‘Wellmania’ is a Wild Ride to Growth and Self-Love (REVIEW)

“Existence is random. Life is short. If you’re not making the most of every moment, what’s the fucking point?”

Wellmania falls into the now well-worn genre of a “self-obsessed millennial-ish woman dealing with the consequences of her own actions.” 

While this particular genre has become well-trodden recently, from Flight Attendant to Hacks to Fleabag, Wellmania brings a unique blend of comedic wit and blunt Australian charm that makes it worth watching.

It follows Australian food and lifestyle writer Olivia Healy, aka Liv (Celeste Barber), being offered a possible TV judge spot for a new cooking show in New York. However, her weekend visit to Sydney becomes longer when her bag and green card are stolen. Before getting a new green card, she must improve her health enough to be cleared by an embassy doctor – portrayed by Leah Vandenberg, whose wit and sarcasm amazingly play off of Barber’s annoying charm. The two have a dynamic that had me hooked in every short scene.

Celeste Barber as Liv Healy in Wellmania (COURTESY: Netflix)

In just the first episode, you see Liv doing cocaine in a bathroom, insulting her family, and causing a fight with her best friend. She is so determined that everything about her life back in Sydney is terrible and that her family doesn’t really care about her happiness. If only she could return to New York, everything would be perfect. From the outside, it’s clear that she is sabotaging her happiness at every turn, destroying her health, and generally making terrible decisions. 

That being said, there are moments where I understand her beyond our shared love for self-sabotage.

“Don’t shit all over my life because you’re afraid of joy.”

Liv lives her life to the fullest. She eagerly dives into every poorly planned idea that crosses her mind because she wants to escape any chance of an unhappy thought. Again, relatable. This method of living doesn’t usually end with a healthy individual. So, as Liv so eloquently puts it, “Nobody wants to be healthy. I need to be.” She decides to do whatever it takes to get her life back on track. Unfortunately, that is not as easy as she imagines. From colon cleanses and cupping to working out and nude therapy, Liv has to face her own flaws and misconceptions. She is forced to grow not only physically but emotionally as well. And, as can be expected, and as is natural, that change is uncomfortable, and she lashes out and slides backward more than once.

The cast has a funny and charismatic dynamic. Liv’s best friend, Amy (J.J. Fong), and brother, Gaz (Lauchlan Buchanan), are great foils to our chaotic main protagonist. They are grounded and focused on their careers, families, and relationships. This doesn’t mean they don’t have problems, but they are the mature counterparts to Liv’s immature intensity. And even they benefit from some of Liv’s wisdom once in a while, showing that everyone has something to teach you.

“Sometimes life calls for the occasional cupcake.”

Along with the regulars, there are a host of amazing guest stars, including Orange is the New Black’s Yael Stone and Please Like Me’s Keegan Joyce. This cycle of guest stars offers meaningful insights and hard truths that are fairly poignant from this show that I started watching as low-commitment background noise.

In my opinion, one of the most impactful characters on the show is Camille Lavigne, played by Miranda Otto, a French sex therapist who encourages – forces, really – Liv to be honest with herself. She tells Liv that she is full of merde and the only way she will agree to an interview–that will allow Liv to write a viral article needed to cement her place in her dream job–is to go through a therapy session.

The catch? They’re both naked.

Why? To bare your fear. To own it. To be able to really listen to your internal dialogue and find the core of why you do what you do.

Liv, who, until this point, has been mostly callous, judgemental, and rude, bares her soul. She cries out that she’s terrified of being a fuck up, of letting people down. And again, relatable. That’s what drives her to pursue her career success – to escape Australia so ardently – and to sabotage her relationships so adamantly. It’s backward and frustrating and so cringingly human.

Without giving too much away, Camille reveals a secret to Liv. She trusts her with something incredibly personal that could ruin her career. Even Amy tells her to use the information for her article, but Liv isn’t convinced. She is desperate for New York, for her job, but she struggles with whether the material success is worth hurting someone.

J.J. Fong as Amy Kwan and Celeste Barber as Liv Healy in Wellmania (COURTESY: Netflix)

Until now, Liv hasn’t shown much in the way of being likable or redeemable. This is a glimmer of her growth. It’s not just lowering her cholesterol, she’s actually making progress in evolving as a person, too. She’s finally showing empathy. This was when I really started to feel for Liv as more than someone who is relatable and emotionally damaged, but also as someone who I genuinely wanted to succeed…some of the time.

“I’m scared that the real me will disappoint people.”

Liv is constantly being supported by her friends and family, who she doesn’t always show appreciation for. Occasionally, it had me nodding along with her failures because why should she get what she wants when she treats others so poorly? Maybe the people in her life would be better off letting her go if she’s so determined to ruin her own life. But, of course, a big message from Wellmania is showing gratitude for the people that are there for you.

Running away from the people who love you isn’t going to make them love you any less. It’s only going to end up with everyone getting hurt.

And Liv does end up hurting every important person in her life. She causes Gaz–who is trying to help her get healthier–to question and almost ruin his upcoming wedding. She reveals personal information about Amy–who gives her chance after chance and supports her every goal–and embarrasses her in front of her boss and online. And possibly the most consistent is how she constantly judges and demeans her mom.

Liv’s mom, Lorraine (Genevieve Mooy), watches her daughter spiral and slowly kill herself with excessive drug and alcohol use. In a heartbreaking scene, Lorraine screams, with tears in her eyes, “I didn’t want to bury another member of this family.” – referencing Liv’s dad, who died when she was a teenager. To which you can be assured, Liv responded by lashing out.

“I fuck everything up. It’s kind of my thing.”

Liv has so many people in her life that love her unconditionally, and it’s heart-wrenching to see her repeatedly push them away. The show’s depiction of the consequences of Liv’s actions and her subsequent growth is stress-inducing and rewarding and then frustrating and then nice and even more frustrating but in a good way.

Overall, Wellmania is a cheesy and surprisingly touching tale of self-growth. Maybe it’s my own time spent in Australia, or maybe it’s because I’ve been going through a similar period of my life, or maybe it’s the orchestral version of Dance Monkey. Still, I found Wellmania entirely compelling and a show I will be depressed re-watching multiple times. With a relatable cast and impactful messages about gratitude and accountability, this show is definitely worth a watch. Fans of shows with havoc-filled, self-destructive, mildly relatable, and entirely frustrating protagonists will find a lot to enjoy here. So sit back, grab some vegemite, and enjoy the journey of Olivia Healy as she finds her way to happiness and, hopefully, a second season.

“You are annoyingly unstoppable.”


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