2013-08-17_2127If you’re a friend of Michael Dorman’s just be sure you never ask him to a wedding.

In the opening episodes of both The Time of Our Lives and Wonderland, he single-handedly manages to ruin the whole thing.

In the ABC drama he got cold feet and walked out on the bride (Michelle Vergara Moore) at the last minute. In Wonderland he plays Tom, friend to the groom, but who still manages to send the wedding reception (also at a seaside backdrop) off course. But that’s about where the similarities end.

Wonderland from FremantleMedia Australia is defiantly light, bright and very, very white -this cast could have all stepped out of a catalogue.

It has a principal cast of 8 being 4 males and 4 females mostly in their late 20s, and most of whom live in a rambling apartment block on Sydney’s eastern shores. Two of the couples are married, one is a sibling and the others are part of a wider group of friends who socialise together. Supporting characters include Tom’s mother Maggie (Tracy Mann) and hipster collector Harry (Michael Booth), who also live in the Wonderland apartment block.

The series opens with Dani (Jessica Tovey) and Steve’s (Tim Ross) wedding. Grace (Brooke Satchwell) and Colette (Emma Lung) help Dani prepare for the big day, while Steve’s mates Tom and Rob (Ben Mingay) hit the beach and rib him about leaving single life behind. Tom isn’t enamoured by the idea of the same woman every day, but Steve has “never been more pumped” about marrying Dani.

Tom has a history of sleeping with his female housemates and bets Steve that he won’t sleep with another for 12 months. If he does he loses his pride and joy -his 1964 Ford. I’m unclear what he wins if he actually succeeds, but I’m tipping he will lose it in the first season finale.

Also attending the reception are Steve’s sister Miranda (Anna Bamford) and friend Carlos (Glenn McMillan), both of whom comprise part of the core cast, plus guests Kirsten (Christie Whelan-Brown) and Dani’s father (Roy Billing).

If there is a theme to the first episode it is commitment, with various juxtapositions of characters discussing and venting about single life, fidelity, lust and wedded bliss. Sarah Walker’s script takes a light approach to the topic without much jeopardy in its first outing. But first episodes are notoriously difficult with an urgency to fill in with character backstories.

Wonderland publicity has made much of the show’s weekly FAT night (Food Appreciation Time) in which the characters surrender their mobile phones for a dinner party where they compete to create the best dish (is this MasterChef in a drama?). The first episode doesn’t actually have a FAT night but one in the second made me feel this aspect was oversold. Aside from giving up their phones, it was just a standard dinner party, with little focus to the food or the competition element. Who knows if this will rise or fall in series importance?

At this early juncture the characters seem to live carefree, charmed lives, endlessly talking about relationships and first-world problems without worrying how to bay the bills. Tom is a skilled furniture maker and by the looks of his rather fabulous apartment, is doing so well for himself that he neither has to work much nor fret about the rent.

Wonderland boasts TV’s sexiest cast, which compensates for material that is sometimes pedestrian and antics used in place of character-based humour. Brooke Satchwell does her best to keep things grounded, Tim Ross may well give Offspring‘s Patrick a run for his money and Glenn McMillan is distractingly good-looking.

But aside from McMillan’s Latino roots, this show feels too white-bread to reasonably reflect suburban Australia. Dani is apparently Greek-Australian along with Billing playing her father. The diversity score-card also scores 8 heterosexual characters and 0 homosexual and Tracy Mann is the sole resident cast member over the age of 40.

TEN has had several successes with dramas based around apartment blocks (The Secret Life of Us and Number 96 amongst them) but also a few oceanside dramas that have struggled (Echo Point, Out of the Blue). In tone, this feels like a sibling to Seven’s Winners and Losers, or maybe Last Man Standing.

Wonderland begins from a pleasant launch pad, but has big shoes to fill in the Offspring slot. With a bit more grunt it may just get there.

Wonderland airs 8:30pm Wednesdays on TEN.


  1. Haven’t watched it yet, will do tonight. My ethnicity is Anglo, an immigrant from the UK. The comment by Riga ‘I think it is patronising to tick ethnic boxes for the sake of it. It smacks of tokenism.’ Well it might be that but living,loving and working in this country puts you amongst all sorts of people with different backgrounds and histories.There’s a lot of interesting story opportunities out there not being taken up.

  2. At the end of wonderlands promo for next week it says that australia is falling in the love with wonderland. How do they know? It was the first episode.

    It wasn’t bad and there is enough in it for me to give it another week. It helps that there isn’t much else to watch on wednesday.

  3. Much worse than i thought.

    We’ll know if Ten have made a good decision or a very, very and one in three week’s time with 19 eps still to play out.

  4. @Riga ‘I think it is patronising to tick ethnic boxes for the sake of it. It smacks of tokenism.’

    Riga, you can’t call it tokenism when Australian TV as a rule is devoid of virtually any ethnic representation.

    The extension of your argument says that therefore we should keep characters of colour off of Television because it would be tokenistic. #Wrong.

  5. Just like i commented on ‘Reef Doctors’, i wonder if 10 even care much if this rates well here when it may do well overseas, do we know if they’ve sold it os yet?

    Agree with the comments about over promotion for this show, it doesn’t interest me in the first place, i already watched ‘Secret Life of Us’ which was another ‘apartment’ drama. It was only slightly more diverse in that it was set in St Kilda & had an aboriginal actress in it.

    Anyway even if i was interested i don’t think i would be after the non stop promos every ad break. When will the networks learn overly loud constant promos mainly just annoy people, making them reach for the mute button & ignore them.

  6. Yes, I read when they said that, it just made it sound so urgent that he had to go (I thought he must have scored a US pilot). Then when I read that he was shooting the ABC drama it just made me wish they’d kept him for as long as possible – they could have killed him at any stage. Oh well, that’s me, I always want a happy ending!

    • Producers said they knew having MLN was on borrowed time and he would have to exit soon. So having 2 seasons to play with they took a creative exit. He will still appear next season, minimally, and has been shooting for the ABC.

  7. @loz – I agree, it doesn’t appear up be anything like Offspring, the reason I mentioned Offspring in my comment is because they advertised Wonderland heavily during Offspring, including directly after the season finale with a ‘if you like Offspring, you’ll love this’ type segue way to a preview for Wonderland. Because it’s being used to fill the Offspring timeslot it does have big shoes to fill IMO in terms of quality storytelling.

    Re Matthew Le Nevez leaving, yes, that’s what they said when Patrick was killed off but I’ve since read other interviews with MLN saying that he is staying here and wants to keep working in Australia? He does go to LA looking for work but hasn’t actually been signed for anything other than The Glades. I’m a bit confused with the whole thing because the producers made it sound as if he is moving to LA but that’s not what he says. I’m one of the…

  8. @frankly – I don’t know why you keep singling me out when lots of people are saying similar. I actually watch lots of Aussie made TV and enjoy it. Just because I won’t be watching this show doesn’t mean I wish it badly, I hope it does well. I always hope Aussie productions do well.

  9. Why are people comparing this show to Offspring? It appears to be nothing like Offspring, so why do it?

    And they didn’t kill off Patrick due to ratings, Matthew wanted to go to US to act so he wasn’t going to stay on Offspring.

  10. @Frankly, that’s a strange comment. More than 3/4 of the top 20 shows on FTA in 2013 are without doubt locally produced shows. Your comment doesn’t carry much weight.

    Fremantle also hasn’t had much success at all in recent times IMO – especially drama.

    Wentworth got recommissioned but it was so hokey and lame. I think it benefited greatly from the hardcore fans of the original series.

    Who knows, this might work, but given the quality of people behind the scenes, I doubt it.

  11. If this is a middling success Ten will have no choice but to stick with it as its investment will be too great to ditch it. But a series set in a block of flats by the beach really does sound like it will be another clichéd series searching for a reason to exist. Amidst similar urban dramas it seems to have no point of difference at all though I think Roy Billing, one of NZ’s greatest exports could be good if he plays Con The Fruiterer. All up depressingly familiar terrain for free to air television drama.

  12. @AussieGirl, “Do they really think that Australian viewers are so discriminative that they won’t watch people on screen if they’re not white?”

    Conversely, do non-white audiences only watch if there are non-white characters involved? I think it is patronising to tick ethnic boxes for the sake of it. It smacks of tokenism. The producer of ‘Midsommer Murders’ came under scrutiny from the PC jealots for not including ‘enough’ ethnic characters, but Midsommer has been one of the most popular dramas of the past 15 years, despite the ridiculous ratio of murders per square mile! This proves that if you get the stories right, the scripts right and then bring them to life with credible characters then people will suspend their disbelief and watch. If you’re preoccupied with counting the ethnic names and faces then clearly you’re not engaged by the drama and should turn off and do…

  13. I am afraid Kristi, I might have to say the money they put in the local industry is just worthless if people think the same as you. As a result, there won’t be money around to put in local industry if they fail to produce a tasty add, with a good choice of music of course. This all makes me so sad, I can’t see any future for our local industry. A search for pros overseas could help nurture local professionalism. Fremantle has been successful in doing so. Have a look at their current shows’ production team, there are loooots of 4.. visas

  14. @frankly – I’m not angry! Just saying how the promotion for this show has not succeeded in my case. Which is a shame because it could be awesome but I already have viewer fatigue without even watching the show. As I said, I’m glad money is being put into the local industry.

  15. I hope this does well, just for Aussie dramas sake!
    As for diversity in any way (ethnic, disability, sexuality) it shouldn’t be overlooked as Australia has been multicultural for years, but somehow it doesn’t always translate in casting! I wish it did.
    Yes people not represented will still watch, but that’s not the point!
    Even so called reality shows are not a true reflection of society.
    In my opinion this should have changed years ago!

  16. I hope I’m wrong, but I can’t see this doing very well.
    It’s on Ten & for whatever reasons, Ten has trouble getting viewers to watch their shows. Even Offspring had to resort to killing off one of its characters to attract a decent audience. Prior to that its ratings were middling at best.

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