Totally Completely Fine Abandons Its Own High-Concept Premise
Totally Completely Fine is a show that could have been great if it didn't suddenly abandon its high-concept idea halfway through its run.
Totally Completely Fine is one of those post-Fleabag shows with a messy, selfish, and flawed but sympathetic heroine that TV executives like to greenlight so much these days. Vivian (Thomasin MacKenzie) is her dysfunctional family's black sheep, struggling with past trauma from her parents' deaths, self-destructive, fighting addiction, and being adrift in life. When she inherits her grandfather's house on the side of the town's cliffside, she discovers a catch. The cliff is a popular suicide spot, and her grandfather has been talking jumpers off the edge for decades. Now he's left the house and that obligation to her, hoping that helping people would help her.
Totally Completely Fine is an ironic title, of course. Nobody is fine. Vivian's oldest brother John (Ronan Dewitt), is an uptight, neurotic mess. Her middle brother Hendrix (Brendan McClelland) is so obsessed with denial and making everything seem hunky-dory he's destroying his marriage. Vivian's new neighbour Dane (Devon Terrell), is a psychologist who had been helping her grandfather with his cases but has serious issues of his own. The first jumper Vivian saves is runaway bride Amy (Contessa Treffone), who moves in with her and becomes a true believer in saving people with Vivian. The setup is a good one: a self-destructive woman who's good at saving everyone but herself and deserves all the kindness she (reluctantly) gives people but refuses any for herself.
The closest show Totally Completely Fine resembles is HBO's classic Six Feet Under, where the mortuary business lets the central family examine their own lives while in constant contact with death. It sets itself up as a vague procedural where the jumpers Vivian tries to save become prisms through which she might come to understand her own plight. However, once the first three episodes are over, the show abandons that premise and just becomes another drama where Vivian deals with her family's dramas and her own addiction and flaws, abandoning the part of the show that makes her appealing in the first place: her reluctant need to save people because she won't save herself. The rest of the series is increasingly clichéd character drama whose outcome is totally predictable. The cast and the sitcom-style writing are just decent enough to make us nearly forget what the show was originally going to be about.
Hang on, did all the distressed, suicidal people in town suddenly decide to take a break from going to the cliff because they were nice enough to let Vivian and her family work out their increasingly tedious family trauma first? Did they decide they would come back to the cliff and have her talk them out of jumping after she sorts out her relationship with her brother and Amy? Are Australian suicides really that polite? Or did a whole bunch of people jump off the cliff while Vivian was off feeling sorry for herself, getting high, and dealing with her own psychodrama? That is a massive hole, as well as an abandonment of the basic premise of the show.
Totally Completely Fine ends with hints of a second season, but it has resolved its heroine's biggest emotional problems, and why should viewers be interested in coming back for a show whose showrunner lost interest in her own high concept, which was probably what sold the show in the first place? This is a well-written show, but it only fulfills half its promises while dropping the others, stopping it from becoming a great show.