Peacock’s latest import, this time from Australia, is a charming twist on the ‘misfit friends living together’ story.
With rising housing costs and stagnating wages, it seems like homeownership is becoming less and less a reality for millennials. For many a young(ish) prospective buyer, the answer is a) move to a cheaper city or b) go into a ridiculous amount of debt. If that doesn’t appeal to you, the comedy-drama Five Bedrooms offers a more communal approach.
Imported from Australia for NBC’s Peacock streaming service, Five Bedrooms is about a group of acquaintances who opt to split the cost of homeownership five ways. While the concept seems tailor made for a traditional three-camera sitcom, the show is an eight-part comedic drama that feels like a 21st-century Thirtysomething.
The friends meet at a wedding, all lamenting their status at the dreaded singles table. Ainsley (Katie Robertson, Miss Fisher’s Modern Mysteries) is a real estate agent in love with her married (and oblivious) coworker Lachlan (Hugh Sheridan, Isn’t It Romantic). Despite his married status, Lachlan’s relationship is on the rocks and he’s desperate for an escape.
Harry (Roy Joseph, Back in Very Small Business) is a 30-year-old surgeon who still lives with his Indian-born mother and is not only ready to live on his own, but come out of the closet. His best friend Liz (Kat Steward, Little Monsters) is rebounding from a divorce by hooking up with hunky and carefree construction worker Ben (Stephen Peacocke, Little Monsters).
While the fivesome commiserate their singledom, Ainsley suggests that the key to happiness isn’t a relationship, but homeownership. Her landlord Heather (Doris Younane, Frayed), half-heartedly suggests that the five pool their money and buy a house. The joke becomes serious, and a few days later, the group find themselves in a new house. There, they have to deal with faulty plumbing, nosey neighbors, and the pitfalls of adult life as they make an unconventional life together.
As premises go, Five Bedrooms puts on only the smallest of twists on the old yarn of “friends with conflicting personalities are forced live together.” Likewise, the characters’ subplots aren’t treading new ground. The lovelorn Ainsley slowly learns to stand up for herself, Lachlan battles his way through his relationship with his wife, Harry tries to balance his sexuality with his Indian heritage, Liz struggles to overcome the fallout from her divorce, the happy-go-lucky Ben starts to grow up, and Heather – underappreciated in her marriage – begins to find herself.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about the story, and yet it works. Showrunners Christine Bartlett and Michael Lucas inject enough twists and complications to keep the plot feeling fresh. Throughout the season, the characters’ lives take some unexpected turns, and each episode will end with you eager to tune into the next. But while there are some soap opera worthy moments of drama and unexpected plot twists, nothing in the show ever feels cheap.
Part of the show’s success is, obviously, due to the ensemble. The cast has great chemistry, and the actors give their characters more depth than their on-page description would suggest. Subplots dance around each other, often intersecting, but we see enough of the characters on their own to feel a real sense of their lives.
There’s nothing groundbreaking about the story, and yet it works.
As Liz, Steward excels at playing the Type-A control freak who learns to become vulnerable. Ostensibly the most successful of the group, Liz’s divorce has her heading into a tailspin, and watching her learn to accept help while trying to climb back on top is incredibly satisfying. Likewise, Younane balances Heather’s acerbic nature with her nurturing and vulnerable side. Despite her insistence that she knows what’s best for everyone, it’s obvious that Heather is sabotaging her own happiness and must learn to find fulfilment away from her role as wife and mother.
As for the blokes, Peacocke’s Ben and Joseph’s Harry are the heart of Five Bedrooms. It would have been easy to make Ben a stereotypical lad: carefree and immature. Instead, he is shown to be a man of true compassion and kindness; someone who has made some poor choices, but is turning his life around. While Harry’s story of trying to come out in a traditional immigrant household is pretty standard, Joseph plays him with such sweetness and dignity that you can’t help but cheer him on.
Ainsley’s arc is the only real weak link of the show, story-wise. While Robertson expertly plays her as a sweet woman who needs to stand up for herself, she isn’t given much to do. Ostensibly, Ainsley is the protagonist, yet she doesn’t do much more than pine away in unrequited love. But at least, her relationship with Lachlan gives the show the closest thing Five Bedrooms has to an antagonist. Sheridan portrays the man as both smarmy and self-pitying, and while it’s hard to believe the man has two women after him, it’s still fun to watch him be such a schmuck.
While Ainsley was wasted as a character, the season finale makes it clear that she will have more to do for the already promised second season. The final episode ends on a cliffhanger, and it’s not clear how much of the second season will return to the status quo. Hopefully, the series will keep the character development of the first season and not return to business as usual.
Five Bedrooms is a near-perfect piece of comfort TV. It’s familiar without being stale, dramatic without being over the top. It pulls on the heartstrings without feeling sappy, and at only eight episodes it doesn’t overstay its welcome. Its story may not be exactly new, but its emphasis on found family and self-discovery makes it a valuable addition to Peacock’s catalog.
Five Bedrooms slaps down a security deposite and moves to Peacock August 13th.