Underdog females are everywhere on television: in Laid, Offspring, Spirited. Make room for four more: Bec, Frances, Sophie and Jenny.
Winners and Losers is the newest addition to TV’s expanding slate of non-procedural dramas. Seven, which has acknowledged its female skew, now unveils four gals in their 20s. These are inner-city girls on the go, with busy lives cluttered by boyfriends, family, work, gym, dating, iPhones and Facebook. Some live with family, some with a partner and some sharing a warehouse apartment. Presumably there’s a big chunk of the audience that will see a lot of themselves here.
The opening sequence of this contemporary slice of life is cleverly conceived as a montage with an upbeat song (The Cure). As a Facebook invitation to a school reunion interrupts the lives of the four ensemble characters we instantly see how they are linked without necessarily weighing the point-of-view too much one way or another. By the time we zero in on individual stories we already have some understanding of how they fit together.
Rebecca (Zoe Tuckwell-Smith) lives with her boy-next-door bloke (Blair McDonough). Frances (Virginia Gay) has a corporate job in a Melbourne skyscraper and her own PA (Damien Bodie). Sophie (Melanie Vallejo) is busy with a one-night stand (Scott McGregor) and Jenny (Melissa Bergland) lives at home with her rather daggy, working class family (Denise Scott, Francis Greenslade).
A high school reunion initiated by the very attractive Tiffany Turner (Michala Banas) acts as the catalyst for the four disparate friends linking up once more. During their school years they were the subject of peer-group ridicule. Now under pressure to prove their lives have amounted to something (in only 10 years?), each has hesitations about attending.
“Things would be a whole lot easier if Tiffany had gotten fat,” sighs Jenny.
Similarly, Sophie has failed to realise a medical career and Johns Hopkins Hospital (no less!) keeps calling. That’s some calling, one that I’m not sure was particularly convincing. There is a hint of a deeper personal issue, deflected by constant partying, drug taking and sex.
When the girls eventually front for the reunion they are immediately cut down to size by Turner and her co-horts in bitchy tones reminiscent of Muriel’s Wedding, but without the extreme caricatures that made us laugh. As a resut they are collectively annoying.
But the four draw strength from the bullying and hatch a plan to upstage their longtime nemesis.
“Women ostracise,” insists Frances, “We spread rumours. We do not hit.”
If you are not already familiar with how the Winners aspect of the title features I won’t spoil it for you…
One of the most promising aspects of the series is the casting of the supporting players. It’s great to have Denise Scott, Francis Greenslade (who like Rafters‘ supporting players look set to provide some light relief) and Damien Bodie. Lawrence Mooney is also here. I think I even saw a cameo by Jansen Spencer.
Of the four lead characters Melissa Bergland has the more interesting trajectory, but the broader audience will probably warm to Rebecca (Zoe Tuckwell-Smith).
Aside from a fleeting fantasy moment the opening episode plays it safe, without straying too far into comedy or poignant drama. Personally I would have preferred it to stake a claim a little more. Although it would be tempting to brand the show a “winner” or a “loser” the truth it probably lays somewhere in between.
But opening episodes are all about set-up. It does end on a note that gives it plenty of room to explore, provided we are interested enough in the characters. With such a dominant female point-of-view there is a risk males may quickly size this up as a ‘chick flick.’
As well as a moment of drug-taking there is also an “F” Bomb dropped, which may suggest a 9:30 timeslot. I guess that’s staking a claim….
While the series is created by Bevan Lee, the opening episode is co-written by Lee and Margaret Wilson. Directed by Nicholas Bufalo and produced by Maryanne Carroll (City Homicide), this is another vehicle from Seven’s well-oiled in-house production line.
Overall Winners and Losers feels like the female counterpart to the underrated male dramedy Last Man Standing. It aims its arrow squarely at the very modern woman, who are notoriously complicated creatures, but loyal to the genre when the target is hit.
(Seven is yet to announce an Airdate.)