“BBC’s most X-rated drama ever,” says The Sun. “Wanderlust viewers slam ‘utter filth’ as BBC airs its raunchiest series yet,” says The Mirror. “Viewers stunned by raunchy Toni Collette sex scene,” says The Express.
But while the drama does kick off with sexual encounters, viewers tuning in expecting salacious and titillating sex scenes might be in for a disappointment – because that’s not all it’s about. After all, there’s no actual nudity and most of the sex is comically awkward.
That’s something which worries creator and screenwriter Nick Payne. Has all the talk about “raunchiness” given viewers the wrong idea?
“My concern is that the show is being contextualised as one thing, as one really particular thing, and I’m not necessarily sure that is what the show is,” Payne tells RadioTimes.com, explaining: “A narrative is emerging that the show should be raunchy, or it should be edgy, or it should be controversial, and it just is not that.”
Wanderlust may be pretty frank about sex, but sex is not the whole story. At its heart, this is a multi-generational character drama about relationships, from the teenage crush to the struggling middle-aged couple and from the first heartbreak to the newly-opened relationship – as Joy (Toni Collette) and Alan (Steven Mackintosh) agree to sleep with other people to save their own marriage.
But in episode two, we’ll start to see what’s really driving Joy to make such a drastic decision. The story is set to go somewhere “a bit unexpected,” Payne says, and particularly so because media coverage has set the expectation of a “shagfest” from the beginning.
“If you wanted ‘raunchy’, or you wanted something salacious or you wanted a manifesto for how to save your marriage – I don’t know, seems some people are calling for that – or you wanted any other numerous things, yeah it’s true it’s not going to have delivered that and I’m sorry if you were misled,” he explains.
“But I think if you want – at least I hope, I can only say what we attempted to make – a character-driven thing that isn’t going to compromise the integrity of the characters for the sake of the plot, that’s warm and funny and has this beautiful ensemble of performers, and they are only going to blossom as the show goes on, yeah please watch.
“I mean, f**k I would love people to be reading that about it, but they are not… No one is commenting on that. It’s just about the sex. And spoiler alert: there’s no sex beyond episode three.”
He adds: “I understand that it’s going to get talked about however people wish to talk about it, but the bit I’m a bit sad about – or worry about – is that a set of expectations get set for the viewer, who doesn’t yet know anything about it, and when they read all that stuff they bring it to the experience – and ultimately it just isn’t really about that. And we only get one chance to get people to watch it.”
Much of the press reaction and viewers’ tweets and comments have been coloured by the fact that this so-called “raunchy” drama is a primetime BBC show. Internationally it goes out on Netflix, but for now, TV fans in the UK are experiencing Wanderlust on BBC1 on a Tuesday night.
“If this show were in a different context – by that I mean, if it were on Netflix and it was like one of your tiles next to a Master of None or an Ozark or whatever, I don’t think anyone would bat an eyelid,” says Payne.
“I guess there’s a thing because it’s BBC1 and it’s the most mainstream channel, and of course it’s publicly subsidised, that for whatever reason we’re being exposed to a level of bizarre scrutiny. If we were on a different platform, I just think no one would care about that stuff and they’d see through it and maybe they’d see the show for what it is.
“And that’s not to suggest, by the way, that if people greet the show on its own terms and they don’t like it – obviously I’m sad about that but I completely understand that. But I’m sad that people are being sold one thing and are disappointed when they don’t get it, or surprised or miffed when they don’t get it.
“I wish people had known absolutely nothing. I think they would have had a totally different experience.”