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'Frayed,' on HBO Max, is Not a Shabby Show
July 30, 2020  | By David Hinckley

The age of the plucky female antihero continues to unfold with Frayed, an Australian production that premieres in America on Thursday over HBO Max.

Samantha Cooper, also known as Simone (Sarah Kendall, top), carries Frayed as an exasperated and sometimes exasperating middle-aged woman who won the marry-for-money lottery and then discovered when her rich husband Nick dropped dead that he wasn't really wealthy at all and she now has nothing.

So after carefully and skillfully escaping the blue-collar Australian town of Newcastle to live a life of seemingly endless luxury in London, she must move back to the roots from which 20 years earlier she thought she had disentangled herself.

And she's not just moving back to the town. She's moving back in with her Mum Jean (Kerry Armstrong), to whom her communication over the past two decades has consisted of an annual Christmas card from a luxury resort.

Moving back in with Mum also means moving back in with her brother Jim (Ben Mingay), who has the same idiot-teenager personality he had 20 years ago when he was presumably 14 or 15.

All this is compounded by the fact Samantha – she had changed her name to Simone as part of her London makeover – is bringing along two teenage children, Lenny (Frazer Hadfield, top) and Tess (Maggie Ireland-Jones, top).

Neither was crazy about their previous life since there wasn't a lot of warmth, but both really dislike the downshift from having everything to being lucky if they can get a bowl of Choco-Boms for breakfast.

Also, it turns out Samantha has been fudging more details than just her name. She had told the kids her mother was deranged, which isn't true. Mum's a recovering alcoholic, not that Samantha knows about the recovering part. She had never told the kids they had an uncle. She said her father died in a plane crash when he drowned after diving into the ocean, drunk.

That's a fair amount for the kids to handle, particularly since they're still absorbing the news about their own father, who had a heart attack while drunk, high, and engaging in some extreme role-playing with a sex worker named Bambi.

It all adds up to a lot of starting-over moments, and Samantha will spend considerable time remembering why she left Newcastle as she makes her way around the town and bumps into many of her old, well, let's call them acquaintances.

In the spirit of Sharon Horgan (the producer of Frayed), who has been the most prominent driving force behind the emergence of this desperate but determined character, Samantha plows forward because she has no other choice.

She also soon bumps back into all the things she thought she was finessing and getting away with. She compounds some of them with new bad decisions, though in the end, she makes us root for her. We just wish she'd, well, maybe think for an extra few seconds before she speaks.

Frayed scores because it refuses to become a goofy sitcom or a syrupy drama. It never feels soapy, and while several characters like Jim start out as cartoonish, the show establishes a series of potentially intriguing relationships.

That begins with Samantha and her mother, but we also get nuance from the kids and some of the locals.

Frayed may end up going where you might expect it would go. But viewers may not be thinking about that. The actions of the moment, and their droll tone, make the short game as much fun here as the long game.

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