Wanderlust, episode 6 review: despite a promising premise, this drama committed the cardinal sin of being boring

Toni Collette as Joy in Wanderlust - 6
Toni Collette as Joy in Wanderlust - 6

Mid-life crisis melodrama Wanderlust (BBC One) began with a bang – yes, of the bedroom variety – but ended with a whimper. 

After their misadventures in polyamory, the climactic episode of playwright Nick Payne’s six-parter saw troubled spouses Joy (Toni Collette) and Alan (Steven Mackintosh) finally split up. 

The terminally tedious Alan moved in with his lover Claire (Zawe Ashton) but cracks soon appeared – many of which seemed to stem from her lack of an iron, let alone an ironing board. Clearly worried about creases in his shirts, Alan soon moved out again.

After an aborted dalliance with her childhood sweetheart Lawrence (Paul Kaye), lonely Joy made a seismic decision about her future. Meanwhile, in confusingly tangled sub-plots, she and Alan’s three children also embarked on new journeys, both literal and figurative. 

Despite a promising premise, one of Wanderlust’s downfalls was that it committed the cardinal sin of being boring. Last week’s penultimate instalment was a wilfully slow two-hander about a therapy session. Here we had a four-minute, dialogue-free scene as Joy ate muffins, drank milk and emptied the washing machine. It was presumably supposed to be soulful and poignant but instead felt frustratingly self-indulgent. 

September’s glut of new dramas have seen several middling ones – the likes of Press and Strangers too – get steamrollered by the success of Bodyguard. Wanderlust has duly seen its ratings slide from 4m to 1.3m. The series perhaps belonged on BBC Two, rather than prime time BBC One, where it was too niche to connect with a mainstream audience. 

At times, its ripe sex scenes were uncomfortable to watch in mixed company. At others, it was impossibly smug in his aspirational lifestyle trimmings and mannered, stagey script (“Don’t be so egregious!” Collette told her sulky teenage son, preposterously).

The soundtrack, as always, was stylishly selected. Otis Redding, Maggie Rogers, Ron Gallo, The Acorn and This Mortal Coil were all deployed to tasteful effect. Unfortunately, impeccably curated music and some artsy camera angles (Wanderlust loved an overhead shot of characters lying down) did not a gripping drama make.

Collette’s whole-hearted performance helped keep things credible, as did strong turns from the likes of Ashton and Andy Nyman as therapy patient James, who was desperate to repair his own damaged marriage.

There was a happy-ish ending, as Joy and Alan realised how much they missed each other, resonantly expressed through wearing each other’s clothes, re-reading treasured text messages and repeating comfortingly familiar conversations. Alan moved back in and the reunited couple ended the series where they began: standing at the foot of their bed, about to have sex. 

The final frame, though, hinted at darker times ahead as Collette’s expressive face slowly changed from satisfaction to sadness. I felt similar about this ultimately disappointing drama.