Boxset Tuesday: Bloom (season one) (Australia: Stan)

Old people become young so they can make an even worse mess of things

Bloom

In Australia: Available on Stan
In the UK: Not yet acquired

When I was reviewing Glitch, the last entry in the worldwide “dead loved ones are coming back to life to screw up our lives” TV series stakes, I figured that was it from Australia. That was their entry for the top spot. No more for this genre from them.

Little did I know that Australia’s up-and-coming streaming service Stan was going to have a go, too.

Bloom is a bit different, though. Rather than the dead coming back to life after accidents, floods, etc as per The Returned (Les Revenants) et al, it instead gives us something potentially more terrifying: our loved ones returning to us but in the prime of their lives.

The show is set in a small country town in Australia that was a hit by a terrible flood a year previously that caused numerous deaths. Bryan Brown (FX – Murder By Illusion, The Wanderer, Old School) has been married to former movie star Jacki Weaver (Animal Kingdom, Squinters, Secret City) for nearly 50 years, but Weaver is now in a care home, suffering from dementia, and hardly recognises Brown. Then one day Brown notices that his dying dog seems to have recovered all its youth and vigour after eating the fruit of a strange plant in his garden. And he has an idea that might just cure his wife and return her to him…

However, he’s not the only one who’d discovered the miraculous properties of the plant and numerous old folk are already or are soon looking for it to become young again – for both good and bad reasons. And even if they don’t want to eat it, maybe others would like them to – and might even make them eat it without their knowing.

Unfortunately, it soon becomes apparent that the magic plant’s special powers only last for a short time and that it only grows on spots where someone died in the flood. With less and less of the plant available, what will people do to get hold of just a few more days of youth for both them and others?

Bryan Brown and Phoebe Tonkin in Bloom
Bryan Brown and Phoebe Tonkin in Bloom

Blooming complicated

Bloom is never quite the show you think it’s going to be. From its quirky, quaint title sequence that sets almost entirely the wrong tone for a show about much deeper matters, through its somewhat aimless and unilluminating first episode and its meandering second and third episodes to its surprising murders by surprising murderers, you expect it to go one way when it actually goes a completely different one. But the second half of the series does make the viewing worthwhile, even if it never fully explores all its themes in any great depth.

The show’s tagline of “what would you do if you had a second chance?” is perhaps the most illuminating thing of it all, since Bloom is not so much about Bucket Lists but past regrets. However, its real message is that given a second chance at youth, we would all inevitably not only make exactly the same mistakes again, we’d make a whole brand new set of even worse mistakes. Do not go softly into that good night? Au contraire – whether it’s having an affair, trying to have that baby you always put off having, living your own life free of your husband at last or trying to escape your criminal past (and present), you really need to just let that light die inside you, for the good of everyone.

When it finally settles down into having its characters accept the goodness of God’s original plan, Bloom is actually quite a moving tale of redemption and the wisdom of age. Until then, though, it’s somewhat frustrating as we watch old people become young people and basically mess everything up. There are also potentially far too many characters in far too many sub-plots for its own good and I often got the feeling I’d missed vital plot explanations at various points, despite watching reasonably intently.

Phoebe Tonkin

Young or old – always idiots

Although Weaver is one of the main names in lights and appears on the main promo shot for the show, this is very much an “and Jacki Weaver”, since she’s in the first episode and that’s about it. Instead, this is Brown’s shoot. Cast against type, he actually delivers a far better, subtler performance than I’ve ever seen from him as a gentle, doting husband who’ll do almost anything for his wife.

To be more accurate, it’s Brown and Phoebe Tonkin (The Secret Circle, The Vampire Diaries, The Originals)’s since once Weaver’s eaten of the fruit at the end of the first episode, it’s all about Tonkin and what she wants – which is a baby. Brown doesn’t, particularly since he’s an old man. He says it doesn’t work on him but I don’t recall a scene where he tried, which was the first of the many ‘did I miss something?’ moments in the show. Maybe I did, maybe they just want you to intuit that he was frightened or was happy as he was. But it wasn’t the last time Bloom left me a bit confused by a leap in the plot that didn’t seem adequately explained.

After that, we see the lengths Tonkin will go to to have a baby, including taking up with a former lover (old: John Stanton from Doctor Blake, McLeod’s Daughters, Bellamy et al; young: Sam Reid from Prime Suspect 1973). Here, the show makes a stab at suggesting that life, ageing and death are natural and that tinkering with them only leads to heartbreak. Even if He is the tinkering with His plan by sending divine regenerative plants, He’s probably forgotten all the good reasons He never created them back in the Garden of Eden and will soon discover His error.

Meanwhile, we have Ryan Corr (Packed to the Rafters, Love Child) having larks as an old crim turned young and getting to enjoy the wild side again. His story is perhaps more interesting in that his friendship with a young Aspie (Thomas Fisher) teaches him the value of both others lives and his own and leads to redemption. Also of note is Anne Charleston (Madge from Neighbours) as a devout woman who thinks the plants are evil, Amali Golden as a young-again Indian woman who never wanted to come to Australia anyway and Angus McLaren as a young-again gay man who just wants to find and shack up with his old war buddy.

But in all these stories, it’s never abundantly clear how the characters involved either found the magic plant or decided that it was a good idea to start eating random, odd-looking golden fruit in Australia of all places. Does Golden hear all about the plant in the care home? I don’t think so, but maybe. Yet why does she visit her old home to find the plant that’s hidden there. How does McLaren get hold of the plant? I think it’s in someone’s sweater that’s left in his room, but why does this near invalid decide to check the sweater or eat the fruit? And doesn’t the plant die when it’s not in contact with the Earth or a person?

There’s also some very odd behaviour. Very odd and that’s even before everyone starts realising that there’s a limited supply of these plants. Don’t ask why Golden does the things she does as they come out of nowhere and don’t really get an explanation. Why does Reid does trying to do a Josef Fritzl on Tonkin? Why does Tonkin forgive him so readily?

If the show has a second message, it seems that old people are crazy but simply don’t have the opportunity to do crazy things in their old bodies. Give them young ones and they’ll become stark raving psychopaths. At least, for a while. Or maybe that’s only if they eat a magic fruit – again, even God shouldn’t mess with God’s plan.

Phoebe Tonkin and Ryan Corr in Bloom
Phoebe Tonkin and Ryan Corr in Bloom

Conclusion

When Bloom finishes exploring its little sub-plots and starts trying to tell a straight story, it does become a lot better. You begin to have real sympathy for the characters and I nearly had a little cry on the DLR this morning while watching the final episode – it was that moving. I’m not sure it really says anything new but I enjoyed what it did have to say all the same and the rules of its little pocket universe did allow for some exploration of the themes, even if, say, no one thought that farming the plant in a graveyard or murdering a few more people for compost would we worth a stab.

At the very least, give Bloom a whirl so you can watch a whole bunch of gloriously old, fabulous, Australian actors getting a brief, perhaps even final time in the limelight again.