There’s lots of familiar elements in this Byron Bay-shot Stan Original series, which slowly finds ways to flesh out an inescapably well-worn formula. Here’s Sarah Ward’s review.
There are no white picket fences in Eden, Stan’s new Byron Bay-shot eight-part mystery-drama. Instead, gleaming glass panes surround luxurious hilltop mansions, stone walls border stately wellness resorts and metal gates protect the town’s big-name celebrity from the riffraff. In a sprawling holiday home rented by an obnoxious couple vacationing from Sydney, trees pepper the space where the property ends and bushland begins— choice befitting a duo marked by their own lack of boundaries.
A small town mystery tasked with unpacking its locale’s secrets, Eden knows that troubles and scandals always lurk in seeming idyllic locations—especially on TV. Indeed, the show’s list of predecessors and influences is lengthy, even more so when two young women go missing. No one ends up wrapped in plastic in the four episodes previewed. No one finds a fish in the percolator, either. But discovering what happened to Hedwig Shelley (BeBe Bettencourt) and who she really is sits at Eden’s Laura Palmer-shaped centre.
Head writer Vanessa Gazy hasn’t just mainlined Twin Peaks, or the many other shows that have taken its lead over the past three decades. Neither have her writing team of Jess Brittain, Anya Beyersdorf, Clare Sladden and Penelope Chai. Initially at least, Eden loiters just a few steps shy of the soapy 90s likes of Paradise Beach and Echo Point. As its episodes erupt in parties and cycle from character to character, starting with Hedwig’s just-returned best friend Scout (Sophie Wilde), the influence of Skins creator Bryan Elsley—a co-creator here—hovers as well.
There’s no escaping the formula at the series’ core, almost dispiritingly so to start. But episode by episode, Eden adds its own flesh to its familiar setup. It still lurks in others’ shadows, but it also slips into its own veil of intrigue.
As established in its moody but workmanlike opening episode, Eden revolves around Scout’s homecoming, her reunion with Hedwig and the fact that much has changed over the past year. While she was studying overseas Scout penned emails that Hedwig rarely responded to; upon her return, she begins to understand why. Her aspiring-actor pal now works for local drug dealer Cam (Keiynan Lonsdale) and has become close with exiled Hollywood A-lister Andy Dolan (Cody Fern). Hedwig is also fond of drifting away at inopportune moments. However, after a party at Andy’s that ends in a heated beachside argument, neither Hedwig nor Scout surface the next day.
Too much of Eden’s first episode drip-feeds exposition through dialogue and sketches out its characters in the same fashion. All those words just tell rather than show, an issue that carries over into the series’ second instalment. Illustrating how the outside world enforces its own expectations upon the town—and how blow-ins from the city gleefully use Eden as a hedonistic playground—the aforementioned Sydney couple (Mark Leonard Winter and Cassandra Sorrell serve a clear thematic purpose. But, tellingly, the pair’s dedicated episode only comes alive when they’re pushed aside in favour of Eden’s locals.
In the complicated friendship between Scout and Hedwig, struggles and tussles linger, fuelled by dreams, desires and differing opportunities. Chief among them: that Scout found a way to leave but Hedwig hasn’t. The pair has rustled up their own ways to cope with Eden’s murky complexities, but their choices splinter their relationship. In episodes dedicated to Andy and to local police sergeant Patrick Gracie (Christopher James Baker), the same notions echo. They drive Ezra Katz’s (Samuel Johnson) part of the story, too, with the disgraced but dogged detective only returning home because his alcoholism and zero-tolerance approach to corruption have left him with no other alternatives.
Within its mystery conceit, Eden ponders how our pasts shape paths we each take—even past decisions we didn’t make, such as where we hail from. That’s standard small-town drama fodder, but also where Eden finds space to breathe. The show’s best performances and moments internalise this idea. Whenever the enigmatic Bettencourt graces the screen, she paints a portrait of determination forged from malaise and trauma. When Wilde and Johnson do the honours, the yearning they radiate teems with unspoken pain.
Eden is still guilty of spelling out too much and overplaying its moodiness. Helmed by directors John Curran, Mirrah Foulkes and Peter Andrikidis, the production gets its money’s worth out its scenic location—and loves the moon just as much. But, four episodes in, there’s enough to its puzzle-like portrait of paradise lost to keep viewers coming back—like the characters that can’t evade its pull.