Widower, columnist and father of teenagers

Erik Thomson plays a widower in 800 Words.
South Pacific Pictures/Supplied

Erik Thomson plays a widower in 800 Words.

OPINION: When actor Erik Thomson said "we need to keep growing 800 Words", he was right.

He didn't mean adding a few more sentences to his newspaper column, but developing the TV drama further.

The third series of 800 Words (TV One, Wednesdays) sets out to achieve it. But did it succeed? By and large, yes. George Turner (Erik Thomson) is a widower, columnist and father of two teenagers, who's returned to New Zealand from Australia. The story is about his life rather than the ink on his hands.

In Weld, the fictitious town with the uninspiring name, three locals – Zac, Steve and Ike – fail to return from a fishing trip and the community is mobilised to find them. Well, almost. George instead is summonsed to Stafford District Hospital where Jan, his boss, is having twins.

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Jan is a career woman who's played bedroom rodeo with George, Zac and Steve, none of whom know if they're the father. Worse still, two of them are lost at sea. To complicate matters, Jan collapses and returns to theatre for surgery.

Back on the coast, the search is proving unsuccessful until Zac and Steve suddenly turn up at headquarters. Later, Ike is found alive floating in the sea. The rescue attempts take all episode, but it's a cunning device to re-introduce us to everyone in the cast, their feelings and motivations.

It's a smart piece of scripting and mostly works, but it slows the action down. It has grunt, but no grit. Sadly, the episode loses its nerve when Zac and Steve casually reappear. There was no rescue at sea with waves and rocks and sharks and blood, just "hello, we're back". After all, they could be two-thirds of a father.

However, the discovery of Ike floating in the shallows is a little more dramatic. By the end of the episode I never felt really involved, but was pleased to meet them again. 

800 Words has started well enough. Raquel Welsh once said: "If I featured as centrefold in Playboy, what do I do for an encore?" Now, 800 Words has to find an encore for the rest of the series that sustains the action. Jan, her relapse and the three dads, that echo Mamma Mia, might do it for a while, but not for long.

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If you enjoy the prospect of a disturbed night, then Dr Foster (TV One, Mondays) is the series for you. And if you want to ensure your sleeping patterns remain disturbed then view the first series after this one's finished.

Dr Emma Foster is on edge following the breakup of her marriage to Simon so, when he returns to Parminster after a two-year break, she's alarmed. Not only that, Simon has a new wife, who dresses for the red carpet at the Oscars, and a baby.

Simon and Kate hold a house-warming party and Gemma is attracted to it like Damian McKenzie to a gap.

She turns up unwelcome and unannounced and, instead of mingling with the guests, mingles with the top drawer in his bedroom. There she finds many intimate things including Victor the Vibrator.

Now Tom, 15, their son, quickly tires of the tug of war for his affection and chooses dad over his possessive and spooky mum. By the end of a gripping first episode, she's left with nothing. However, her impulsive mind is already in overdrive and veers between unhinged and psychotic. 

Suranne Jones as Emma Foster is luminous and superb and deserves all the accolades she received for the first series. She cut her acting teeth as Karen McDonald in Coro Street, feuding with Tracy Barlow. Her face still carries the emotional wounds from that encounter. 

The first series played out over five consecutive nights and, at the end, you felt like going out and harming yourself as viewers went through an unwanted pregnancy, a wrecked marriage, an abduction and attempted suicide.

This time, a week separates each episode and we can attempt to recover by watching repeats of Criminal Minds. But Dr Foster is worth every inch of footage. It's psychological drama at its very best and, if you want to see the series out, take sleeping tablets or spend the day having scary nano-naps. 

 - Stuff


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