On its surface, the Netflix series by Brigid Delaney and Benjamin Law Wellmania(opens in a new tab) is a bright, fast-paced comedy aimed at the trillion-dollar wellness industry(opens in a new tab)from ridiculously expensive (and invasive) cleanses to fashion forward workouts, all based on Delaney’s book(opens in a new tab). Demanding well-being is often foisted on us online (see: TikTok’s relentless focus on self-care and personal advancement) and through corporate branding – one clinic on the show literally screams with its all-cap signage: BE WELL. Just do it, right?
But aside from the unworldly juice cleanses, aggravating calorie logging, and deep fart glands, Wellmania extends the idea of ”wellbeing” itself through our relationships with family and longtime friends, but more importantly, with ourselves. Yes, it’s an idea that would make Celeste Barbers food critic Liv puke at a spin class (which she does, by the way). But unfortunately, it’s one that can directly impact our mental and physical health, a lesson Liv will learn as she faces the attendant things she actively avoids by living in New York: her life in Sydney and her unresolved grief.
#GriefTok empowers TikTokkers to celebrate life and express loss
Liv is a smart, hilarious, influential journalist and critic who would probably wear a “party life” t-shirt semi-ironicly. The series’ theme song literally invites the viewer to “call me the girl of the good times”. But behind her bold facade is someone who hasn’t fully processed a traumatic loss from her youth. Liv’s previous experiences slowly bubble up during the series as she returns to Australia and begins to merge with her more hedonistic, indulgent tendencies. For anyone lost in fake confidence and bacchanalian excess while processing grief (or not) Wellmania strikes an unexpectedly poignant chord. Over the eight episodes of the series, Liv literally loses her shit in more ways than one.
Photo credit: Netflix
I’m not sure if it’s just me, but it feels like there’s been a spate of grief on TV lately, from successor‘s third episode is coming home To AppleTV+ shrinkage from the beginning. Self Children’s film from Netflix Chupa did it to me And it does Wellmaniabut in this case, with Law and Delaney’s script in the capable hands of directors Erin White and Helena Brooks, the show specifically examines Liv unresolved grief(opens in a new tab). Wellmania makes space for the way losses can affect those who “keep calm and move on” and leave emotions unresolved for years. Not allowing herself to feel the pain of losing her father when she was young, Liv instead specifically separated from her mother, Lorraine (Genevieve Mooy), and took on guilt without confronting her. Liv embodied avoidance(opens in a new tab)a behavior that is “generally regarded as an adaptive response to loss and an integral part of the initial, acute grief response”.
Grief is complicated. Especially if it’s on Instagram.
But Liv is slowly opening up to the idea of facing her inner turmoil — although she’s doing it for professional reasons, not necessarily for personal growth. In episode 4, during a nude therapy session with acclaimed author, sex therapist, and motivational speaker Camille Lavinge (Miranda Otto) — “Nudity makes us vulnerable,” she insists — Liv becomes afraid of her own thoughts. It’s the first time on the show that Liv’s confidence gives way to vulnerability as she admits her deep fear of “being a failure” and letting people down, and Barber’s performance is a moving focal point of Liv’s usual cynicism. It becomes clear that she not only hides sadness, but also guilt; an acceptance of responsibility for a traumatic event that buries them in excess, avoidance, and self-indulgence. But the series moves towards moments of real healing for Liv.
Liv’s trip to Canberra for a US green card appointment in Episode 6 is derailed in a comedy riddled with mistakes and ends with her getting a ride with death doula Philomena (Yael Stone). She’s on call helping a family who’s saying goodbye to a loved one, and Liv is unexpectedly thrust into her immediate grief. What begins as something hilariously terrifying for the audience and a triggering experience for Liv becomes a deeply moving experience for all involved. When a family member immediately jumps into practical mode, Philomena reassures her, “Honey, you can’t banish the grief from your life or run away from the pain. You just have to feel those feelings, even if it’s the hardest thing we’ve ever had to do.” Forcing her to confront death on a wild detour, Philomena gives Liv an experience she had with her own family sitting together in the pain of loss, exchanging memories and saying goodbye.” That’s not how my family dealt with it at all,” she later tells Philomena. In a beautiful, silly moment, one of the siblings, Erika (Jenna Owen) breaks up , bursting into song after his death at her father’s bedside, breaking the suspense with a wonderfully inappropriate, tearful rendition of Starship’s “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” remains inexplicable in the particular way silly family jokes go.
As a fast-paced comedy Wellmania don’t rush headfirst into a loss analysis. However, the series explores the effects of unresolved grief through its complicated, self-aware protagonist, Liv, who perfectly accompanies Barber on her journey to confronting her pain. Or at least to the starting line.
Wellmania now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)