Rebecca Gibney is a joy to watch in this cheerful odd-couple romcom
Under the Vines ★★★½
The upbeat and economical set-up suggests from the outset that this breezy series knows exactly what it is, where it’s going and how it’s going to get there. Creator and co-writer Erin White opens her warm-hearted comedy-drama by efficiently introducing the central characters. Sydney socialite Daisy Munroe (Rebecca Gibney) is seen flitting around at a fundraiser for pangolins, dropping cash without concern, and then discovering to her dismay that her credit card has been cancelled.
Meanwhile, disgraced London lawyer Louis Oakley (Charles Edwards) sits disconsolately in a jail cell. A record of his exploits during a drunken night on the town have gone viral and earned him the nickname “Piccadilly Willy”, and his wife Simone (Sara Wiseman) and 11-year-old son Julian (Sam Gardner) are now even less impressed with him than usual.
Rebecca Gibney as Daisy Munroe in Under the Vines.Credit:Jae Frew/AcornTV
Daisy and Louis soon discover that they’ve inherited a New Zealand winery when Daisy’s benefactor step-father, who is Louis’ uncle, dies. Each mistakenly believes that they’ve become the sole proprietors. Cut to NZ’s South Island and the tourist-brochure-ready landscape of central Otago, as the pair arrive in the fictional town of Peak View and an odd-couple, fish-out-of-water, romcom escapade begins with them bickering about ownership and control.
The formula is familiar but the six-part first season of Under the Vines – a second is due to drop on streaming service Acorn on March 20 – combines the stock elements with considerable charm, pep and competence. The romcom thread sees the mismatched antagonists gradually discovering each other’s attributes. Daisy’s a sunny spirit accustomed to the good life, but also a wily woman who can deploy her assets to her advantage. She’s the seemingly superficial flighty blonde who’s easily under-estimated. By contrast, Louis is a grouchy, uptight Pom trying to calm her down and endeavouring to keep a firm, and what he regards as a pragmatic, eye on the business’s bottom line, while increasingly finding himself disarmed by her. He’s also a man who’s hit rock bottom but possesses skills that are handy in this situation.
The city slickers become strangers in a strange land and need to become acquainted with the nature and politics of Peak View, which, as the template requires, are blithely quirky. Unwritten laws include always picking up local hitchhikers – the obligation doesn’t extend to tourists – and not allowing livestock in the library, although the latter is flexible, depending on the circumstances.
Gibney and Charles Edwards lead an appealing cast in Under the Vines.Credit:Jae Frew/Acorn TV
With the Oakley winery come employees Tippy (Trae Te Wiki), a wary and wise young Maori woman, and Gus (Simon Mead), who’s open-hearted and often bare-chested, along with a three-legged cat named Pussy Galore who initially makes herself scarce. The house that Daisy and Louis must share looks like it’s been loved but allowed to become a bit shabby, its ’80s dark-wood decor suggesting a disinclination towards renovation.
The comfortable, if unfashionable, abode poses a stark contrast to the schmick modernity of the neighbouring Shimmering Lake enterprise with its neutral tones and spectacular water views. Its owners, Don (John Bach) and Marissa (Sarah Peirse), are soon circling Oakley with intent, offering to take the struggling business off its new owners’ hands and portraying their bid as an act of goodwill. Local lore has it that “no one says no to Marissa”, and the always terrific Peirse looks to be having a fine time as the steely, sharp-eyed matriarch.
Also notable among the members of the local community are the sweet but largely ineffectual lawyer, Vic (Cohen Holloway), his welcoming wife, Nic (Carrie Green), a committed but apparently talent-free potter, and Rowan (Lotima Pome’e), a canny and confident pre-teen entrepreneur. Running the nearby Coven winery, inclined to garden in the nude and keenly attuned to her own creative powers is Hilary (Catherine Wilkin).
The well-cast and appealing ensemble provides solid support for the leads and the role of Daisy allows Gibney, who’s also an executive producer, an opportunity to exercise her comic chops as she totters around the vineyard in wildly inappropriate designer outfits and skyscraper heels.
She’s fun to watch, as is the show. It won’t rock the foundations of the TV world, but Under the Vines knows what it wants to be as feelgood TV and achieves its goal.
Under the Vines is on ABC, Saturday, 8.20pm and ABC iview.
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