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.