Review: 800 Words

800-WordsI have good news, the not so good news and annoying news about the new Erik Thomson’s new Australian drama 800 Words.

The not so good news is that the first episode starts ‘out of character’ for the show, primarily because it needs to set up the premise of the series. The show is ultimately about the adventures and misadventures of a family now living in New Zealand – the show obviously deals with the actual move from Australia to New Zealand to begin with.

Without warning, George Turner quits his job as a popular 800 word columnist for a top selling Sydney newspaper. Over the internet he buys a house on an impulse in a remote New Zealand seaside town. Turner then has to break the news to his two teenage kids who just lost their mum, and now face an even more uncertain future.

The good news is that the show does get better. Once it finds its feet in its new setting in New Zealand it allows deeper understanding of the characters.

The Turners arrive in a most unlikely, distant new home in the fictional town of Weld. It is off the tourist trail and unaccustomed to newcomers. The close-knit community of colourful, secretive and inquisitive locals ensure Turner’s dream of a fresh start does not go to plan.

The annoying news is not so much specifically about 800 Words but rather the disappointing trend of the last decade to launch Australian dramas and force the audience to attempt to relate to characters such as Toadie, Carbo and in this case Woody – characters that appear to the audience more like caricatures than substantial real life characters. We didn’t have these sort of characters in popular dramas such as All Saints, Blue Heelers, Home and Away and to a lesser extent, Always Greener and Packed to the Rafters. However, shows such as Winners and Losers, House Husbands and now 800 Words are chock full of these annoying caricatures that it makes it hard for the audience to relate to and fall in love with their journey.

Erik Thomson’s character and his children are engaging, however, the characters and situations of the townspeople of the new setting in New Zealand make the show awkward and unbalanced.

It is a real shame because the premise makes for one of the better Australian dramas – a family counts the devastating loss of their mother/wife and the father takes the extraordinary step of moving to a new location and making a fresh start – a start that will be emotional, difficult, a change in dynamic for the family and painfully conflicting without the mother whom was the ‘glue’ for the family. It is about the role of a father stepping up, the children learning to cope and developing new friendships and moving on without forgetting. Done with a more serious tone, but underlined with some light heartedness this could have been a major hit for Seven.

Aside from the Carbo character in Rafters, the Australian public fell in love with each of the characters because everyone either can relate to or wished they had a family like that. I can relate somewhat to Erik Thomson’s family in the show but the town is full of loony people, unrealistic situations and cartoon like cardboard caricatures which is more annoying than engaging.

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  • John McCready

    The show gets better and more engaging with every episode and deserves to be the hit here it is in Australia. As the family struggle to come to terms with their new home some delightful local characters develope together with some engaging plot situations. This show is a winner, in my view.

  • Aaron Impact

    It seems very strange for an Australian TV show to be set in New Zealand. Aren’t they protective of their TV industry?

    • Their industry is fine. Just because the story is set in New Zealand doesn’t make it New Zealand’s.

      • Aaron Impact

        I know that. But why not set it in a small Australian coastal town? Just seems strange to me.

        • The writer and I think creator is James Griffen. It’s a co production between South Pacific Pictures and Seven. If it was a small Australian town it would just be Sea change.

  • Guest

    This show is boring. I gave it a good go, and binge-watched all the series together from On Demand, but it falls flat with me. The constant belittling of NZers is nasty and they could’ve cast the main characters so much better. Awful show.