If you’ve ever dealt with loss, dreamed about moving, or more like “escaping” from your current life to a place surrounded by nature, like New Zealand, the new antipodean family drama “800 Words” is like a warm cup of Kiwi tea.
You can escape into this delightful show, filmed mostly in New Zealand, or as the character Shay calls it, “the arse end of the world.” Widowed Sydney columnist George Turner abruptly moves his kids to the fictional town of Weld in an effort to start a new life because there are too many haunting memories in Sydney, where his wife died. But his teenage kids don’t initially agree with this seemingly rash decision. Each episode is built around his regular 800 word column that George still dispatches back to Sydney. But residents in his new adopted hometown in New Zealand obviously have Wi-Fi and start reading his column when they first move there. It turns out to be a source of a rather bumpy start for the new family in this very insular community.
Weld is a place where townies don’t seem to know the existence of the word “privacy” because someone’s personal business seems to travel lightning fast through the Kumara vine. You realize how small the town of Weld is quickly, where people seem to multitask with more than one job because it’s vital to the maintanence of the community.
But the bumpy start in their attempt to start all over again in a new place is part of the Turner family’s journey on their new chapter in life, especially for daughter Shay and son Arlo -- who both have the requisite new-kid-in-a-small-town angst, coupled with being uprooted from the only life they knew in Australia. Although it’s tough being in a new school, Shay does find an emotional life-raft in the Maori rebel with a cause and fellow student Ike, whom she labels “Maori Batman” on her phone.
As expected, a handsome widower like George (who at times can resemble a bit of a cross between Keifer Sutherland and Kevin Bacon) will attract a bevy of the town’s single female population as their lives are interwoven in each episode -- whether it’s the artist Katie, the first resident to meet him when he first arrives, or Fiona, ambulance driver and owner of the Boat Club where much of the town congregates. George also has his surfing buddy and contractor Woody to talk to about his problems .
“800 Words” is nice weekly escape to New Zealand, a way to live vicariously, albeit sometimes humorously, through the Turner family’s little escapades. These characters and their stories, set in this beautiful part of the world, will probably make it your new favorite show. You can root for someone to change a bully into a good person, for Shay to find some peace in this new hometown, or hope that George finds love and the right companionship. Although set in what can seem like another world from Los Angeles, the topics of grief, bullying, love, acceptance and community make the show universally relatable and not so far away after all.
And while you watch, keep your ear out for Kiwi vernacular, which may include “cull” (let go of), “wagging” (to cut school), “faff” (putz around, waste time). Get to know some of these words and you’ll be all set to immerse yourself in the Kiwi town of Weld with the Turner family.