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The Wrong Girl – has Australian commercial TV run out of new ideas?

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Last night, Channel Ten’s new romantic comedy/drama The Wrong Girl premiered in Offspring‘s former 8.30pm time slot. Viewers who might’ve missed the news that Offspring had wrapped up for the year and tuned in expecting more of the Proudman family could have easily fallen under the impression that they were watching some kind of Offspring spin-off.

The visual style is a little less boho-chic, and the action isn’t filtered through the neurotic and fantastical lens of Offspring’s protagonist Nina Proudman, but The Wrong Girl exists in exactly the same middle-class Melbourne world where very pretty people find their love lives all tangled up in charming knots.

We know it’s Melbourne from the first five seconds, in which we see a photo of somebody tapping onto public transport with a Myki card and watch our heroine Lily Woodward (Jessica Marais) bound through a very new and well-maintained Melbourne train station (this is partly funded by Film Victoria, after all).

Whereas Nina Proudman’s professional life was largely together but her personal life a mess, Lily’s personal life is largely together but her professional life is a mess. And where Nina had her brutally honest and eccentric sister Billie to poke and prod her, Lily has her free-wheeling housemate Simone (Hayley Mangus).

And just like Nina, Lily finds herself in a love triangle because, well, of course she does.

Lily is a producer at a generally successful breakfast TV show (there’s a touch of irony that the show should end up on Channel Ten given its terrible luck in this particular corner of television) wanting to make a difference and highlight the issues she believes in. But none of that matters in the battle for ratings.

She ends up sleeping with her best friend, causing massive tensions in their relationship, and feels a spark with the TV chef she’s forced to work with. Their relationship is tumultuous to begin with because, well, of course it is.

On first glance, The Wrong Girl seems like a fairly decent show. It’s occasionally funny with some charming performances, setting up some promising conflicts for the rest of the season. The characters aren’t as well-defined, complex, eclectic or intriguing as those in Offspring (Kat Stewart and Asher Keddie both manage to transcend any tropes as the sisters Billie and Nina) but there are some decent dynamics established between everybody on screen.

The pilot isn’t without its narrative bumps and clumsy exposition — old friends don’t have conversations in which one reminds another that they’ve been friends “for a long time” — but it’s pleasant enough in its pleasant, slightly stale way.

Only time will tell whether there’s enough there to compel audiences to continue tuning in when our entertainment options are growing by the minute.

Ten has cleverly pulled in some “name” actors to support Marais, including Craig McLachlan, Kerry Armstrong, and one of the most well-liked talents in Australian entertainment, Hamish Blake. Blake’s appearance in the first episode is very brief, but Ten certainly hasn’t wasted any opportunities to use his name and face in promos.

(When Offspring premiered, it used its promos to introduce its audience to the characters, which managed to get viewers invested in their lives before the show already began, and meant the writers didn’t have to pack in too much exposition.)

And even with that push, The Wrong Girl still rated pretty poorly for a premiere, picking up just 684,000 viewers. By comparison, Offspring’s premiere back in 2010 was seen by 1.124 million viewers. Of course viewership numbers for traditional broadcast of dramas have dropped a little over the last five years, but certainly not by almost half. There’s just no longer a great thirst for this sort of show.

The Wrong Girl is programmed opposite Nine’s new comedy/drama Doctor Doctor, which gives The Wrong Girl a run for its money in terms of tiredness. How many brilliant but troubled white, middle-aged, male professional antiheroes can viewers possibly care about?

Neither of these shows feel like they’re bringing anything new to the table, and while there’ll always be some space for that kind of comfort TV, it’s quickly shrinking.

Major US networks have realised there’s little life left in these tropes and are starting to look for stories we haven’t seen on the small screen before, particularly in the new fall season kicking off this month. American critics are already asking whether it’s the best fall season of TV in recent memory, with networks increasingly thinking outside the box to compete with Netflix and other streaming services.

The only reason a show like The Wrong Girl might be able to compete is that there are still millions of Australians who watch mostly commercial broadcast TV and there aren’t many other options in that market.

20 responses to “The Wrong Girl – has Australian commercial TV run out of new ideas?

  1. If you think The Wrong Girl is a steaming pile of you-know-what, just wait for Newton’s Law, which scores a whopping 10 out of 10 on the Who-Gives-A-Shit-O-Meter. Seriously, can’t we just occasionally try to do something original? Is the future of Oz TV going to be endlesss knockoffs of Crownies or Sea Change or A Country Practice?

    1. Dumb comment Rob. How about “Number 96” on TEN in the 70s? Quirky characters and wonderfully ludicrous plots. It introduced homosexuality to mainstream TV well before other countries.

  2. Time for a show where The Block contestants end up on Masterchef, the Masterchefs on Survivor, the Survivors on The Bachelorette, the Bachelorettes on Real Housewives of Reservoir and Q&A hosted by Judge Judy. (I pinched this idea from ‘Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, so it has the added advantage of not being original.)

  3. Absolutely spot on – the storyline felt very staged as did most of the acting. Was pleasant to look at but presented nothing new – and there was zero chemistry between Jessica Marais and the 2 male leads. Hopefully it’s a one season wonder.

  4. I can imagine the meeting to pitch a show like this:
    “I’ve got an idea for a new TV series.”
    “Is it sparkling, new and original?”
    “Not really…”

  5. BEn I just watched 20 mins of the wrong girl and i was cringing…. totally unbelievable set-up, unlikeable heroine, ghastly leading men, and crappy acting. plus, i just don’t like jessica marais and the tv food scene was appalling. it wouldn’t happen like that in a thousand years! just totally C grade. very annoying! glad you said it, ben… just more politely. cheers, josephine b

  6. Meanwhile our tragic drinking game “One shot for every cliche” continues to wipe us out every night with ordinary Australian scripts. Looks like we are set to become alcoholics any night soon with the arrival of ‘Here come the Habibis’ no 2 and the endless continuation of The Kettering Affair. So far The Wrong Girl made for a very bad hangover just in one episode.

    We never wish to hear these again:”Can I speak with you for a minute?” “Well,I’ll leave you to it.” “This will end badly”

  7. While I accept Wrong Girl isn’t that new or original. At least it’s not another mindless production line “reality” show. It is scripted television with actual actors actually acting.It will be some time before Australian commercial free to air TV catches up with the rest of the world but give sufficient “encouragement” it will happen.

  8. The quality of Aussie TV actors today leaves me wondering where all the raw talent has gone. Craig McLachlan and Kerry Armstrong, are they really the best we can offer? I watched a bit of Dr Blake’s Murder Mysteries the other night, but found that Craig McLachlan’s unusually hushed and husky deadpan voice was both infuriating and sleep inducing at the same time. The original Offspring was great TV in my opinion, but I stopped watching it after Gary MacDonald left the show. Now he was a great Aussie actor.

  9. This dogs breakfast is the biggest load of crap pssing as “drama” that Channel Ten has served up in a long, long time…

    Non-existent script..
    Nonsensical dialogue..
    Poor acting..

    Do they actually pay people to priduce this dross ?

    And finally — the fact that they are repeating this garbage tonight (Thursday !) can only mean that it is already failing in the ratings, after just one episode..

    Somebody down there, please shoot this dog, and put it out of its misery !

  10. I’m thoroughly enjoying this show. The characters and their concerns speak to me, the performances are natural and funny, the script witty and polished, and the whole comes off well paced with a light touch. Nobody’s trying too hard and I like that on TV. I’m already hooked and looking forward to more enjoyable times with these charming characters.

  11. I don’t usually watch this show but I tuned in recently and I just wanted to say I find the Pete character insufferable. There was a scene where he’s talking to Lilly about the baby shower his wife wants to have, and describes it as “happy hippy Chakra shit”. This was the moment I completely lost respect for this character, whoever wrote that line clearly doesn’t even know what Charka is, and made this character look like a total dick. This guy’s wife is pregnant and he has feelings for another girl, who for some reason also seems to fancy him. How low must her standards be to actually find a guy like this attractive?Jessica Marais very attractive, but that is the only reason interest I have in this show at all.

  12. Jessica makes this show and it is a far cry from the usual dribble of the Block, MKR Bachelor and Batchelorette and all similar shows

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