It is refreshing to come across television shows, especially Netflix stories, about normal-looking women. Women have normal bodies, have weird habits, and can be as successful as men. They dress well and, at the same time, dress awkwardly, and they make sure to be themselves and never hide their real selves from anyone. We’ve had “Fleabag,” which was a landmark show that talks about everything from a woman’s perspective, and ever since, there has been a row of television series and films that tell the story of the female gender and what they are instead of painting a picture-perfect cutout of a woman, which has been projected onto us for generations. Based on the novel written by Brigid Delaney, “Wellmania: Misadventures in the Search for Wellness,” the show is all about a woman who is about to hit her 40s and goes through a massive change in her life thanks to a health scare; in a matter of a few days, a lot of things around her start to change and the things are trying to make sense for her. Will she alter or restructure her way of life, or will she go into denial, which is what most of us do in case of a medical emergency? Created by Brigid Delaney and Benjamin Law, “Wellmania” is an eight-episode miniseries that highlights the importance of living healthily, which was released on March 29, 2023.
Olivia wakes up inside an ambulance in Sydney and acts disoriented while the medics try to calm her down. Just a few days before the ambulance incident, we are introduced to Olivia “Liv” Healy, who has a high-functioning personality. A food writer by profession, she leads a high-flying life in one of the most exciting cities in the world, New York City. She has been working as a food writer with one of the most prestigious and popular magazines and is always taking steps to become the most successful food critic. She is all set to be a part of a food reality television show, but to get approval from the producers, she will have to prove her merit. All Liv will have to do is submit an article that will become the subject of discussion on television and social media and use that popularity as a stepping-stone to create a positive image for herself. This will surely help land the job of a judge on the show. Her boss, Valerie, is trying everything she can to push Liv for the post, but Liv will also have to prove herself to be a good fit for the job. Right before her deadline, Liv will be making a quick trip to the land down under, her home country Australia, to surprise her best friend Amy on her 40th birthday, and she is all set to come back within the weekend. On reaching Sydney, she starts living with her mother, Lorraine, and her brother, Gaz and gets to meet her best friend, Amy Kwan.
Liv has not seen or met any of them in a while, which makes the reunion more exciting. While she is in town, Amy, a high-profile journalist in the country herself, is nominated for an award and is keen to take her best friend with her to the event. Liv is on good terms with Amy, but she has had a complicated relationship with her mother and brother. On the day of the awards function, someone stole Liv’s bag, which contained all her identification documents, including her green card, which she requires to enter America. During the green card submission process at the consulate, Liv undergoes a panic/anxiety attack and ends up in the ambulance that evening where she is taken care of by the medics. Liv is told that her blood pressure, heart rate, and cholesterol are too high for a person of her age, and because of that, her green card is canceled. Liv is in denial about the whole situation, which is unfolding in front of her eyes because she truly believes nothing can go wrong in her life right now. Liv is desperate to get back to the US because of a work-related deadline, and for that, she is willing to skip her only brother’s wedding.
She is not remorseful about the idea, but her mother and brother try to make her feel guilty about not attending the wedding. Now that her green card is gone, her only way to get back to her life in New York is to reinstate the green card, and for that, she will have to make sure her health parameters are fine as per the doctor’s instructions. Liv, being a food critic and writer, ends up eating a lot of food that she is not supposed to. The nature of her work is such that she cannot avoid eating the food served, which is what has caused this health scare. Dr. Priyanka Singh, her assigned doctor, refuses to fall for any of her impatient antics and stands her ground, which means Liv will have to clean up her act and her gut to make sure her vitals become normal as quickly as she can, which will help her fast track her green card process. Will Liv leave her denial behind and start working on fixing her health, or will she resort to childish antics to make sure she leaves the country as soon as possible to avoid uncomfortable conversations with her family and Amy?
“Wellmania” has all the characteristics of a good goofy comedy show about a woman who is lazy, desperate, throws fits and antics, and is not apologetic for who she is. There is a character arc given to Olivia “Liv” Healy in this show, which works in many places but does not at the same time. Olivia comes across a woman-child who can’t handle it when things don’t go her way, but since the circumstances are not in her favor, she slows down her life, hoping that would help her find a solution to her biggest issue, acquiring the green card. Liv’s character in the show comes across as someone who would go from being easily hated to becoming likable at a moment’s notice. Liv slows down her life for a while and proves she is emerging from her denial by listening to her mother and brother. Liv finds a grounding when it comes to her matters. She ends up meeting plenty of interesting people that help shape who she is. This is a rather good character arc developed by the writers for the show, where one can see the leading lady is far more perfect. Liv is loud, at times problematic, and at times complicated about what she wants from herself.
The creators and writers of the show do the right thing by projecting a normal woman and someone who wants to do what is best for herself, personally and professionally. Liv, as a character, does not apologize for the life she leads, but she also knows now is the time to take a break and find time for her health. The writers at no point shame Liv as a person for who she is. It is interesting to watch shows about women of age 35 and above and the kinds of problems they face. In the past, not many have dealt with this subject matter. Kudos to Netflix for managing to pull off a show such as “Wellmania” that not only is about women telling women’s stories but also throws light on why women should take charge of their health and never place it on the back burner.
This does not mean the show does not have its baggage and issues. “Wellmania” began with the idea that talking about health should be a priority, but slowly the main subject of the show became just one of the plot points, and the focus of the show became Liv and Amy’s personal lives, their friendship, and the relationship Liv shares with all of them. There is no definite conclusion to Liv going on the healthy way arc, which is frustrating. The show, in its hurry to talk about relationships, did not explore why Liv has blackouts, a subject that was rushed through and left the viewers confused. Her remembering the way her father passed away and that having an impact on her was not explored in the right way. Many subplots were introduced, but they did not serve any purpose in taking the narrative forward. Though the character arc given to Lorraine Healy, Liv’s mother, is an interesting one, she talks about leading a new life since her work life had abruptly come to an end. Lorraine, just like her daughter Liv, was struggling a bit initially, but she jumped back to being active, unlike Liv, who constantly complained.
The screenplay, sadly, was a letdown because the writers, in their hope to bring out all the flaws of Liv, her character sometimes comes off as a little bit annoying. Kind of like Christine “Ladybird” McPherson in the film “Ladybird”. The narrative at many points became too predictable because, as a viewer, it is easy to see Liv as a clumsy person, and the fact that the show keeps repeating that one characteristic of her becomes tiresome. The show also got dramatic at times, and the solutions to a lot of her problems felt a lot more simplistic. Plenty of scenarios Liv gets into become predictable after a point, which makes the show less engaging. At times, the editing felt a bit odd. The show is too stretched out in the second half. How the show concludes shows how predictable the screenplay and story turned out to be. Also, why can’t anyone just text about the emergency? Why insist on calling the person when he or she is not picking up the phone? This is nothing but a childish manner in which to end the show. There had to have been a better way to conclude “Wellmania” season one.
“Wellmania” could have easily been a breezy comedy about a woman rediscovering her life, but the show did not have any surprises that would keep the viewer hooked. Even though the character arcs of the women in this show were interesting, this did not help keep the rest of the narrative of the show steady. The story and screenplay were just all over the place, just like Liv Healy. I was hoping the show would be a good way to talk about women who are nearing their forties and love their lives, but only if the writing of the entire show was crisp and not tangled.