Wanderlust Episode 4 is still as messy and wearing as ever, but the winning sub-plots are keeping it watchable.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve said more than once that the most interesting part of Nick Payne’s messy relationship drama isn’t the open marriage at its core. Joy (Toni Collette) and Alan (Steven Mackintosh) have decided to have sex with other people to rejuvenate their marriage, sure, but their wacky, potentially calamitous approach to relationships doesn’t feel nearly as well-observed as those of their children, who’re tentatively feeling their way around growing up in the chaos of their parents’ self-congratulatory experiment.
Besides, game performances notwithstanding, actually getting behind Alan and Joy is increasingly difficult. Sometimes their arguments and outbursts and anxieties are funny or thoughtful; all too often they’re grating and silly. They’re laced with hypocrisy and often utter stupidity – even when things go well, or at least better than they should, it feels like the plot doing them a favour rather than a justification of non-monogamy.
For what it’s worth I don’t think Wanderlust Episode 4, or any of the prior instalments, are really trying to justify anything – that’s part of why Alan and Joy’s marriage feels so limp-wristed. But not being judgemental about things doesn’t win the show any points when nothing about the arrangement feels authentic. A double date in this episode feels like such a ridiculous proposition that it’s difficult to entertain the notion even in context. It’s hard to imagine how any of this will work out in the end save for the upbeat machinations of a messy script.
And the issues feel predictable. Alan’s increasingly strong feelings for his colleague, Claire (Zawe Ashton), have a “well, obviously” quality about them, and Joy’s renewed interest in her childhood fling is an equally played-out concept. The idea of being able to do your life over again, to make different decisions and see, in some way, how things might have played out differently given the opportunity, is so common in romantic fiction – and, if we’re being honest, most fiction – that Wanderlust isn’t able to do anything novel with it.
Thank goodness for the kids then. The on-going subplots continued in Wanderlust Episode 4, with Alan and Joy’s grown-up daughter, Naomi (Emma D’Arcy), exploring a relationship with her 40-something neighbour, which somehow isn’t anywhere near as weird in action as it is written down, and dorky son Tom (Joe Hurst) gradually realising that he isn’t actually smitten with the grown-up cool girl, but his loveable best friend Michelle (Isis Hainsworth).
Even at its worst Wanderlust is watchable, thanks to performances and occasional wit or insight, but when it focuses on the kids and their issues it’s actually pretty good. I’d be happier if the show realised that, and devoted less time to the adults making disastrous decisions. In a way, I think I’ll be slightly satisfied when it doesn’t work out.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.