Rosehaven is set in a small and idyllic fictional Tasmanian town, where everybody knows each other and the biggest event on the calendar is the annual hops festival.
There is a 24-hour emergency butcher, a local pub, and two men in the town named Dave Goulding. Also of course there is McCallum Real Estate: the company where real estate agents, besties and colleagues Emma and Daniel work. Those two are played by the show’s writers and co-creators, Celia Pacquola and Luke McGregor.
The local cop (Kim Knuckey) doesn’t have much to do, that’s for sure – though at one point in the second season, the titular location is hit by something ungodly: a (gasp!) nocturnal graffiti artist.
Kicking off its fourth season this week, the show is Seinfeldian in its devotion to narrative minutia, with a slower and more reflective pace further emphasising that nothing much happens.
It is not, in other words, an example of what I call the “Summer Bay Syndrome”, wherein an endless array of highly dramatic events mysteriously occur in a supposedly sleepy setting.
Instead the situations that transpire in Rosehaven are small scale, rarely with any sense of stakes, or any wider societal or cultural relevance. What happens in Rosehaven stays in Rosehaven, hermetically sealed in this pleasant alternative universe, looking and feeling like the kind of town one might dimly recall from a childhood family holiday.
Therein lies the appeal: it feels like a place sort of close and sort of far away, populated by characters we kind of know and kind of don’t, who become increasingly familiar and endearing as the moreish 25 minute-odd episodes roll on. The dramas of their lives are played for laughs in a way that never talks down to them, with a comedic tempo that is always appealing, even and sometimes especially (to quote the show’s introductory jingle) when the pace is slow.
The first three seasons saw Emma and Daniel deal with disputes between tenants, an overzealous Neighbourhood Watch group, a trip out of town that resulted in them getting lost, and a stray pig. The fourth season confronts shockingly dramatic situations such as Daniel dealing with the horror of being called “mate” by his ex-girlfriend. After all, as he explains, that word is “what you say to tradies and people whose names you don’t know”.
The first episode opens with a couch conversation canvassing the details of bin night and spiders. Daniel, a Nervous Nellie-type character wary of spiders and, indeed, most other things, advocates for the immediate squishing of any four-legged intruder. Emma rebuffs: “What if I squish it and then its family come in, looking for revenge?” After some back-and-forth Daniel declares a compromise: “You can take them outside – but put them way outside and spin them around a few times so they can’t find their way back”.
Rosehaven trades in the kind of comedy that doesn’t sound all that great on paper, but becomes very funny when filtered through Pacquola and McGregor’s relaxed, effortless charisma. Both have moulded their characters into what feel like genuine extensions of their own, very affable personalities, formulated for the show in the chalk and cheese paradigm. Daniel is tense, nervous and awkward; Emma bubbly and outgoing.
I am tempted to say it all comes down to the execution, which is true – but the real success is its tone. Rosehaven’s crowning achievement is to put you in a certain mood, a certain space, that provides a sense of reprieve from the confusion and chaos of daily life. That sense of getting away from it all is reiterated through long shots of the town and its beautiful surroundings, though it’s more than just locational – it’s the vibe of the thing; a state of mind.
That sense of reprieve feels particularly appealing right now, as we grapple with a reality that so often feels so utterly despairing. To quote Joaquin Phoenix from Joker: “Is it just me, or is it getting crazier out there?” The real world has been hit by a matryoshka doll of crises, among them systemic racism and police injustice highlighted by Black Lives Matter; the global pandemic; the climate crisis; the imminent return to our screens of Paul Hogan.
That last one is a joke, of course. Maybe it put a smile on your face? Whisked you someplace else, if only for a heartbeat? Rosehaven is that feeling stretched out over four seasons. It is a form of escapism rooted not in wild fantasy but gentle whimsy. Four seasons in, the series shows no signs of, well, I was going to say “slowing down” – but it’s always been slow. That’s the point. Long may it run. Or walk. Or crawl.
• Rosehaven’s fourth season premieres at 9pm on Wednesday 8 July, on the ABC