It was the first episode.

    It wasn’t bad and there is enough in it for me to give it another week. It helps that there isn’t much else to watch on wednesday.

  3. Gonzo August 22, 2013 at 9:18 am -

    Much worse than i thought.

    We’ll know if Ten have made a good decision or a very, very and one in three week’s time with 19 eps still to play out.

  4. remy August 21, 2013 at 9:29 pm -

    @Riga ‘I think it is patronising to tick ethnic boxes for the sake of it. It smacks of tokenism.’

    Riga, you can’t call it tokenism when Australian TV as a rule is devoid of virtually any ethnic representation.

    The extension of your argument says that therefore we should keep characters of colour off of Television because it would be tokenistic. #Wrong.

  5. tvaddict August 20, 2013 at 9:41 pm -

    Just like i commented on ‘Reef Doctors’, i wonder if 10 even care much if this rates well here when it may do well overseas, do we know if they’ve sold it os yet?

    Agree with the comments about over promotion for this show, it doesn’t interest me in the first place, i already watched ‘Secret Life of Us’ which was another ‘apartment’ drama. It was only slightly more diverse in that it was set in St Kilda & had an aboriginal actress in it.

    Anyway even if i was interested i don’t think i would be after the non stop promos every ad break. When will the networks learn overly loud constant promos mainly just annoy people, making them reach for the mute button & ignore them.

  6. Kristi August 19, 2013 at 9:56 pm -

    Yes, I read when they said that, it just made it sound so urgent that he had to go (I thought he must have scored a US pilot). Then when I read that he was shooting the ABC drama it just made me wish they’d kept him for as long as possible – they could have killed him at any stage. Oh well, that’s me, I always want a happy ending!

  7. David Knox August 19, 2013 at 9:44 pm -

    Producers said they knew having MLN was on borrowed time and he would have to exit soon. So having 2 seasons to play with they took a creative exit. He will still appear next season, minimally, and has been shooting for the ABC.

  8. Kristi August 19, 2013 at 9:27 pm -

    … people who wanted to see Patrick, Nina and the baby in the final season :)

  9. Kristi August 19, 2013 at 9:25 pm -

    @loz – I agree, it doesn’t appear up be anything like Offspring, the reason I mentioned Offspring in my comment is because they advertised Wonderland heavily during Offspring, including directly after the season finale with a ‘if you like Offspring, you’ll love this’ type segue way to a preview for Wonderland. Because it’s being used to fill the Offspring timeslot it does have big shoes to fill IMO in terms of quality storytelling.

    Re Matthew Le Nevez leaving, yes, that’s what they said when Patrick was killed off but I’ve since read other interviews with MLN saying that he is staying here and wants to keep working in Australia? He does go to LA looking for work but hasn’t actually been signed for anything other than The Glades. I’m a bit confused with the whole thing because the producers made it sound as if he is moving to LA but that’s not what he says. I’m one of the…

  10. Kristi August 19, 2013 at 9:18 pm -

    @frankly – I don’t know why you keep singling me out when lots of people are saying similar. I actually watch lots of Aussie made TV and enjoy it. Just because I won’t be watching this show doesn’t mean I wish it badly, I hope it does well. I always hope Aussie productions do well.

  11. David Knox August 19, 2013 at 7:06 pm -

    Yes thanks, reported at length previously. Cheers.

  12. Loz August 19, 2013 at 6:59 pm -

    Why are people comparing this show to Offspring? It appears to be nothing like Offspring, so why do it?

    And they didn’t kill off Patrick due to ratings, Matthew wanted to go to US to act so he wasn’t going to stay on Offspring.

  13. David Knox August 19, 2013 at 4:53 pm -

    Wentworth and Better Man were two strong dramas this year IMO. Many people behind the scenes have actually had much success even if their shows weren’t your personal cuppa tea.

  14. Gonzo August 19, 2013 at 4:50 pm -

    @Frankly, that’s a strange comment. More than 3/4 of the top 20 shows on FTA in 2013 are without doubt locally produced shows. Your comment doesn’t carry much weight.

    Fremantle also hasn’t had much success at all in recent times IMO – especially drama.

    Wentworth got recommissioned but it was so hokey and lame. I think it benefited greatly from the hardcore fans of the original series.

    Who knows, this might work, but given the quality of people behind the scenes, I doubt it.

  15. victor August 19, 2013 at 4:39 pm -

    If this is a middling success Ten will have no choice but to stick with it as its investment will be too great to ditch it. But a series set in a block of flats by the beach really does sound like it will be another clichéd series searching for a reason to exist. Amidst similar urban dramas it seems to have no point of difference at all though I think Roy Billing, one of NZ’s greatest exports could be good if he plays Con The Fruiterer. All up depressingly familiar terrain for free to air television drama.

  16. Riga August 19, 2013 at 4:01 pm -

    … something else instead!

  17. Riga August 19, 2013 at 3:39 pm -

    @AussieGirl, “Do they really think that Australian viewers are so discriminative that they won’t watch people on screen if they’re not white?”

    Conversely, do non-white audiences only watch if there are non-white characters involved? I think it is patronising to tick ethnic boxes for the sake of it. It smacks of tokenism. The producer of ‘Midsommer Murders’ came under scrutiny from the PC jealots for not including ‘enough’ ethnic characters, but Midsommer has been one of the most popular dramas of the past 15 years, despite the ridiculous ratio of murders per square mile! This proves that if you get the stories right, the scripts right and then bring them to life with credible characters then people will suspend their disbelief and watch. If you’re preoccupied with counting the ethnic names and faces then clearly you’re not engaged by the drama and should turn off and do…

  18. tvf August 19, 2013 at 2:18 pm -

    I am going to give this show a chance but I have to admit that the promos don’t look that great.

  19. frankly August 19, 2013 at 11:27 am -

    I am afraid Kristi, I might have to say the money they put in the local industry is just worthless if people think the same as you. As a result, there won’t be money around to put in local industry if they fail to produce a tasty add, with a good choice of music of course. This all makes me so sad, I can’t see any future for our local industry. A search for pros overseas could help nurture local professionalism. Fremantle has been successful in doing so. Have a look at their current shows’ production team, there are loooots of 4.. visas

  20. Kristi August 19, 2013 at 10:40 am -

    @frankly – I’m not angry! Just saying how the promotion for this show has not succeeded in my case. Which is a shame because it could be awesome but I already have viewer fatigue without even watching the show. As I said, I’m glad money is being put into the local industry.

  21. nik c August 19, 2013 at 9:58 am -

    I hope this does well, just for Aussie dramas sake!
    As for diversity in any way (ethnic, disability, sexuality) it shouldn’t be overlooked as Australia has been multicultural for years, but somehow it doesn’t always translate in casting! I wish it did.
    Yes people not represented will still watch, but that’s not the point!
    Even so called reality shows are not a true reflection of society.
    In my opinion this should have changed years ago!

  22. Darcey09 August 19, 2013 at 9:29 am -

    I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t see this doing very well.
    It’s on Ten & for whatever reasons, Ten has trouble getting viewers to watch their shows. Even Offspring had to resort to killing off one of its characters to attract a decent audience. Prior to that its ratings were middling at best.

  23. David Knox August 19, 2013 at 9:03 am -

    Frankly was being cynical. But if comments are just going to confuse readers I may have to consider them trolling.

  24. Arabella August 19, 2013 at 8:34 am -

    What does “costumes demand” mean?

  25. frankly August 19, 2013 at 7:26 am -

    Why so angry, Kristie? Ten and David are just satisfying costumes demand. It’ll go away if no one watches it. @Genuine I agree, so true

  26. Kristi August 19, 2013 at 1:00 am -

    I agree with Tomothyd, I’m absolutely sick of the show because of the excessive advertising for it and will not be tuning in. The ads themselves look quite dull anyway, nothing unique about the concept. The name Wonderland also puts me off, it sounds so cutesy and such a silly name for an apartment building. I can’t stand on the ad how one guy says something like ‘we live in the same building as you, we’re already involved’ – wtf?! What busybody neighbours, I would move! After such a great season of Offspring I’m not really interested in watching something that looks second rate. Sorry about being so negative! I’m glad money is being put into the Aussie TV industry but this one just doesn’t strike a chord with me.

  27. Glory Days August 18, 2013 at 11:44 pm -

    Really, James S? Ten PR department needs to sack you and get someone better.

  28. AussieGirl August 18, 2013 at 11:19 pm -

    With four sets of couples, Jo Porter had the opportunity to cast 8 people whose ethnicity reflects the “real” Australia. When the heck are Australian producers/production companies going to start embracing the fact that Australia has a plethora of people of different ethnicities and it’s their social & cultural responsibility to reflect that authenticity on our screens?! What are they afraid of? Do they really think that Australian viewers are so discriminative that they won’t watch people on screen if they’re not white? What’s changed since this article was published in 2011: goo.gl/B77AiG And another article published last week: goo.gl/RNdedS

  29. Adam August 18, 2013 at 9:51 pm -

    I watched the pilot episode through Channel 10’s Facebook page, and overall I didn’t enjoy it. I can’t pin-point why, I think it’s that the characters don’t interest me or something, but overall I don’t think I’ll tune in.

  30. James S August 18, 2013 at 8:06 pm -

    It’s Probably the best new Aussie Drama of 2013 by far.

  31. frankly August 18, 2013 at 8:02 pm -

    David..every Australian dreams of living there

  32. NQ Resident August 18, 2013 at 7:27 pm -

    Not reflecting a variety of ethnic groups. I can’t see what the problem is. Are those with physically disabilities not going to watch because their demographic is not represented? Will people over 50 not watch because they’re not the focus? No.

    People will either watch because the storyline creates escapism, or because it holds up well. If we where waiting for a show that covered all demographics it would look something like the novel “War & Peace” with its 500 characters, and in this fast paced world that would be too much for most people to handle IMO.

  33. Billy C August 18, 2013 at 6:55 pm -

    Oh no David I just thought I’d go a bit off topic and talk about Austria. Perhaps the suburb where they’ve set this is really white, but the audience they want to watch it isn’t. The audience is the general public. They should set dramas in the real world not white ghettos.

  34. David Knox August 18, 2013 at 5:48 pm -

    Filmed at Coogee Beach but not set at Coogee Beach. Set at generic Sydney beach suburb.

  35. The Moops August 18, 2013 at 4:57 pm -

    The show is set in Coogee Beach, an upwardly mobile and expensive suburb in the eastern suburbs of Sydney Property values in the area are well out of reach of the average Gen Xer. It is not a particularly ethnically diverse area, to be honest, in vibe the area is similar to Cronulla, the area featured in the ill-fated “The Shire”.

  36. tomothyd August 18, 2013 at 4:31 pm -

    I’ve been seeing the promo for this show for the last couple of weeks and more so in the past 7 days. It has now got to the point where I am now completely sick of this show, and hate the background song which they use. I almost cannot be bothered watching it now.
    There is promotion, then there is bashing people senseless with it to the point that they do not want to go near it. TEN, you’re pushing towards the latter. Too many networks are doing this now and it certainly does not encourage me to watch.

  37. David Knox August 18, 2013 at 2:54 pm -

    Hmm slight typo there that might bite your well-meaning message in the bum.

  38. Billy C August 18, 2013 at 1:30 pm -

    @Loz. The issue is that Austria is a multi-racial country. Most people have friends from lots of different backgrounds but network dramas are not reflective. Look at all the hospital dramas where most of the doctors are white. Have you been to a hospital lately? The doctors are not all white! Drama should reflect reality or it becomes comical. When you look at these ads you just think what sort of fantasy land does this world resolve. It’s not believable. The networks need to get people to watch tv period not just watch their shows over other options. Over 15% of the country has either an Asian, African or Indigenous background. ie. not remotely white.
    That is not reflected in drama.

  39. James S August 18, 2013 at 12:12 pm -

    This is Must See TV on Wednesday.

  40. Dodge August 18, 2013 at 12:05 pm -

    I saw the ad for this immediately after the brilliant Offspring finale. Right next to each other, Wonderland looked woeful. But then again, Ten aren’t exactly brilliant with their promos. For a station that is supposedly “youth”, I’m surprised at how white this show is. Will give it a go but I can’t say I’m too excited about it.

  41. Loz August 18, 2013 at 12:03 pm -

    Who cares if it’s an all white cast? What’s the need for every show on Australia to be of mixed culture? Does it matter? As long as the actors can act, that’s all that matters.

    Can’t wait to watch this show, but really sick of all the promos for it.

  42. Darcey09 August 18, 2013 at 11:40 am -

    Roy Billing as part Greek? He’s Italian isn’t he, according to Underbelly, where he played Robert Trimbole.

  43. ryan1890 August 18, 2013 at 11:35 am -

    Never fear, I’m sure it won’t be long before one of the main characters has to confront their repressed desire to engage in same-sex relations. Most Aussie dramas are so predictable these days and that storyline always comes up. I think it’s silly to commission 22 episodes of a show before it has even aired, no wonder Ten are in a mess. They would have been wiser to give it a 13 episode order initially. I hope it does well though, we need more non-crime based Australian dramas on our screens. Good on Ten for taking a risk.

  44. David Knox August 18, 2013 at 11:21 am -

    Re Emma Lung: I spoke to Freo to check on character ethnicity and identified the ones they mentioned. Roy Billing as part Greek, who knew?

    Andrew: Thanks for noting Jo Porter error which I have now deleted. I actually checked your fab soap history book for struggling soaps but decided at 430 eps Breakers got a pass.

  45. poida August 18, 2013 at 10:45 am -

    Channel 10 screened Number 96 40 years ago and that was also set in a Woollahra block of flats. However it was far more ethnically diverse.

  46. Darcey09 August 18, 2013 at 10:26 am -

    Another very white Australian drama. But aren’t they all? Rafters,Losers,Offspring,TOOL are all very white(with the odd token Greek,Aboriginal,Chinese character)

  47. Andrew Mercado August 18, 2013 at 10:24 am -

    Jo Porter didn’t produce Winners and Losers. And don’t forget Ten’s other apartment drama Breakers which we would put in the “struggling” department

  48. Billy C August 18, 2013 at 10:16 am -

    Emma Lung is part Chinese. You can probably tell because her surname is Lung! But yes it is too white and they are too good looking. It’s just not realistic on both fronts.

  49. maxxdude August 18, 2013 at 9:04 am -

    David the guy playing the Brazilian in the ads does not appear to have much of an accent. I may give this show a chance but if this is set in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney then they definately have cast it wrong.
    @carolemorrissey I lived in an apartment in Bondi many years ago & like you I knew never spoke to any of my neighbours.

  50. frankly August 18, 2013 at 7:24 am -

    I am exited to see who will sue Fremantle next time

  51. carolemorrissey August 18, 2013 at 7:18 am -

    I’m looking forward to it, sounds like it will be ok. I must pick the wrong apartment blocks to live in. They have never been like in these TV shows where everyone hangs out together and goes to each other places and have parties on roof tops. I barely even know my neighbours and usually just say hello if I bump into any of them.

Leave A Response »

You must be logged in to post a comment.