Plot: George Turner (Erik Thomson) has just lost his wife and as he grieves, he decides to make some serious changes in his life. He writes a popular newspaper column, but leaves it behind to seek out a fresh start, which includes an impulsive move to the seaside in New Zealand. This sudden shift doesn’t just impact him however, but also his two children, also still coping with their mother’s death. The move is a drastic change in lifestyle, going from the urban bustle of Sydney to the laid back, coastal town of Weld in New Zealand. George hopes this fresh start will be a smooth transition, but he soon learns that things won’t be quite that simple. In addition to the usual quirks involved in moving and starting over, the Turner clan have to contend with the Weld locals, who are eccentric, to say the least. Will George find the inner peace he seeks, or will he discover a new world of trials and tribulations instead?
Entertainment Value: The premise in 800 Words is a solid one, with a widowed father moving his family to a more relaxed locale, both to cope and to find a fresh start. The shift in location provides ample fish out of water moments, as the urban dwellers adjust to life in a more laid back town. But we also have the grieving process, which the show never shies from and allows the characters to explore that grief in various ways, which adds a lot to the series. So the show deals with some serious topics, between grief and the various family issues, but that doesn’t mean it is always serious. The show balances the drama with a good sense of humor, often driven by how the Turners interact with their offbeat new acquaintances. The colorful locals tend to be the bright spots, at least from my perspective. I like how varied and interesting these supporting characters are, as it opens a lot of potential in terms of storytelling options. The main family is passable as well, but they seem rather plain by comparison. But it is fun to watch the exchanges and that fuels much of the season.
I do think one potential drawback for some viewers will be how predictable 800 Words is, as it takes no real risks and just rolls on. This is good for those who just want a warm, feel good type of narrative, but those who prefer a more challenging approach or not so by the book show, it can hurt that experience. I would have liked to see more chances taken, but there’s a huge audience out there that prefers a more basic approach, so I don’t hold that against the show. But I did want to mention it, as the predictable nature of the show could turn off some viewers. Not every show needs to till new ground however and while 800 Words is indeed predictable, it is also well made. The show knows what it wants to be and makes it happen. The cast is solid here, with Erik Thomson in the main lead role. He has the kind of wide appeal and charm this kind of role needs, but at the same time, his performance doesn’t have much depth. The rest of the cast is passable as well, but the quirky locals tend to have the most memorable moments. The material doesn’t afford the cast a lot of changes to go above and beyond, but they do the scripts justice, without question. If you appreciate family drama/comedies, 800 Words is a solid series, even if its on the predictable side.