The Wrong Girl

3 out of 5

Directed by: Daina Reid, Matt King

covers season 1

I suppose not surprisingly, with so much TV nowadays, it’s nice when a show arrives that doesn’t come pre-packaged with the normal hoodoo.  A big name star, a big name director, based on a hit book, based on a hit movie, X Hot Topic of the Day, or Y Twist on your favorite genre…  Media is understandably a stream of elevator pitches, as our attentions are what’s being bid for and there’s a lot out – a ton out there – that your pitch needs to be heard or seen over.  So I get it, and I don’t mean to suggest it’s exactly a new form of the business.  Still, a show like Wrong Girl, which is an extended version of the kind of romcomdram that would’ve been an off-season movie in the 80s or 90s, is refreshingly simple in its approach, lacking any obvious version of the pitches outlined above, despite the Austrian commercials for the show rather humorously (unintentionally) trying to overhype it as the most shocking drama ever.  Which is to say: though Wrong Girl is based on a book, and perhaps these Aussie stars are the kind of drawing point for a viewer I don’t recognize as an American, the show nonetheless boils down to a pretty basic love triangle tale between TV producer Lily (Jessica Marais), best friend Pete (Ian Meadows) and Jack (Rob Collins), new addition to the Today Show-esque show on which Lily works.

Basic, though taking advantage of modern long-form storytelling and progressive gender roles, without forcefully lambasting us with any overt agenda.  It’s possible I’m glossing over much with my male gaze, but despite being clearly of the female wish-fulfillment genre (in the same sense that save-the-girl action movies could be considered male wish-fulfillment, and I realize I’ve already loaded my POV by suggesting that a woman in a position of power with two attractive men interested in her is a role to be fantasized about… which is a fair point I can’t counter but will try to remain aware of whilst I review), I think what I found most pleasingly watchable about Wrong Girl, amidst its typical everything-goes-(predictably)wrong set-ups, is how it handles the concept of agency.  Plenty of shows I enjoy empower women, but they skip some beats in the relationship department which rob things of some of their realism and their characters of developmental choices.  Accepting that my view on this is tainted by my cynical view toward relationships in general, many shows handle this by being sex-positive (several partners, no judgments) until the character finds “the one” for that episode or that arc, at which point the story will shift to justify The One until they’re not that anymore, and we shift away.  Generally to Another One.  This is realistic enough, admittedly, but is an over-simplification for TV or film, not taking into account everything else in our lives besides boys or girls.  These would be your Sex and the City type shows, where the very subject is dating.  (Note: I haven’t watched Sex and the City, just been indirectly exposed to it, so hopefully for my point it’s not actually like a Doctor Who spin-off or something.)  When we’re not zeroed in on that, the trick will often be to put our female character in a relationship already, and use their partner as a sounding board for narration, i.e. the mechanics of the relationship are idealized so we can spend our time elsewhere.  There’s nothing explicitly wrong with either one of these formulas; they’re purposefully streamlined foe the sake of storytelling.  However, an unfortunate possible takeaway message is one which ripples through society’s subconscious: You should either be in a perfect relationship or be pursuing one.  This is the lack of agency; it removes a giant chunk of choice.

Is Wrong Girl some revolutionary step forward in story-telling?  Ha, hell no.  We’re still chasing boys.  But: I really felt like there was a sincere effort to give Lily a full life.  A full family, full friendships, a full job.  The series kicks off with a hasty fling with her lifelong friend, and we spend some time discussing that, but it’s not the all-consuming focus.  Soon after Lily gets a crush on Jack, but again, it’s not instant butterflies or world-ending choices.  She still has her job.  She still has her family.  She still has her friend.  And the intermingling of all these elements give us our episodic foibles, and the love triangle is allowed to percolate in the background.  Pete starts a relationship with his boss, which is given its own full plot-thread – she’s pregnant! – which gives him his own reasons and decision making abilities, and Jack is a food-first chef who’s been thrust unwillingly into a sex-symbol like role on the show, which adds into one part of his reasons and decisions, while Lily is involved in both of these plots plus her own concerns.  Sure, boys are part of that mix, but they can’t be the whole thing.

Again, this all adds up to a pretty typical romcom, but the slight tweak of actually giving the leads full lives – and flawed ones – made the TV hijinks much more enjoyable and effective, and given how much text I just dedicated to its analysis, it’s obviously a difference I feel is worth noting.

The acting is pretty solid all around, though lead __ is certainly the standout.  A co-host on her show (Erica, played by Madeleine West) also puts in an impressive performance, giving her bit a lot of dimension.  The rest of the cast – and this is maybe oddly inclusive of the praise I just gave regarding the fleshing out of characters – are all set to portray somewhat particular attributes, e.g. the sageful work friend, the always-having-problems friend, the doting mum, Jack’s alluring stoicism, Pete’s aloof bumbling, etc. and etc., but besides a couple of specific stereotypes on the in-series show, these are acceptable enough character types, given enough meat on their bones to function as believable people.

Did it take you longer to read this than to watch the show?

Wrong Girl is a fairly standard day-in-the-life comedy-drama about the busy life of Lily, as she finds herself seemingly being always the wrong person at the wrong place at the wrong time, but makes the most of it anyway.  On CW, there would be plenty more drama and probably a more prominently featured gay character; on a mainstream channel, there would be a murder mystery or political intrigue or more sex.  Appreciably, it just is what it is.