A drama-filled ex­is­tence on screen

Manawatu Standard - - Weekend Magazine - MALCOLM HOP­WOOD

When ac­tor Erik Thom­son said ‘‘we need to keep grow­ing 800 Words‘‘, he was right.

He didn’t mean adding a few more sen­tences to his news­pa­per col­umn, but de­vel­op­ing the TV drama fur­ther.

The third se­ries of 800 Words (TV One, Wed­nes­days) sets out to achieve it. But did it suc­ceed? By and large, yes. Ge­orge Turner (Erik Thom­son) is a wid­ower, columnist and fa­ther of two teenagers, who’s re­turned to New Zealand from Aus­tralia. The story is about his life rather than the ink on his hands.

In Weld, the fic­ti­tious town with the unin­spir­ing name, three lo­cals – Zac, Steve and Ike – fail to re­turn from a fish­ing trip and the com­mu­nity is mo­bilised to find them. Well, al­most. Ge­orge in­stead is sum­monsed to Stafford District Hospi­tal where Jan, his boss, is hav­ing twins.

Jan is a ca­reer wo­man who’s played bed­room rodeo with Ge­orge, Zac and Steve, none of whom know if they’re the fa­ther. Worse still, two of them are lost at sea. To com­pli­cate mat­ters, Jan col­lapses and re­turns to the­atre for surgery.

Back on the coast, the search is prov­ing un­suc­cess­ful un­til Zac and Steve sud­denly turn up at head­quar­ters. Later, Ike is found alive float­ing in the sea. The res­cue at­tempts take all episode, but it’s a cun­ning de­vice to rein­tro­duce us to ev­ery­one in the cast, their feel­ings and mo­ti­va­tions.

It’s a smart piece of script­ing and mostly works, but it slows the ac­tion down. It has grunt, but no grit. Sadly, the episode loses its nerve when Zac and Steve ca­su­ally reap­pear. There was no res­cue at sea with waves and rocks and sharks and blood, just ‘‘hello, we’re back’’. Af­ter all, they could be twothirds of a fa­ther.

How­ever, the dis­cov­ery of Ike float­ing in the shal­lows is a lit­tle more dra­matic. By the end of the episode I never felt re­ally in­volved, but was pleased to meet them again.

800 Words has started well enough. Raquel Welsh once said: ‘‘If I fea­tured as cen­tre­fold in

Play­boy, what do I do for an en­core?’’ Now, 800 Words has to find an en­core for the rest of the se­ries that sus­tains the ac­tion. Jan, her re­lapse and the three dads, that echo Mamma Mia,

might do it for a while, but not for long.

If you en­joy the prospect of a dis­turbed night, then Dr Foster

(TV One, Mon­days) is the se­ries for you. And if you want to en­sure your sleep­ing pat­terns re­main dis­turbed then view the first se­ries af­ter this one’s fin­ished.

Dr Emma Foster is on edge fol­low­ing the breakup of her mar­riage to Si­mon so, when he re­turns to Parmin­ster af­ter a twoyear break, she’s alarmed. Not only that, Si­mon has a new wife, who dresses for the red car­pet at the Os­cars, and a baby.

Si­mon and Kate hold a house­warm­ing party and Gemma is at­tracted to it like Damian Mcken­zie to a gap. She turns up un­wel­come and unan­nounced and, in­stead of min­gling with the guests, min­gles with the top drawer in his bed­room. There she finds many in­ti­mate things in­clud­ing Vic­tor the Vi­bra­tor.

Now Tom, 15, their son, quickly tires of the tug of war for his af­fec­tion and chooses dad over his pos­ses­sive and spooky mum. By the end of a grip­ping first episode, she’s left with noth­ing. How­ever, her im­pul­sive mind is al­ready in over­drive and veers between un­hinged and psy­chotic.

Su­ranne Jones as Emma Foster is lu­mi­nous and su­perb and de­serves all the ac­co­lades she re­ceived for the first se­ries. She cut her act­ing teeth as Karen Mc­don­ald in Coro Street, feud­ing with Tracy Barlow. Her face still car­ries the emo­tional wounds from that en­counter.

The first se­ries played out over five con­sec­u­tive nights and, at the end, you felt like go­ing out and harm­ing your­self as view­ers went through an un­wanted preg­nancy, a wrecked mar­riage, an ab­duc­tion and at­tempted sui­cide.

This time, a week sep­a­rates each episode and we can at­tempt to re­cover by watch­ing re­peats of Crim­i­nal Minds. But Dr Foster is worth ev­ery inch of footage. It’s psy­cho­log­i­cal drama at its very best and, if you want to see the se­ries out, take sleep­ing tablets or spend the day hav­ing scary nanon­aps.


Erik Thom­son plays a wid­ower in 800 Words.

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