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An Australian Football Club Steeped in Mystery on 'Playing for Keeps'
February 20, 2020  | By David Hinckley

The least glamorous character in Playing for Keeps is the best reason to watch it.

Playing for Keeps, a murder mystery that's been a big hit in its native Australia, makes its U.S. debut Thursday on Sundance Now.

The murder part shares the spotlight with a soapy drama revolving around the rich wives and girlfriends (WAGs) of the players on an Australian football team called the Southern Jets.

Quick aside: For those keeping score at home, that's Australian rules football, which to U.S. eyes looks closer to rugby.

The Jets lost the championship the previous year when one of their top players, Jack Davies (James Mason – not that James Mason), committed an inexplicable foul near the end of the game.

We join them as the new season is starting, and coach Brian Rickards (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor) is dismayed to see the players seem erratic and distracted.

This means he must pin more of his hopes on newcomers, notably including Daniel Fletcher (George Pullar).

Daniel, a country kid unaccustomed to the attention and opportunities that come to star athletes in the big city of Melbourne, has brought along his girlfriend, Paige Dunkeley (Cece Peters).

Sensing that Daniel will soon become a star, the coach's wife Kath (Madeleine West) invites Paige to get to know the elite WAGs, which notably include the entitled Tahlia Woods (Olympia Valance), who has a line of beauty products and a high-society reputation.

Grafting Paige onto this group, it soon becomes clear, is like trying to top off a Christian Dior ensemble with a backward baseball cap.

Paige dresses like she just found the discards from a 1960s hippie commune. She wants to get a job as a schoolteacher.

Her quintessential moment, and the unchallenged high point in the first episode of Playing for Keeps, comes when Tahlia says that if Paige will wear one of the glamorous dresses Tahlia picked out for her, Tahlia will post it on social media with her, Tahlia's, valued personal endorsement.

So, Tahlia asks Paige, what's your handle?

"I don't have one," Paige responds. "I did, but I deleted it because it was taking up too much space on my phone."

Would it be too forward to say Paige, we love you already?

Tahlia has at least one other problem, it turns out, after Southern Jets captain Connor Marrello (Jackson Gallagher) very publicly proposes to her.

Nor is she the only WAG with issues, many of them revolving around, oh, you probably figure it out, sex and fidelity and stuff like that.

Meanwhile, back on the field, tempers are fraying, and the coach hauls everyone out for a tough-love training session that ends in tragedy.

And sparks the murder mystery part of Playing for Keeps.

As you probably have gathered, this isn't Tennessee Williams. It's well-paced fun, with a fine Everywoman character in the center, holding her own in a game everyone else thinks they already won.

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