I mostly know the star of Wellmania, Celeste Barber, from her hilarious and humanizing spoofs of celebrities’ Instagram posts. For example, there could be a highly edited nude picture of the model Emily Ratajkowski where her arm is draped across her breasts while a pink, heart-shaped leaf perfectly covers her pubic area. Then, in a split screen, Barber is also mostly nude, but the lighting is much harsher; her body, which is posed less professionally, shows the effects of gravity and normal caloric intake; and the pink leaf has been replaced by large green monstera-type leaf that sprouts wildly from the front and back of her white thong. Anyway, as you can imagine, I was pretty excited to check out a whole series with her in the lead, which purports to skewer the wellness industry. And while I may have some notes on its takes on that, I really enjoyed this addition to the growing list of women-led series that deftly weave together comedy, grief, and relationships with a very imperfect lead character. 

Liv Healy (Celeste Barber) is a goddamn mess. I mean, she’s a successful columnist for the well-known Banquet magazine in New York and on the cusp of getting a cushy job as a judge on the next big food Reality TV competition show, but just below that façade of  those hard-earned accomplishments, she’s, respectfully, a bit of a garbage dump. She’s constantly using alcohol and drugs to fend off pesky unprocessed human emotions, she’s a constant whirlwind of activity to try to stay one step ahead of facing herself, and she’s constantly making utterly selfish life choices that hurt the ones she loves. So, you know, possibly relatable. After securing her spot as a judge, she heads home to Sydney, Australia for the weekend to surprise her best friend Amy (JJ Fong) on her fortieth birthday, but promises her boss she’ll be back by Monday to brainstorm ideas for an article that will launch her into the general public’s eye. Anyway, Liv arrives in time to make a speech at her lifelong friend Amy’s birthday party, upstage everyone else, and break a table. What an entrance!

Liv in a black sparkly dress leaning toward her boss as they speak at a cocktail party.
Liv in New York lobbying for the job of her dreams.
Liv in a short blue and pink striped flared dress and pink heels gesturing as she stands on a round glass table at Amy's party.
The moment before the table collapses beneath her. A metaphor of sorts for her life? Probably. But damn that dress suits her.

Can I just pause here and say that the very idea of flying from New York to Australia for a weekend makes my body turn to slime? How can you even…Because it takes at least twenty-one hours to fly there and there’s a fourteen hour time difference. And then you’d turn around and do it all again? And then just go to work? Nope. I’m not going to think about it anymore. 

The next day, after harassing her younger brother about his upcoming nuptials and being disappointed by both his and their mother’s lackluster reaction to her Big News about the television show, she goes out for a walk only to have her purse, which has her green card inside, stolen. Fortunately, Amy has some incredible connections and manages to score her an appointment in the U.S. Consulate the next day to obtain a replacement.

Gaz making a smirking face while Liv drinks orange juice through a curly straw.
Liv and her brother Gaz basically returning to their childhood selves in the presence of their mother, but especially Liv.
Liv's mom looking unsure while standing at the kitchen counter.
Look at this wholly unimpressed face with Liv’s big news. Methinks they could do with some good old-fashioned family therapy. Or, like, just some actually speaking to each other about emotions.

Meanwhile, Amy ditches her husband and convinces Liv to be her date to the Australian Journalism Awards, for which she’s been nominated for an award in investigative journalism. It’s doubtful she’ll win, she says, since she’s an Asian woman up against a bunch of white guys named Chris, but she still wants Liv there for support. Liv is less enthusiastic about going. She feels it will be walking into a room full of people who “have either rejected me or fired me.” In fact, that seems to pretty much sum up the way Liv feels about Australia in general, with the exception of Amy, but not her brother and mother who she constantly chafes against. But Amy convinces her that she can shove her “massive success” in their faces (and also points out that she did just call in a huge favor to get her that whole appointment the next day). Liv is so uncomfortable at the party that she sucks down drinks like a suffocating fish, scores cocaine off someone in the restroom, insults Amy’s boss, and storms out before Amy even loses the award to a man named Chris Whiteman. At this point I just wanted to exasperatedly shake Liv and hug her repeatedly for about a year.

Liv looking high and touching her nose and holding a glass of wine while Amy and her boss talk.
She doesn’t plan to fuck up here, but she also CANNOT deal with being uncomfortable or set aside her own feelings, so she’s definitely going to fuck it up.

Clearly, by the next morning she’s in a perfectly fit state for her appointment at the consulate, which is made even better by an argument in the car ride over with her mother, her brother Gaz, and his fiancé Dalbert (Remy Hii) about whether she has a tendency to make situations all about her. (Non-spoiler: Yes, she does.) By the time she gets to the consulate she can barely suppress her anxiety about just getting back to New York as quickly as possible, something that Consular Officer Chad (Guy Edmonds) has zero patience for or interest in entertaining. Long story short. Her visa gets voided, she passes out cold at the consulate, and she gets shunted off to a consulate-approved doctor to get her physical re-approved for re-entry into the United States. Is this how any of this would really work? I don’t know, but immigration laws are capricious and ableist enough that it all seems plausible, so I’m willing to let it slide without too much scrutiny.

Liv in the car with Dalbert in the front and Gaz and her mom in the back.
This cozy bubble of stress on top of her (likely) raging hangover and intense jet lag is exactly the set up you want before hitting up a consulate where one officer holds your fate in their hands.
Chad, the consular agent, wearing a button down shirt and red tie looking at Liv. He is a white man with short hair and a bland face.
Anyone who has been through an immigration experience—or really any hugely important bureaucratic experience—will understand the horror of someone like Chad deciding they don’t particularly like your vibe within the first ten seconds. Every time she said something snarky or entitled I nearly shrieked in abject frustration. Calm, cool, contained, deferential, but also knowledgeable, and patient as fuck is the game you need to play here Liv. Also, he plays this American Chad to the most Chad degree without ever overplaying the Chadiness. It’s very good.

Anyway, the doctor is outright appalled at the state of her health, saying that her insides are garbage. She needs to lower her blood pressure. She needs to lower her cholesterol. She needs to lower her resting heart rate. And until she can do those things, she can’t have a signed physical for the visa. Now, a huge positive of this conversation? Liv’s weight is never once mentioned. This seems like a huge win. However, there’s zero mention of, like, medications or the possibility of genetic predisposition. It’s just assumed that all of her ills are directly caused by her perceived poor lifestyle choices and can be resolved through better lifestyle choices, like exercise and diet. I don’t particularly like the shaming aspect of this. And this whole narrative, of course, is built on the basis of privilege and access, but then again, so is so much of the entire immigration system, so I guess they go hand in hand.

Live and her doctor sitting in front of a desk and computer while looking at each other.
LIv being told the bad news. I will take issue with the idea that she could a same-day appointment with a consulate approved doctor, of which there are a total of two in Sydney. This is television magic.

The doctor tells her she expects it should take a year for her to improve her health, but Liv doesn’t have that kind of time (or patience), so she decides to dive right into a four-day “cleanse” at an upscale spa, which offers colonics, fasting, cupping, and more. She fully expects that she’s going to be able to solve all her health problems in one fell swoop by forcibly extruding all the crap she’s put into her body and then get back to her usual life in New York. For sure, Liv. For sure.  Now, is the series making fun of these kinds of upscale cleanses and the over-the-top promises they make? Absolutely. But, at the same time, I feel like they’re somewhat soft peddling this snake oil cure. At the end of Liv’s cleanse the woman at the spa explains that one cleanse won’t undo a lifetime of poor choices and it’s just “the start of your journey.” Liv talks about how cleaning out all the drek in her system sort of gives her a jump start toward making healthy choices. Um, okay, but how about the fact that colonics, fasts, and cleanses serve absolutely zero medical purpose, can be dangerous, and are extremely wasteful? What about the fact that this sort of thing bilks people out of tons of money and in return just gives them diarrhea, false promises, and recycled platitudes? How about more of that energy?

Liv lying on her side on a table in a spa room while an employee appears to insert a tube into her bum.
Remember, you have organs that do a fine job of removing toxins from your body and they don’t charge you unseemly amounts of money to do it.

Anyway, when the cleanse doesn’t get her back to New York, Liv is forced to resort to (GASP!) diet and exercise. Worse still, she has to ask her younger brother, who works as a trainer in a gym, for help. At the gym, she runs into, literally because the comedy in the show is sometimes delightfully broad, Isaac (Alexander Hodge), a Genetically Blessed guy who is in a whole different place in life than Liv, but they still share a giddy, undeniable attraction. Of course, as she kind of works toward better health, Liv continues to try to skate around the rules, still chasing stories for work that lead to her overindulging, still needling her mother, brother, and best friend with ideas that lead to arguments and questionable decisions, and, perhaps most importantly, still not processing her grief, guilt, and trauma about her father’s sudden death almost a quarter of a century ago.

A well lit cycling studio filled with attractive people in peak physical condition who are glowing with sweat.
This is the exercise class where Liv wants to be—with all the beautiful people who make it look so easy.
A group exercise glass with a rag tag group of people of all ages, body types and athletic abilities doing very basic exercises.
And this is her reality, which she obviously dislikes.
Isaac with a a bag over his shoulder, smiling.
This is Isaac and she doesn’t dislike him.
Liv looking loving on as a waiter pours red wine into a glass. At the center of the table is a cooked duck.
Oops. There are going to be some slight issues with that whole work life balance for Liv. In that she has no ability to balance either.

We learn about Liv’s father’s death in bits and pieces, but it’s clear that his loss has a profound impact on her day-to-day life. It’s the kind of thing that’s not discussed by the living members of her immediate family, and when her consulate assigned doctor tries to bring it up, Liv all but squirms off the table in trying to avoid the issue. We see flashbacks of Liv and her father at the beach when she was a teenager—fuzzy, frenetic, tragic moments—that give us clues as to what happened. The upshot is that this unprocessed grief is probably at the crux of Liv’s troubles, but we’re going to need at least a second season to suss all that out. The show does a nice job of braiding the grotesqueries of displaced discomfort into the comedic elements, which, really, is true to real life. 

As Liv moves on to more experiences with more wellness providers—Miranda Otto as a sexual self-help guru, very lackluster psychic, and a very quirky death doula—we learn more about her past and present and she gains some real self-awareness about her fears about fucking up and disappointing people. Also relatable. Does she stop long enough to actually do anything with this newfound knowledge? Oh, fuck no, friends. Or, at least not really. It’s frustrating to watch, but also wholly expected of a character like this one, and, honestly, what would be the point of her getting her ducks all in a row all at once? Interesting as well are the other characters that develop over the course of the season—Liv’s mother and brother, Amy, Dalbert, and Amy’s husband—and it will be interesting to see where they go in a second season. 

Miranda Otto as a self-help sex guru wearing bright red lipstick and holding a hot pink dildo that she's wiping down with a sani-wipe.
Miranda Otto is a joy to watch. And yes, she is carefully sanitizing a hot pink dildo in this shot.

Another small complaint of mine on a larger issue is the off-hand way they joke about kids’ food allergies. The joke is made that the food is all horrible because all the kids have so many food allergies and then a kid needs an epi-pen, which is passed off later as no big deal. Look, do I appreciate it when Amy says the kid who needed the epi-pen is an asshole (she actually uses a word that just falls more comfortably from Australian lips)? Yes. However, even assholes deserve to be taken seriously when it comes to allergies and their treatment. I am well-aware that Australia is miles beyond, say, the United States in allergy-friendly foods and such, but my hackles still go up when I feel like the issue is being treated as unimportant or something that’s a minor nuisance. This is life-threatening shit we’re talking about. Don’t downplay it for laughs. 

So, while I wish Wellmania exerted more energy toward really taking the wellness industry to task for their misleading and false health claims that often do real harm to women, I still enjoyed it overall for the funny and  touching story it tells about a flawed and very privileged but still compassionate female character. We need more of these stories where women are front-and-center and in the throes of messily figuring out their lives. We need more series that talk openly about how women feel dread about fucking up and about disappointing people. We need more series that talk about the long shadow grief can cast in our lives. And we need this series to get a second season because, while the first season can stand on its own, it kind of wobbles a bit. 

Liv in an orange shirt and zebra patterned bike shorts lying on the pavements looking up.
We all have moments when we don’t stick the landing. Wellmania. is no exception and it deserves your eyeballs and a second season.

Overall Rating on the Chronically Streaming Pain Scale:

1-Comfortable: Maybe there are some annoying twinges here and there, but overall the good outweighs the bad.

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