Fake, Paramount+ review: lies and love

Asher Keddie and David Wenham star in a thrilling tale of lies, love and unsettling dynamics.
Asher Keddie and David Wenham in Fake. Image: Paramount+.

For a series about lies and deception, Fake is refreshingly upfront about one thing.

When Melbourne journalist and food writer Birdie Bell (Asher Keddie) meets property developer turned grazier Joe Burt (David Wenham) at a trendy inner city bar after an online match, it’s obvious that something about him isn’t quite right. He’s just a little bit too loud, too forceful, too pushy – we know it, she knows it, and the evening ends early and abruptly.

So where’s the drama? This is a series where Burt himself lets us know via voiceover that the sensible response to meeting him is to ‘turn around and run’. But as Birdie quickly discovers, Burt isn’t the kind of man to take no for an answer. His constant messages are persistent without ever quite becoming creepy, his foot not quite jamming the door open.

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Meanwhile, Birdie’s quietly domineering mother Margeaux (Heather Mitchell) – she’s someone who says ‘you fucked it’ when Birdie puts the milk in the cup before pouring the tea – hammers home the idea that time is slipping by. At Birdie’s stage in life, finding any kind of relationship is a win no matter how much compromise it requires.

And Birdie herself seems a little adrift, trying to turn a weekend magazine story on winter soup into an examination of homelessness in women over 50 while babysitting for her gay besties, two jobs which underline the ways in which her life lacks the security and family she hoped for. Maybe she was a little too quick to dismiss Joe?

Of course not. If he was a decent and honest man he wouldn’t be played by David Wenham. Thanks to a decades-long parade of shifty and dubious roles playing off his good looks, the days of Diver Dan are long gone. Here Wenham is more like a parody of charm, a man selling an act he’s too arrogant to fully maintain or convincingly sell. You can see why someone would fall for it at first; why someone would keep coming back is a much bigger mystery.

Which is what makes Fake more interesting than your typical ‘I fell in love with a liar’ drama. Birdie is clearly smart enough to see the signs, and while Burt is smooth (he doesn’t come home with her after an early date where she clearly wants him to) he’s also going on about his ‘crazy ex’ who neglects their children, forcing him to step up and vanish on Birdie at inopportune times. And for a farmer, he has awfully smooth hands; does he wear gloves, or is the lanolin in wool that keeps them so callous-free?

By the end of the first episode, the relationship has progressed far enough for Birdie to melt when he says he loves her, and for her to realise that his stories simply don’t add up. She doesn’t leave him, and the gripping, moody, artfully constructed story that follows – inspired by the memoir of the same name by Fairfax writer Stephanie Wood – is as much an exploration of why she kept going as it is a display of the unsettling dynamics at play between the couple.

Burt might get the voice-over, but the series (adapted by Anya Beyersdorf) is steeped in Birdies view of the world, the vibe just slightly cramped and off-kilter. Bars and offices are under-populated, the lighting subdued – though that could be the wintery Melbourne vibe at play, as this takes full advantage of that city’s more cosy inner-city locations.

Burt’s farm, on the other hand, has a strong serial-killer mood about it; any pretence that Birdie is a rational actor with her own best interests at heart goes out the window when she willingly follows him inside his crumbling murder shack.

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Wenham seems to have the easier gig here and there are times when Burt (by necessity) comes across as the usual dirtbag – it’s not really his story, after all. But early on he often plays Burt’s magnetism and obvious fakery at the same time rather than alternating between the two. The fact that he seems a bit bogus becomes part of his charm; it’s all a bit of a laugh really … until it isn’t.

Birdie is the one in the spotlight here, and Keddie does well at showing her early frustrations. It’s not that her life hasn’t turned out how she planned, though that’s in the mix; it’s that she feels like she’s a disappointment to herself. Who hasn’t thought that by falling in love we can undercover our truer, better self?

Probably helps to fall in love with someone who isn’t telling you a pack of lies though.


4.5 out of 5 stars



Asher Keddie, David Wenham


Emma Freeman

Format: TV Series

Country: Australia

Release: 04 July 2024

Available on:

Paramount Plus, 8 Episodes

Anthony Morris is a freelance film and television writer. He’s been a regular contributor to The Big Issue, Empire Magazine, Junkee, Broadsheet, The Wheeler Centre and Forte Magazine, where he’s currently the film editor. Other publications he’s contributed to include Vice, The Vine, Kill Your Darlings (where he was their online film columnist), The Lifted Brow, Urban Walkabout and Spook Magazine. He’s the co-author of hit romantic comedy novel The Hot Guy, and he’s also written some short stories he’d rather you didn’t mention. You can follow him on Twitter @morrbeat and read some of his reviews on the blog It’s Better in the Dark.