Rude Awakenings

Dimity Rush’s lovely Ponsonby life is in jeopardy – Stuart won’t come home, and Julian steals money to support his new girlfriend, Arthur’s daughter Amber. The teenagers wreck a sale of the Kumeu lifestyle block, adding to Dimity’s financial woes.

Then her home is invaded by a disgruntled former employee, but Dimity is saved by the unwanted intervention of ex-social worker Arthur, which infuriates her and does nothing for neighbourly relations. Dimity resolves to play her last card to outbid Arthur and evict him – wangling a huge company loan from her deeply admiring boss John.

Rose McIver stars as the lonely amateur sleuth Constance Short, Arthur’s somewhat kinky youngest daughter, whose fascination with other’s people’s secrets starts to create havoc in tonight’s new episode.


[Picture: Geoff Short]

Diana Wichtel’s review of “Rude Awakenings” ex New Zealand Listener (reprinted with permission)

It’s hard to outdo the absurdity of real life, especially in Ponsonby, but a new drama series gives it a go.

When a local drama series has viewers firing off letters to the editor passionately for or against, it’s probably doing something right. TV1’s Rude Awakenings certainly sounded promising. Talk about the underclass. A breathless nation was just waiting for a gritty saga of warring tribes taking to one another in the mean streets of Auckland’s Ponsonby.

Danielle Cormack stars as Dimity Rush, a triumphantly thin, ball-busting, self-absorbed human-resources manager with all the nurturing instincts of a cornered rodent. Attila the Mum. Dimity has a husband called Stuart, who is, naturally enough, emasculated and bewildered. Ditto her two sons. Exaggerated, surely. “Sounds like a documentary to me,” remarked a Grey Lynn-dwelling friend.

Next door to the relentlessly renovated Rush villa are a family who appear to have wandered in off the set of Outrageous Fortune. Arthur Short is an unemployed left-wing social worker whose wife has run off with a lesbian gardener. He has two girls. In the time-honoured tradition everything from Roseanne to At Home with the Braithwaites to, yes, Outrageous Fortune, the older daughter is hot and scantily clad and the younger one is smart and scary. Dim’s oldest, Julian, is soon romancing Arthur’s goth princess, to the horror of Dim, who wants to buy Arthur’s house as an investment do-up. Arthur is equally dismayed, viewing his daughter’s taste in men as a betrayal of the class struggle or something.

If it’s all a bit chaotic – the tone darts about as desperately as Dimity’s eyes when she’s on a quest for bridging finance or a quickie with her personal trainer – at least there’s something for everyone. Stuart leaves Dim – wise move – to shack up with his surgeon friend. Spencer lives in a Ponsonby version of the Playboy Mansion, where he’s busy acting out all of Christian’s group-sex scenes from Nip/Tuck.

Fair enough, though even in Ponsonby, would a father really take his young son to live in a place where all there is to play with is a blow-up sex-toy? And would even your more truculent teenage girl say “What do you care, muff-diver?” to her mum? If they carry on like this, the suburb’s preposterous house prices may finally nosedive.

Still, there’s plenty going on here and Lord knows we can use a bit of satire on our screens, even if it remains difficult to outdo the absurdity of real life, especially in Ponsonby. The only real problem is that none of these people are, as yet, particularly likeable. Even the sympathetic characters tend to be annoying. Bonnie (Fiona Samuel), Dim’s best mate from Kumeu, is meant to represent loyalty and friendship. But she’s such a doormat – hanging in there even when Dim ejects her for being too chubby for the new decor or something – that you want to smack her. Outrageous Fortune is no dramatic masterpiece, but you get the feeling that everyone involved has a genuine affection for the wild Wests. Rude Awakenings definitely has a pulse. All it needs now is some heart.

Dimity’s incensed Stuart would give up medicine just because he killed someone, while Stuart can’t believe her real estate plans jeopardize their family assets. He takes Ollie to stay at the home of playboy surgeon Spencer, leaving Dimity to seek comfort in the arms of her personal trainer.

Amber Short (Hannah Tasker-Poland) swings into action when Julian’s ex-girlfriend Ruby (Stephanie van der Wel) starts getting pushy for all the wrong reasons.

Rude Awakenings

[photo: Geoff Short]

Sarah Daniel reviewed Rude Awakenings on Radio New Zealand National this morning.

In brief she says:

  • The show was given a bad graveyard time slot.
  • The Short family are very (too much?) like the West family of Outrageous Fortune.
  • Really slow, not gripping. Doesn’t have humor or pace.
  • Dimity Rush is too cardboard/cliche/stereotyped. Danielle could have made her more subtle. She loves her as an actress but this role isn’t doing it for Sarah Daniel.
  • Too formulaic – especially the wife leaving for another woman jokes. Cardboard cut-out cliches.
  • Patrick Wilson plays the role of Mr Short very well and may be the glue to keep the show together.
  • She hasn’t warmed to the characters yet. It’s not funny or shocking.
  • There is possibly hope for the show. Needs to get bolder and braver.

Hawkes Bay Today reviews the show:

It’s a big call getting chosen to appear as one of the pivotal characters in a major-budgeted local dark-humour-drama series which arrives with high expectations. Napier’s Hannah Tasker-Poland, with her own high expectations driving her, coolly appeared in her opening scene on Rude Awakenings on Friday night … and she can take a bow. She stepped up to the mark and she delivered. She had said it was a role which gave her the opportunity to pout, confront, rebel and generally act up within a slightly disjointed screen family, and she clearly relished the opportunity.

With the superb Danielle Cormack leading the cast, all those who appeared in her wake could have been unfairly compared, but there was no need for pointless comparisons when Hannah took her cues.

Her unique character came through strongly, showing she has a bright future on that side of the screen. The facials, the glances, the expressions and, above all, timing.”

Okay, there were some slightly nervy edges to some of the lines delivered, but those moments were balanced out, and eclipsed, by some real stinging moments – especially when she and her sister visit their mother who had run off with another woman. The air was electric.

It was within scenes like that, that you also have to take the proverbial hat off to the writers. They packed pretty well every emotion and situation they could into that extended opening episode of the 12-parter. I hope they’ve kept plenty of their future script powder dry.

It is the story of two families, steering vastly different courses through life, who meet like a cruise liner colliding with an oil tanker. There’s good old down-to-earth Arthur Short, 20 years bringing up his two daughters Amber (Hannah) and Constance in his rented Ponsonby house (that’s until his wife walks out). Then there’s Dimity Rush (Cormack) and her mentally unravelling husband Stuart and their two sons, one of them 17 (you get the picture of what’s likely to transpire here given Amber is 18 and Constance 15).

The Rush family buy a nice house in Ponsonby, and target the one next door as an investment.

The absentee owner puts the property on the market, but every time the real estate agent puts the “For Sale” sign up Arthur tears it down and burns it along with an old mattress to annoy his upwardly mobile neighbour.

Some scenes were priceless. Arthur and his mate dancing to a Hello Sailor song and Dimity charging over (with a peace offering) to get them to tone it down.

The meeting between Dimity and the reptilian real estate agent.

“You’ve got savvy in spades … I can see you are connecting,” he greased as they negotiated prices. But don’t get the idea this is an Auckland-driven drama. Yes, it’s sited there, but this is effectively a story about the old colliding with the new. Changes. The drawing of battle lines as the old Kiwi quarter acre dream comes under threat from development and investors.

Arthur summed up his feelings with a howling “we’re going to fight!” and Dimity’s response was a simple “the place is changing, Arthur.” And within this turmoil, and what promises to be an entertaining and sophisticated production, is the very promising Hannah Tasker-Poland.


In the letters to the editor, there were two responses to Linda Herrick’s review of the pilot episode:

“I read your review of television’s “Rude Awakenings” with a gasp of disbelief. It is a comedy and your reviewer so didn’t get it. What a shame – it is such a send up of Ponsonby life that it is hilarious.

Just because it didn’t have a laugh track or any obvious slapstick gags doesn’t make it a serious “real life drama” which, I think, is what the reviewer was looking for.

We belly-laughed with pleasure at such mockery for the whole two hours.

Subtlety and the most outrageously obvious cliches blend beautifully to create an intelligent adult comedy – finally.

I am thrilled that the New Zealand film industry is maturing and starting to produce better comedy, and I hope that one review doesn’t turn viewers off discovering the show and giving it a chance.

I just hope that they can air it at a better time in future, or at least have reruns as they did with “The Secret to Happiness.””

– Lee Foreman, Bethells Beach.

“Regarding the new Kiwi drama Rude Awakenings and your review by Linda Herrick… what’s your problem, Linda?

Drama is short for dramatic, and without (yes, over the top) Danielle Cormack, there would be no drama and no show.

She plays and is the lead. The other actors are good, but none could carry the show. Her energy is what the other actors feed off, and my bet is that they don’t share your views.

This reminds me of the Kiwi thing with poppies. You seem more comfortable – maybe less threatened – with the caricature of the pot-bellied, beer-drinking neighbour and his mate.

So as you say, the positive is that the caricature of the old-type Kiwi (Wilson) is about to do battle with the caricature of a new-style Kiwi (Cormack). This is Drama.

I liked the show, and as Alfred Hitchcock once said: “Drama is like life with the boring parts removed.””

– Tony Buckler, Devonport.

Linda Burgess’ review of the pilot episode in The Dominion Post, Monday 12 February:

It’s a good word, “rude”, because it has so many connotations.

It can be used to criticise someone who talks smuttily about the bits that stick out and dangle, or someone who lacks manners, but it can also be used as a compliment – rude good health.

If something is rudely made, it’s unsophisticated but has an earthy charm. As an expression, “rude awakening” has been around long enough to be considered a cliche.

But so what? That adjective has layers. Good title. Good start.

I’m as ambivalent about New Zealand television as many of you are. I could say it’s because I want to be taken away from myself when I’m entertained, not have myself pushed in my face. But it’s more than that.

I’m not looking for a fight: I know that Insider’s Guide and Outrageous Fortune are quality NZ dramas.

But it’s pretty rare that anything I can even remotely identify with appears on our screens.

I’m not particularly keen on the determined quirkiness of the characters in many New Zealand dramas.

Can’t we move on from being yet another bunch of dysfunctional odd-balls?

And what’s so scary about portraying the middle class? Or the middle aged?

The good news is that TV1’s new drama Rude Awakenings seems to have taken a solid step forward when it comes to having at least a veneer of international-level sophistication.

While still being definably New Zealand (an evocatively filmed Ponsonby location and the Finns being mentioned almost immediately), it views like a quality American drama (the theme music alone has strong Six Feet Under overtones).

But a quality American-style drama that really does feel as if it’s about us. About time.

The opening episode on Friday night did what all good first episodes should do – it gave a solid introduction to the key players and set up enough unanswered questions about each one to hook us.

We’re introduced to the main characters – Stuart and Dimity Rush, who have just moved to Ponsonby after eight years on a lifestyle property in Kumeu, and their sons Julian and Ollie.

They’d intended to grow olives, but never quite got around to it.

Stuart, as an anaesthetist, has a real job and Dimity has one of those deeply suss jobs that people have nowadays, advising people how to get on with their co- workers.

Given Dimity’s personality, this is an inspired choice of jobs – one of the quiet jokes this programme excels in.

Another such joke is the brilliant choice of house – I could have yelped with pleasure when the real estate agent takes Stuart and Dimity into their new home. It is an immaculate old villa with taupe walls, wooden floors, pristine white woodwork and terrific indoor-outdoor flow.

Next door is the property developer’s dream – the worst house in the best street.

Again, the writers know not to go over the top; they balance nicely just on the right side of that fine line that separates being observant from stating the bleeding obvious.

There’s no rusting Holden or pitbull straining on an insufficient leash. There’s just Arthur Short, who’s down on his luck, his wife having just run off with a woman.

The writers’ other choice would have been his best friend, but we’ve met his best friend and clearly no woman could be that stupid.

His daughters, Amber and Connie, have problems of their own. Arthur is an old leftie and is a great contrast with the aspirational Dimity.

The kids in this drama are terrific; the casting is brilliant.

Connie Short has a scary “thing” about uniforms. She’s too mature for her own good – reminiscent of the daughter with specs in At Home with the Braithwaites.

Ollie Rush is your ordinary uncomplicated eight-year-old but Julian, forced to leave his mates at Kumeu, has various things going on in his life that are causing him real problems and he wants to leave school.

There could be a twist and it could be Connie he teams up with, but as things stand it looks like it’ll be next door’s Amber Short – who we saw in a tremendously good dance sequence, before being sent home by her teacher because she falters when she feels pain.

Faltering in the face of pain is, I guess, one of the things this programme is about.

Danielle Cormack is perfectly cast in the role of Dimity. We already know she’s flawed – tough as old boots when it comes to dumping old friends when she feels like she needs to move on – but the glimpse of tenderness we got when Stuart is buckling under the hideous pressure of his work – well, I’m remembering it.

At the end of episode one, it’s Stuart who’s got me curious. This is an insightful look at midlife: a time when women often get their chance to take off, and men have to acknowledge options are narrowing.

Next Friday is really something to look forward to. I feel worryingly optimistic about this programme.

I don’t know much about the show’s creator and co-writer, Garth Maxwell, though I’ll be keeping an eye out from now on. But my hopes lifted from the moment I saw three significant names: writer Stephanie Johnson, writer and actor Fiona Samuel and Cormack.

Top talent times three, plus excellent support from other writers, actors, casting, props, director, camera crew, music person – everyone. Not a foot wrong.

Except for talking about Julian being in “the 6th form”. Doesn’t everyone say Year Something now? But that’s nothing. We can do it when we try.

I’m currently watching the first episode of Rude Awakenings online (there for a limited time only). It’s great with no ads and I can pause it whenever I want. It plays well with no problems and is a great quality.

The first thing that struck me was the theme song which seemed a mix of Grey’s Anatomy and Desperate Housewives’ tune.

The show is set in Ponsonby.

The basic gist of the show so far that I’ve gathered is that there’s two families: one upperclass family moving back to the city, father is a doctor, a teenage son who got into trouble at his old school when his girlfriend cheated on him and a younger boy.

The next door neighbours are in a completely different “white trash” world – broke overweight bald alcoholic dad who cleans boats for a job has just had his wife leave him for another woman. He has two teenage girls, one obsessed with video recording everything and the other wanting to go live with her mum. The house they rent is going to be sold off since the owner died and the wife of the other family (Dimity Rush) wants to buy the neighbours house with her inheritance money as well and do it up since it’s rather run down. The neighbours have lived there for 20 years and are going to fight the sale at any cost. They hope to raise the money for the house themselves.

Does anyone know the name and artist who does the theme song for Rude Awakenings? Sounds very much like a cross between the Grey’s Anatomy theme (Cosy in the Rocket, Psapp) and Desperate Housewives theme.

Friday 16 February, 8.30pm

Dimity’s dream of a perfect life frays when anaesthetist husband Stuart gives up work after killing a patient. When she objects to this loss of income, he attacks her plan to snatch Arthur’s place, especially as their Kumeu property won’t sell. Stuart leaves, with young son Ollie, to stay with Spencer, a rich plastic surgeon. Dimity retaliates, pressuring old friend Bonnie for a personal loan, and seeking comfort in the arms of her personal trainer.

“Stuart and Dimity are both going in completely opposite directions, which is a male/female thing. A lot of women impale themselves at that age and Dimity wants to become more powerful and richer, while Stuart’s had a pressured job and just wants peace and meaning in his life,” says Carl Bland.