Content warning: this review contains discussions of suicide and substance abuse.
When its first episode opens with Vivian (Thomasin McKenzie) contemplating suicide in her bathtub, as we watch quick flashes of a car accident from her childhood, Totally Completely Fine feels precisely that – totally, completely fine. As she’s about to take her life, Hendrix (Brandon McClelland), her brother, calls to tell her their grandfather has passed away.
The plot develops further when Vivian learns that he left his waterfront property to her, not their controlling older brother, John (Rowan Witt). But the show still feels totally, completely fine. It’s only after Vivian discovers that the cliffside beach house she’s inherited, and now moved into, is a well-known suicide spot that the series forms its own identity and, throughout its six-episode run, becomes something special.
Fans of Thomasin McKenzie’s past work in Jojo Rabbit and Last Night in Soho will be excited to jump into the series with her in the lead role. She doesn’t disappoint; McKenzie plays her abrasive, snarky, and highly dysfunctional character with so much heart and emotion. Haunted by the belief that she caused her parents’ fatal car accident, Vivian is constantly on the brink of collapse. She spends most of her days alone, avoiding her brothers, drinking and vaping away her trauma, but no matter how often she falls, you’re always rooting for her to get back up.
As with this type of story, the hero must first resist their mission. Vivian learns that her grandfather left her the house, hoping she’d take over his heroic acts of kindness and figure her shit out. Let’s just say she’s less than thrilled about her new job as a suicide prevention counsellor. However, Vivian starts to see the good she can do when she saves her first few people, including Amy (Contessa Treffone), who shows up in Vivian’s backyard, ready to jump, after running away from her wedding. Much to the show’s benefit, Amy becomes Vivian’s self-appointed roommate and sticks around for the whole series.
Totally Completely Fine does an exceptional job of portraying emotionally distressing situations as honestly as possible, though sometimes it doesn’t fit with the comedic tone the show thinks it has. It can’t achieve this due to the weighty and dark subject matter at its core. Instead, it’s about the emotional journey of these characters as they learn to be healthy and functional while experiencing the unpredictable rollercoaster of life.
The characters’ complex relationships beautifully demonstrate the importance of having people who will be there for you even when you’re at your worst. John and Vivian have an extremely complicated relationship throughout the series. Their relationship brings them both a lot of sadness and anger but also joy and laughter, underscoring how even though family, chosen or found, might cause a lot of anguish, they will always be there to help put you back together again.
The year isn’t halfway over, and there’s been an abundance of shows covering mental health, like Shrinking, Beef, and Ted Lasso. While they are all great in their own right, none of them have gone as far as to show what happens if people can’t or don’t get the help they need. Yes, the writing in Totally Completely Fine does feel contrived and cliché at times. The ‘kid distracts parents while driving, which causes them to crash and die’ trope seriously needs to be retired. But, the creator, Gretel Vella (The Great), deserves praise for being able to educate audiences about the seriousness of something like suicide, which, for so many, is completely unimaginable.
The first two episodes of Totally Completely Fine are now available to stream on Sundance Now and AMC+, with new episodes premiering every Thursday.