There was only ever one of two ways Deadloch could go. One way had us excited; the other… yeah, not so much. So what exactly have Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan served up with their big budget Amazon murder mystery series? And why aren’t we super excited about what’s to come?
Behind door number one, Deadloch was going to be a all-in parody of prestige noir, that over-exposed genre that’s increasingly come to dominate television around the world. You know what we mean: there’s a murder in a very scenic small town (cold location preferable), turns out it’s just the tip of the mysterious iceberg, our heroic detective and a sidekick (so they have someone to talk to) investigate while also struggling with personal issues and meanwhile the body count keeps rising.
Behind door number two, Deadloch was going to be… well, basically just another prestige noir mystery, only with comedy characters. To be fair, Amazon isn’t going to sink big money into eight hour-long episodes that were taking the piss out of a genre that dominates drama the world over, whatever the Kates’ comedy credentials. And so it has proven to be.
There are a few fresh angles. For one, it’s extremely LGBTIQ+. One detective is gay, the other is basically an ocker caricature but a woman – we’re talking Ted Bullpit, lady cop, so strap yourselves in. Pretty much the only male character who isn’t a fuckwit is played by Tom Ballard, so at a guess he’s gay too. Meanwhile, all the murder victims are (extremely) straight white males, as in one’s a rootrat footy coach, another’s his dipshit brother and a third (possible) victim is named Rod Dixon, though this (them being male, not the ex-Mayor being named Rod) does prove essential to the plot.
Considering the sexism and barely concealed misogyny that often runs through a genre based largely on young women being found dead and then “avenged” by middle aged men, there’s definitely room for a new take here.
Meanwhile, the welcome to country at the start of the local cultural festival turns out to be an acknowledgement of country, as the speaker reminds everyone that the entire town of Deadloch isn’t exactly “welcome” – after all, a small town cultural festival is no world’s oldest culture. Again, it’s good to see a local production that’s taking place (culturally at least) in 21st century Australia.
And when it’s trying to be a straight (sorry) murder mystery it often works fairly well. The small Tasmanian town where it’s set looks good and there’s plenty of subplots: the first body is found right before a big cultural festival so of course the Mayor wants it brushed over, there’s a possible drug link and loads of dark secrets, after the first episode the media starts shit-stirring and the town itself is clearly divided between the stale pale male old guard and the lesbian choir singing “I Touch Myself”. There’s a solid lead in senior sergeant Dulcie Collins (Kate Box), and not every single character is a complete fuckwit.
That last one’s important to stress because it turns out that quite a few characters are fuckwits. Which is a bit of a problem. Consider an episode of Wallander, only every second character Wallander meets is played by Hale & Pace bunging on an act: welcome to Deadloch.
While in theory it’s certainly possible to imagine a wide range of comedy characters living in a small town – and Deadloch does feature one sleazy mansplaining type and one overeager newbie, so there is some variety – the Kates seem to have decided to narrow much of the population of Deadloch down to “painful cartoon Aussie cliche”.
When blow-in detective Eddie Redcliffe (Madeleine Sami) and pretty much everyone directly connected to the first murder victim has seemingly staggered out of a Barry McKenzie revival, you’d better like your comedy broader than a bush pig’s behind or something.
Redcliffe is in fact so much of an annoying hammy abrasive cliche that you’d be forgiven for thinking she’s secretly a brilliant detective bunging on an act to get those around her to let down their guard. You’d be wrong.
In contrast, Collins is super straight-laced and serious. Obviously what we have here is the beginning of a beautiful double act where they start out at odds with each other but eventually each wears the other down and we get a true meeting of the minds. That’s great for solving a string of murders; comedy wise we’re not exactly dealing with French & Saunders here.
The big problem is that tonally Deadloch is way all over the place. The soundtrack is playing it serious and the visuals are straight out of the prestige playbook, but it also has a scene where the local footy team kick footies at the hearse carrying their dead coach as a salute. Some characters seem like plausible people (that’d be the local teens); most of the rest are stock comedy figures of the “dickhead” variety (some bogan, some hippie). It’s harsh, but someone’s got to say it: Rosehaven featured more nuanced characters.
To get technical for a moment, the reason why prestige noir mysteries don’t usually take place in a town full of broad comedy stereotypes is that those stereotypes distract from the mystery – you know, the thing that is the point of a prestige noir mystery. The supporting characters in these shows are there almost entirely to impart information: anything beyond the barest characterisation – which is also there to impart information (“he seems shifty, bet he’s lying”) – is slowing things down. So having the comedy come from these dipshits messes with the mystery side of things; stop fucking around and do your job.
Looked at another way, turns out there’s a good reason why almost every single long running murder mystery franchise features a quirky, memorable lead surround by bland nobodies. Deadloch instead has a bland nobody as its lead, which may seem harsh when she’s the best thing in the series but when your main character trait is “going by the book” that’s the hand you’ve been dealt.
At the end of the day – or just at the end of the first three episodes; maybe by episode five everyone’ll be piling out of clown cars or something – Deadloch isn’t really a comedy. It’s a serious murder mystery that has comedy characters scattered throughout. If you’re looking for laughs first and foremost, this isn’t what you’re looking for.
And not just because a lot of the time it’s just not that funny.