Fake review: Asher Keddie and David Wenham in gripping romance scam drama

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
Fake is streaming on Paramount+.
Fake is streaming on Paramount+. Credit: Paramount+

We all think we’re pretty savvy. If someone’s asking to be paid in gift cards, you know it’s a scam. If an unsolicited email purporting to be from your bank asks you to reset your password, you know it’s a scam.

But when it comes to matters of the heart, we’re all vulnerable. We want to believe in the best in someone because if they’re true, then it leads to – as fairytales have imprinted on us – the best possible version of our future.

When someone tells you you’re amazing and whispers those magic words, “I love you”, it overrides our instincts to be suspicious. Never trusting anyone, we’re told, leads to loneliness and bitterness. No one wants to be that person.

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So it was that Birdie Bell (Asher Keddie), a journalist who tells people’s stories for a living, sniffing out bulls**t, came to fall for Joe Burt (David Wenham).

The eight-episode drama Fake was inspired by the memoirs of Stephanie Wood, a writer and journalist who met a man through a dating website and was sucked into his elaborate web of lies and deceptions.

Fake is streaming on Paramount+.
David Wenham as Joe Burt. Credit: Paramount+

It’s a gripping drama, an almost forensic exploration of how under the right circumstances, anyone is prey to someone’s targeted manipulations.

Birdie is almost 50 and single. Her first date with Joe is a disaster. They met for drinks at the trendy Melbourne restaurant Yakimono, a space with a stimulating, neon aesthetic. He talked about himself the whole and only asked one question of her, Birdie reported to a friend. She left early and ignored his calls.

But Joe persisted and talked her into a second date. He’s a grazier (not a farmer) of sheep. He’s divorced with two kids. He doesn’t have a credit card because he objects to bank fees. He’s consulting with Chinese investors. He knows former treasurer Wayne Swan.

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. It’s not as if Birdie’s spidey senses aren’t tingling, they’re screaming. But she does everything she can to push them down. She wants Joe to be the right one.

But the abruptly cancelled plans, the no-shows and the ghosting for days all add up, and Birdie knows, in her heart of hearts, that something isn’t right.

Fake is streaming on Paramount+.
We all want to believe the best in people, even when our instincts are screaming something is wrong. Credit: Paramount+

Fake is a vivid portrait of the emotional abuse in this dynamic. Joe is gaslighting her, making her think she’s crazy, diminishing her legitimate questions. Where was he? Seriously.

The scripting by creator Anya Beyersdorf and her team is super compelling while the series directors including the always wonderful Emma Freeman pull everything together. It’s anxiety-ridden and frustrating, but that’s only because it’s evoking a visceral response. But it doesn’t resort to melodrama.

Keddie sheds some of the more mannered quirks of previous roles and gives a fantastic performance that’s restrained and relatable. A fifth episode where Birdie is slowly unravelling over the length of an Uber ride to the airport is masterful stuff.

While Heather Mitchell as Birdie’s awful mother reveals much about Birdie’s psychology and why she so desperately wants Joe to be the real deal.

Sometimes, when we’re watching stories about scammers, narcissists and skilful con-artists, we keep them at a distance. That could never be me, you say. Fake provides a persuasive argument that it could be.

Fake is streaming on Paramount+


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