Upright season two review – Tim Minchin dramedy has already jumped the shark
I was a big fan of the first season of Upright, a road-trip dramedy from creator Chris Taylor that didn’t reinvent the wheel but had an entertainingly haphazard narrative and an appealing blend of humour and pathos. There was also an amusingly testy dynamic between the central odd couple: Lucky, a manchild musician driving from Sydney to Perth to see his dying mother, played by Tim Minchin with a wastoid demeanour and an undercurrent of decency; Meg, a teenage girl running away from home, portrayed with in-your-face sassiness by Milly Alcock – most recently seen straddling mythical beasts in House of the Dragon.
Upright’s first season didn’t outstay its welcome nor leave a burning desire to return to these characters’ lives. Return we do, however, in a disappointingly “so what?” folllow-up. The sparks are now gone and the writers (Minchin, Niki Aken, Ian Meadows and Natesha Somasundaram) have struggled to come up with a compelling reason to extend the story. Lucky and Meg originally came together in dramatic circumstances: a car accident prompting a hot-footed narrative that dilvuged key details on the run. Their reunion in season two couldn’t be more ordinary: Meg knocks on Lucky’s door and (easily) convinces him to take her to Queensland to look for her mother, who abandoned her long ago.
Related: ‘We’ve forgotten how to be innocent’: Tim Minchin on comedy, music and the joy of Matilda
In my review of season one, I wrote that Minchin evokes “the countenance of a flaky sort of fellow who had a beer for breakfast and might write a song about it in the afternoon”. Season two’s first episode ramps up the booze-for-brekkie rock star shtick, with Lucky having cracked the big time and now dealing with the occupational hazards of being a famous muso: grappling with hangovers, suffering through dumb media interviews and dealing with paparazzi.
When Meg arrives on his doorstep and insists that a trip to Brisbane will “take two days, tops”, we can sense another on-the-road narrative coming and know the pair won’t be resuming ordinary life any time soon. The drama is framed from Lucky’s perspective (perhaps because of Minchin’s star power) but Meg’s story has the clear emotional arc. The writers don’t invest much effort into establishing it, however, before launching into a missing person search, as the pair attempt to track Meg’s mother.
Sign up for the fun stuff with our rundown of must-reads, pop culture and tips for the weekend, every Saturday morning
The very first scene in episode one (this review encompasses the entire second season) depicts a distressed-looking Lucky running through a rainforest with a pink fluffy handcuff attached to one of his hands, before the show jumps back in time eight days. This is lazily framed, boilerplate writing: begin with a clap of action that throws us into the thick of it, immediately chased by a “how did we get here?” rewind that eventually loops back to where we started.
The story thread connected to that opening sequence has a ring of desperation; a feeling the writers are scrambling for ideas. By the time we return to Minchin stumbling around a rainforest looking like Daniel Radcliffe from Jungle, the story has incorporated a riverside cult, drug smuggling and a revenge plotline that feels borrowed from another production – and it’s obvious Upright has jumped the shark. Towards the end of the season a scruffy-looking Noni Hazlehurst injects some welcome gravitas in a small but colourful performance as a woman living off-grid in far-north Queensland – but, again, her character feels like something from another show.
Minchin and Alcock are perfectly fine, but don’t share the playfully brittle chemistry that made their original union pop and crackle. The inevitable emotional catharsis this time around feels more forced, incorporating various cliches and sentimentalities – from last-minute runs to the airport to teary flashbacks and an overwritten quasi-sermon monologue delivered by Minchin, prattling on about puzzles in life that “have fallen down the cracks between the floorboards of fate”.
With so much content these days vying for our attention, it’s hard to justify sticking with unexceptional productions like this, despite some degree of laidback charm, mostly from its performances. If you missed the first season of Upright, however, that’s well worth your time.
Upright season two starts on Foxtel and Binge on 15 November at 8.30pm AEDT