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.