By Gen Terblanche8 September 2023
Hot mess: 10 chaos kings and queens in shows to stream
If you make one stupid mistake, it’s your problem. Make a whole bunch of them, just keep piling them on, and they’re now everyone else’s problem while you go on your merry way, strewing chaos like a confetti cannon.
Vivan Cunningham (Thomasin Mckenzie) in new Australian dark comedy series Totally Completely Fine is a classic hot mess – a self absorbed and unapologetic wrecking ball in her brothers’ lives. But a death in the family switches her from being the person who sucks up all the attention in the room to having to put herself out there to help everyone else … in her own special way.
Comedy loves a hot mess like Vivian – whether they’re rich know-it-all idiots, the black sheep of the family, thwarted narcissists and blindly self-centred maniacs, or just drunkenly in charge of operating a brain. Seeing their bad decisions play out is like replacing our inner voice whispering, “Hey, remember that dumb thing you did?” with one that goes, “Well, at least you didn’t do that!”
Here are 10 of our favourite shows about living the no-filter, no-second-thoughts life.
Vivan Cunningham (Thomasin Mckenzie) is weighing up the old toaster bath bomb when she gets the call that her grandfather has died. Disaster magnet Vivian has been avoiding her family since she accidentally burned down her big brother John’s (Rowan Witt) food truck with a vape, so there are simmering resentments when she’s left her grandfather’s seaside house in his will. But there’s a catch: the cliff draws the hopeless and desperate to their doom, and Vivian finds herself pulled into carrying on her grandfather’s mission to save them.
Their issues will have to get to the back of the queue, because Vivian might be the biggest mess of all. She seems to be her family’s scapegoat, and she’s grown up believing that her brothers blame her for their parents’ deaths. Her actor boyfriend is feeding her cocaine addiction, and thanks to a little mix up, Vivian has filled her grandad’s urn with hot chocolate mix after losing most of his ashes. It’s about 70% hot chocolate, 30% granddad?
Watch Totally Completely Fine S1 now, with 2 new episodes each Friday.
Executive producer-creator Sharon Horgan (Together, Shining Vale, Divorce) tapped The Fear singer Lily Allen for her first-ever acting role as Mel in Dreamland, a cross-generational tale of family drama and laughter set in a run-down seaside town. Trish (Freema Agyeman) and her husband Spencer (Kiell Smith-Bynoe) are throwing a loudly pink “mani-festival” to celebrate her third pregnancy when Trish’s black sheep sister Mel crashes the party, fresh from Paris’s modelling scene and oozing ennui, booze, and secrecy.
According to Trish, being a hot mess is “very 2019”, but since Mel’s dragging up trouble from the past, that works for her. Not only has her flat in Paris been flooded, by the end of episode 1 a bird has pooped on her face and she’s pregnant … and there’s no way she can tell Trish who the dad is. Mel’s brand in the family is the selfish, unreliable one, and that’s the way that Trish frames everything that her sister does. Is it fair, though?
3. Avenue 5
Armando Iannucci, creator of Veep and Avenue 5, is the master of exposing chaos and stupidity in the halls of power. Luxury passenger space cruiser the Avenue 5 is on target to drift through space, filled with skeletal, floating corpses thanks to an engineering whoopsy. And since, of course, we must not panic, the captain and crew have to keep the lid on that information, along with the fact that Captain Ryan Clark (Hugh Laurie) is actually just an actor, not an astronaut.
The figurehead of human stupidity aboard this doom cruise is Avenue 5’s billionaire owner and self-proclaimed genius, Herman Judd (Josh Gadd) – a leading cause of ulcers within the engineering staff. Pity his minions as he spews out ideas on the fly while not grasping basic geometry, boasts that he’s better than NASA because he has more followers on social media, or whines that the world prefers a baby to him. On his agenda today? Going to yell in some people’s faces. Did you know that he has no inside voice because his mouth connects directly to his brain? It’s pretty efficient.
Watch Avenue 5 S1 now and binge Avenue 5 Season 2 from Monday, 25 September.
4. The Comeback
Lisa Kudrow isn’t just a mess in comedy-drama The Comeback; she is an epic disaster as outrageously narcissistic actress Valerie Cherish. From episode 1, Valerie is dancing the humiliation conga as an older actress in Hollywood – she’s gone from being America’s sweetheart to Aunt Sassy in the upcoming sitcom, Room & Bored. But she’s determined to treat herself like the star of the greatest, most earth-shattering show ever.
Meanwhile, her every career misstep is now also being captured in merciless detail by the producers and camera crew of her new reality series, titled The Comeback. Whether she’s punching Room & Bored’s condescending co-creator Paulie G (Lance Barber) in the stomach while dressed as a giant cupcake, or faced with creating an X-rated fantasy version of herself in Paulie’s new HBO series Seeing Red, Valerie always gives 110% chaos and desperation.
Comedian Pete Holmes plays Pete Holmes in this semi-autobiographical comedy series about a 30-something youth pastor whose life falls apart after he uncovers his wife Jessica’s (Lauren Lapkus) infidelity just as he’s stretching his wings as a stand up comedian. That’s the opening act for a three-season deep dive into what it’s like to mine your own life for tragedy, then throw it out there for strangers to laugh at.
Pete also explores the camaraderie and bitter jealousies between stand-ups (who play themselves, from Artie Lange and TJ Miller, to Sarah Silverman). His brand of chaos? Sad sack. In Season 1, Pete finds out that Jessica has sold his journals at a yard sale she’s holding to get rid of his stuff. And in Season 2, we see the ultimate nice guy, Pete, get completely destroyed when he tries to impress his girlfriend Ali (Jamie Lee) at a roast battle. The insults get a little too on-point when one comedian announces that Pete looks like “the Muppet that’s gonna gentrify Sesame Street.” We’d never recover.
As creator and star of this cringe-comedy drama, Lena Dunham is “the voice of a generation”. She plays clueless, entitled New York trust fund baby Hannah Horvath, whose parents cut her off financially in her mid-20s, forcing her to make it on her own as a writer. We watch Hannah blow one opportunity after another, as she goes off at her colleagues about selling out creatively, but proves unable to handle criticism, or accept any implication that she isn’t perfect.
We see her asking her editor’s widow what’ll happen to her (Hannah’s) book deal during her editor’s funeral, interrupting Broadway legend Patti Lupone during a recording session to follow up on random interview facts, and generally being the personification of Main Character Energy. Hannah, her three equally obnoxious friends, and her would-be actor boyfriend Adam (Adam Driver) own their millennial issues, though. And their struggle to pick the right tone and boundaries in professional environments is tragically relatable.
If our worst social impulses were stitched together in a hideous, Frankenstein’s monster of a man, that man would be Larry David (the real-life comedian and co-creator of 90s smash-hit comedy Seinfeld, playing a fictional version of himself). He doesn’t get to walk away from the explosions he causes, though.
He has to stew in the cringe of his creation, whether he’s caught stealing a pair of shoes from the Holocaust museum, murdering a swan on a golf course, refusing to save a drowning child because he doesn’t want to get his phone wet, or pushing his wheelchair-user girlfriend into a closet so she won’t meet his previous girlfriend – also a wheelchair-user, who he dated for the disability access perks. And that’s on a good day.
Thirty-something Manchester party girl Rosie Molloy (Sheridan Smith) is addicted to every substance she can snort, smoke, sip or scoff. She leaves a drunken trail of destruction wherever she goes – until she wakes up in hospital following her little brother Joey’s (Lewis Reeves) wedding. Rosie comes from a family of addicts and enablers, and she’s in no way prepared for what lies ahead of her as she tries sober living, and cutting herself off from every single thing that she sees as a treat.
Along the way she’ll steal her sister-in-law’s urine for a work drug test, frolic with children in a park after she accidentally takes meth, break out of rehab, and go nuts ordering random fruit in an online shopping binge. Is it better than snorting cocaine off a tombstone? Marginally. Progress, not perfection, Rosie.
9. Hello Ladies
Stephen Merchant brings desperate, awkward praying-mantis energy to LA’s dating scene as British web designer Stuart Pritchard, a man obsessed with landing a hottie in the model/actress sphere … the same way you’d buy a better model car, or switch jobs to get something better. It’s all about the aspirational lifestyle. Between Stuart and his wing man – his equally desperate friend Wade (Nate Torrence) who’s hung up on his estranged wife – it’s look out, ladies.
Stuart’s deluded belief that he’s making connections leads to him getting stuck with exorbitant bar tabs, repelling anyone normal, insulting a woman to her face when he realises that she’s not a model, looking up jokes in the bathroom during a date, and manipulating a texting situation in a desperate attempt to shift the balance of power to his own side. It’s delicious comfort viewing when you strike a sticky patch on the dating apps.
On your worst day, have you ever woken up with a dead guy fully murdered in your bed, and just scurried out of there so you wouldn’t be late for work … again? Well, make way for the queen of bad decisions, flight attendant Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco). This hardcore party girl flits around the world drinking and forgetting as she lives the jet set life. But when you have a slippery grip on reality, it becomes difficult to keep your story straight for the FBI agents on your tail. Cassie’s messiness has made her the perfect target for evildoers who needed someone to frame, and to escape the trap, she’ll need to start being even messier, as she crashes a funeral, walks in on a murder, and winds up breaking the gears of a massive conspiracy.
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