Pay TV prides itself on being an alternative to Free to Air.
With shows such as Love My Way, Satisfaction, Tangle and 30 Seconds it isn’t afraid of moving slightly left of centre in order to create a point of diference.
As a high-concept drama, Spirited is another such show.
Claudia Karvan (Love My Way, The Secret Life of Us, Saved) stars as Suzy Darling, a successful dentist who talks to a photograph of her father staring down at her in her surgery. She isn’t quite living up to his expectations, and worse, she is trapped in an unsuccessful marriage to Steve (Rodger Corser). But Suzy takes control of her life by buying a Harbour-view apartment, grabbing the kids and moving in, much to the shock of hubby, family and friends.
Thrust into her new life -and apartment- is a bohemian ghost in the form of the swearing rock dog Henry Mallet (Matt King), who has no idea where he is nor how he got there.
The premise of the show is that only Suzy can see Henry, which results in socially awkward situations of her seemingly talking to herself. On the back of her marital breakdown, those around her presume she is having a mental one as well.
When it was first floated in early newspaper articles, Spirited was touted as a modern take on The Ghost and Mrs Muir -it is a slight analogy at best. Writer Jacquelin Perske has since likened it to Bewitched meets The Office -but early episodes are nothing like Ricky Gervais’ mockumentary either.
The show is a character piece that lands between heightened reality and fantasy, easily personified by its two central characters. Karvan plays a meek wife and mother who becomes self-empowered by her mid-life detour, while King’s British rocker is an irreverent and spontaneous force, trying to come to grips with the world around him. How did he get here? What does he want? And why has he ‘chosen’ her? At the moment he’s a phantom rebel without a cause.
While Karvan’s performance is largely for truth, King provides the colour. Somewhere in the middle the two attempt to connect.
Desperate for her to return to her life is husband Steve, the villain of the tale. Steve has the looks but is too selfish for an enlightened Suzy. Despite this there are other women (including Suzy’s sister played by Belinda Bromilow) that are ready to pounce on the reluctant bachelor.
Suzy’s inner-city block is also home to supporting characters including 3 gay men who share an uncoventional lifestyle and an elderly couple (including a return to screen by the rather wonderful John Bluthal).
The first episode, with a script which won an AWGIE award last week, spends much of the time setting up the premise and the rules of the world. It asks the audience to suspend disbelief for an hour of fantasy, which is a pretty rare commodity in Australian drama. The end result may take some getting used to. As drama it is light and askew, as comedy it is whimsical without shooting for laughs.
It also feels like it may have been a tighter product at 30 minutes rather than an hour, but no doubt this will become clearer once the establishing episode is out of the way.
Both Karvan and Perske have stepped up as Producers for this project, under guidance from John Edwards. Their labour of love certainly shows they have plenty to offer.
Spirited is more a flight of fancy for its central characters than its creative forces, who ask the audience to come along for the ride.
Spirited premieres 7:30pm Wednesday on W.