The TV Week 2018 Previews issue briefly described Playing for Keeps as a show that focuses on the off-the-field lives of Australian Rules Football wives and girlfriends (WAGs). This pilot established this premise perfectly–focusing specifically on five WAGs: Kath (Madeleine West), Maddy (Annie Maynard), Tahlia (Olympia Valance), Jessie (Isabella Giovinazzo) and Paige (Cece Peters). Since the show will be focusing specifically on five WAGs, I will be reviewing the show character by character.
Kath—Since the show kicks off with Kath, I’ll start with her. The pilot kicks off fulfilling the stereotypical cliche of showing her getting dressed, made-up and ready for the day, and then proceeds to throw the cliche out of the window by showing her doing an interview where she makes her feelings clear on the WAG term, where it’s revealed that she’s the wife of Southern Jets coach, Brian (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor). It’s also revealed that the Southern Jets were in the grand final in the previous year and lost by a single point, where the Brownlow Medallist, Jack Davies (James Mason) had a breakdown.
As the coach’s wife, Kath has taken on the role of the WAG matriarch. She is friendly, supportive and looks after the other WAGs, specifically young newcomer, Paige. Kath is supportive to her fellow WAGs, Brian, and clearly has gained knowledge of AFL after years of being a WAG, and looks like she has the ideal marriage however the latter is revealed to be a lie. It is revealed that she sleeps with an escort on a regular basis and Brian is having an affair with Lauren (Miriama Smith), one of the club’s doctors. Whether their marriage is open or not isn’t entirely made clear.
Overall, I enjoyed the chemistry between West and Taylor, and I feel that their roles fit them like a glove.
Maddy—Maddy is a smart, stylish, successful lawyer and the wife of Travis (Kevin Hofbauer), a former player who is now on the Southern Jets coaching staff. Maddy takes an immediate liking to Paige, however unlike Kath she is not a WAG matriarch but imparts her own wisdom on to her.
The focus on Maddy was limited to her thinking that she is about to be offered partner at the firm she works at, which does happen, and her worry that she won’t be able to accept the position due to Travis coaching and the responsibility of taking care of their two children. When she comes home to tell Travis, he can be seen playing video games on his own and is obviously a manchild, and proposes to get their babysitter or his mother to assist with the kids but doesn’t offer any assistance himself, nevertheless he’s happy for her but whether he’ll continue to be supportive of her career and helpful at home remains to be seen.
Overall I like Maddy as a character and I’m looking forward to seeing more of her.
Jessie—I honestly felt that Jessie was underused and under developed in comparison to the other four WAGs. Jessie is the wife of Jack Davies, the current Brownlow Medallist, who have a small boy, J.J. together. Jessie also takes an immediate liking to Paige and is the one who informs her that Tahlia isn’t being mean to her but is testing her, as Tahlia also tested Jessie in the same way. Other than the fact that Jessie is clearly having an affair with Rusty (Ethan Panizza), not much else is revealed about her, but I’m looking forward to getting to know her over the rest of the season (no pun intended).
Tahlia—Tahlia is the most interesting out of the five WAGs at this point in time as she is the only one causing conflict. Tahlia is the girlfriend of the Southern Jets captain, Connor (Jackson Gallagher), and seems to be using Connor’s fame for her own benefit, in this episode, to launch her fragrance. Tahlia seems to dislike Paige, but it turns out that she’s testing her or doing a “risk assessment”. In her mind, she’s protecting Paige but how she thinks she is doing this and her overall goal isn’t made entirely clear. The fact that she is completely supportive of Maddy’s career seems to show that Jessie is being truthful to Paige when she reveals that Tahlia is testing her, however this remains to be seen, especially as hitting on Dan was part of the test.
After Connor announces their engagement at Brian’s barbecue, Tahlia quickly starts their wedding planning by registering for a licence and discovers that Connor was adopted, after finding two birth certificates for him. When she confides in Kath about it, she reveals that she knew as she was there when Connor joined the club, which put the theory in my mind that Kath is his biological mother. I’m looking forward to finding out who Connor’s mother is and seeing this mystery played out, as well as seeing Tahlia develop into (hopefully) a more likeable character, over the course of the season.
Paige—Paige is the newest WAG as she moves from a country town to Melbourne to be with her boyfriend, Dan (George Pullar), the Southern Jets’ newest recruit. Throughout the episode, the majority of the focus is on Paige’s entry into the WAG world and the writers drive this point home with the emphasis on Dan’s and Paige’s country town innocence and its contrast with the glamorous, fast-paced AFL, City and WAG world.
Paige is a likeable character from the get go, from bringing a cooler bag to a non-barbecue, to mistaking the club’s president for a waiter, to accidentally name dropping Dan to get a job, and confronting Tahlia at the end of the episode, Paige pulls off being simultaneously awkward and fearless.
Paige and Dan’s relationship is adorable and solid, which is a great contrast to Brian and Kath’s relationship. From being simultaneously surprised at their glamorous apartment, to Dan giving Paige his credit card to help her out, to Paige reassuring Dan before going to Brian’s barbecue. However I imagine trouble will brew in it down the road.
Overall I’m looking forward to seeing Paige navigating the WAG world over the course of the season.
The Southern Jets club—While the show is meant to be about the WAGs, it doesn’t completely revolve around them. Due to their losing the previous year’s grand final by one point and Jack having a break down, Brian is working his and the club’s arses off to make sure it never happens again. One fateful way he does this is by sending the boys back to camp again, where Rusty and Jack fight and as a result Brian pairs them up for a training challenge, which leads to Jack’s mysterious death.
It’s revealed in a news report that Rusty pulled Jack from the water and tried to revive him. The mystery of Jack’s death will be the story arc of the season, which I’m looking forward to seeing unfold, especially as Rusty is a prime suspect as he certainly had motive.
Overall, with the interactions between the multi-layered and complex WAGs, the mystery of Jack’s death and Connor’s adoption, and the humorous moments, this was one of the best pilots I’ve ever seen. I’m looking forward to reviewing the rest of the season.
-Dan burying his face into Paige’s shoulder while keeping her eyes closed, so they could have a first look at their new apartment together was too adorable.
-Apparently the WAGs have a technique to having the perfect picture taken: three-quarter turn, shoulders back, head over the fence and saying the word “prune”. I think I might try that technique next time I have my picture taken and see if it works for me.
-Apparently Connor’s mother gave Tahlia a “Feminism for Dummies” book for her birthday.
-Apparently Tahlia kissed a boy for lunch money and her stepdad kicked her out of home when she was 16.
Best one liners and interactions:
- “When you’re exhausted in your 20s, you look the same in your 40s.” (Kath to a journalist about her appearance)
- “Don’t let her talk” “what in general?” (Southern Jets staff member–Dan, on whether Dan has a girlfriend)
- “There’s three people in the relationship: You, Dan and the Sherrin.” (Kath to Paige)
- “Is colonics the one where..” “yep that’s the one” “yeah I don’t want to do that!” “Great, we’ve got that settled then.” (Paige-Jessie-Paige-Kath)
- “She’s definitely a 10….a Country Road 10” (Tahlia to Kath on guessing Paige’s dress size)