Walls come tumbling down in psychiatric dramedy ‘Wakefield’

You likely won’t recognize the stars of “Wakefield” — but, trust me, you won’t be able to get a certain early ’80s pop song out of your head after watching this psychological dramedy, which arrives Monday (Oct. 18) on Showtime.

That song, or “earworm,” as it’s referred to by one of the show’s characters, is an ongoing theme throughout the eight-episode series, which was produced and shot in Australia, where it aired earlier this year on ABC TV. And it’s only one of many arresting facets of “Wakefield,” which relates the stories of the staff and patients who populate the titular picturesque psychiatric hospital located in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales.

The show’s protagonist is Nik (Rudi Dharmalingam), a compassionate nurse who loves tap-dancing (another theme) and has the ability to connect with the Wakefield patients on a level beyond anyone else there — including chief staff doctor Kareena Wells (Geraldine Hakewell), who’s also Nik’s ex-girlfriend. Nik stopped just short of earning his medical degree; he felt that this is what he was meant to do, and it’s obvious in the way he cares for, and communicates with, his charges that he was right. Those patients include a businessman (Dan Wyllie) who’s there after an overdose and is trying to close a big business deal; a young mother (Megan Smart) with post-partum depression who’s also caring for her newborn daughter at Wakefield; a manic-depressive landscape gardener (Harriet Dyer) who can’t control her sex drive; and an overweight hoarder (Bessie Holland) with mommy issues who hides behind ever-present dark sunglasses.

Photo showing Rudi Dharmalingam as Nik, looking pensive.
Rudi Dharmalingam stars as Nik, a compassionate nurse working in a psychiatric hospital, in “Wakefield.”
Lisa Tomasetti/Jungle Entertainm

Their stories are told through a melange of flashbacks and in linear chronology in their lives at Wakefield, as are the back stories of Nik and his co-workers; many scenes involving various characters are revisited, but unfold via different points-of-view, which keeps things interesting — and viewers on their toes. You’ll need to pay attention.

Nik, of course, has his own demons which, as the series progresses, begin to surface as we’re taken inside his personal cocoon vis-a-vis issues with his family, Kareena (who’s dealing with her own problems), his co-workers and the state of his mental health (he’s the “victim” of that earworm song mentioned earlier). The Wakefield staff is an assemblage of likable and less likable characters, including acting chief nursing supervisor Linda (Mandy McElhinney), who fears that Nik will take her job; Pete (Sam Simmons), who’s more attuned to his two Bichon Frise dogs than he is to the patients; and Collette (Felicity Ward), a New Age-y nurse who taps her forehead to release positive energy. McElhinney, Simmons and Ward, who each have long acting resumes in Australia, are entertaining and interesting in their own ways.

Photo showing Mandy MacElhinney and Felicity Ward as Linda and Collette in a scene from "Wakefield."
Mandy McElhinney (left) and Felicity Ward as Linda and Collette.
Lisa Tomasetti/Jungle Entertainm

The series, created by Kristen Dunphy — who co-wrote it with Sam Meikle, Joan Sauers and Cathy Strickland — mixes drama, comedy and even fantasy sequences (with several musical numbers) for a compelling look at the lives of a cross-section of people each burdened with issues both emotional and physical — and all searching for a way to cope with life inside and outside the walls of Wakefield.


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