In Frayed, an uber rich Londonite, Simone (show creator Sarah Kendall) goes into freefall when her husband dies suddenly. The circumstances of his death were revealing in all of the wrong ways; he was in flagrante-delicto with a prostitute and also had a cellphone up his bum. Considering that this is the 1980s and the size of cellphones at the time, well … you get the picture. Insult to injury, Simone’s lawyer informs her that her husband had racked up massive debts, necessitating that she sell everything to creditors (even both yachts!) Embarrassed and without resources, Simone returns with her two teenage children to her backwater hometown in Australia, where a web of her self-aggrandizing lies begin to unravel—starting with the fact that she is actually called Sammy.
From there, Frayed diverges from other similar stories in that Sammy has no idea how to pull her life back together. She has no skills and very little to recommend her (imagine if Arrested Development had focused on Lindsay Bluth, more or less). Though she disparages the tiny town she fled after graduating high school, her former classmates are doing well; they are in government, serve as barristers. All except her high school ex Dan (Matt Passmore), now a PE teacher who wears shorts that are way, way too short, and who lives in a trailer in his grandma’s backyard. And so, the former popular party kids are now the outsiders among their (obnoxious) peers, and it’s just one of many reckonings that Sammy must now face.
Though the series feels like it should be a half-hour comedy to start, its tone ultimately makes more sense as an hourlong drama. Frayed is funny, mostly in sophomoric ways (there’s an unusual amount of projectile vomiting), but it is at its best when it’s sincere. Still, Sammy, initially clothed in slip dresses from the 1960s she left behind because her luggage was lost, is humiliated at every turn. Without qualifications, she can’t find her job, her children (Frazer Hadfield and Maggie Ireland-Jones) are bullied at their new school, her hilarious and sweet but deadbeat brother Jim (Ben Mingay) and his scammer girlfriend (Doris Younane) think she’s scheming to take their mother’s house from them, etc. The kids are a mess, but the adults are also in a stunted adolescence (with the exception of Sammy’s mother, played by a luminous Kerry Armstrong, who is trying to stay sober and dips a toe into dating 23 years after being widowed).
Running just six episodes, Frayed juggles a lot of different narratives, not all of which are given the time and depth they deserve (there’s one in particular that escalates to an extreme moment that just doesn’t have enough groundwork to land). And yet, the word I kept returning to when making my review notes was “charming.” Even when it meanders—perhaps especially so—the show is overflowing with it. It’s also funny, weird, and foul-mouthed, but more than anything it quietly makes you care fully about these characters and this quirky little world as it fans out to explore all of their individual stories. It’s not exactly heartwarming, but there are natural moments that signify growth and change that put it more into the category of family drama than satirical comedy (although it absolutely has elements of both). To reveal more, though, would be to give away too many of the show’s setups and twists.
Frayed is an Australian and UK production that aired in those regions in 2019, and is now airing on HBO Max in the US. It makes for an unexpected but welcomed choice for an exclusive streaming acquisition, and hopefully will lead to a second season. Despite a mistake it makes late in its run that too many shows have all been making lately, it’s worth a trip to Frayed’s beachside Austrailian hamlet, where life seems simpler—but everyone remains an absolute dickhead.
All 6 episodes of Frayed are available Thursday, July 30th on HBO Max.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
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