Asher Keddie's Fake is an unsettling masterclass in gaslighting and emotional abuse.

"She was onto me from the start."

If the title doesn't give it away, the words spoken by Joe Burt, superbly played by David Wenham, in episode one tell the viewer there's something not quite right about the charming grazier. 

We just don't know what it is yet. 

Although Joe narrates the Paramount+ psychological thriller/drama Fake, the show's protagonist is Asher Keddie's Birdie Bell — a magazine feature writer who's decided to start dating again after five years out of the game. 

She takes a reluctant punt on 51-year-old Joe, a single father looking for the simple life, but oozes an intellectualism and sweetness that ultimately draws in the smart and independent, Birdie.

Watch: Signs You're Dating A Narcissist. Article continues below.

Video via Psych2Go.

Despite an awkward first date that leaves Birdie unconvinced, his lyrical text messages and a push from her interfering mother prompt her to give him another go — and before long, she's completely invested in their developing relationship. 

As the series progresses, viewers are treated to an uncomfortable masterclass in gaslighting as Joe's increasingly erratic behaviour leaves Birdie questioning her own sense of reality. 

Created by Anya Beyersdorf and directed by Emma Freeman, Jennifer Leacey and Taylor Ferguson, Fake is inspired by journalist, Stephanie Woods' 2019 memoir of the same name.


I read Fake several years ago, and was utterly gripped, not only by the concept of a creative and mind-blowingly dedicated conman, but by Woods' willingness to share her experience with such searing honesty. 

In her memoir, Woods lays bare all her vulnerabilities, including her almost desperate desire for Joe to be the man she wanted him to be, despite multiple red flags — behaviours Joe expertly justified through gaslighting and an elaborate web of deception.

Image: Paramount+.

Woods' authenticity is what makes her memoir so compelling. It's not just a book about a fake, it's a book about the psychological trauma experienced by those on the receiving end, regardless of their age, intellect, or life experience. 

And given most women have experienced a 'Joe' of some description in their life, it was extremely validating for a lot of readers. Many reached out to Woods to thank her for putting into words what they themselves were feeling. 


Watching Asher Keddie depict Birdie's progression from cautious interest to love-struck commitment, then spiral from anxiety to despair is unsettling. 

Juxtaposing Birdie's mental upheaval with Joe's cool and condescending vibe, as he engages systematic, but stealthy, emotional abuse, only adds to the discomfort. 

Listen to Stephanie Wood share her story on Mamamia's No Filter podcast. Post continues after audio.

As a stand-alone series, Fake is excellent if you enjoy psychological dramas or thrillers, as it includes elements of both, moving from the former to the latter as it progresses through the eight episodes. 

Keddie and Wenham's nuanced performances are brilliant, and supported by an equally talented cast — notably, Birdie's mother, played by Heather Mitchell. 

Clever use of music and film technique effectively pull the view into Birdie's mind, as it starts to unravel. 

Having already read Woods' memoir, I felt as though I had the inside scoop into how Birdie was feeling at different moments throughout the show, but Keddie does a superb job of depicting those unspoken thoughts and emotions — more than enough to make Fake a binge-worthy series, even if you haven't read the book.

Fake is a slow burn, due to its reliance on authenticity rather than melodrama, but that only serves to make the series more compelling. 

Fake is streaming now on Paramount+.

Feature Image: Paramount+.  

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