Deadloch–The surprise best TV mystery, drama, comedy, and writing so far this year

Review by C.J. Bunce

Odds are you probably haven’t yet watched Prime Video’s Tasmania-based mystery series Deadloch.  But you should.  For the past eight weeks creator-writers Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan (an Australian comedy duo) have delivered the best mystery, best drama, bust-out-loud laughs, and best writing this year.  It’s the eve of the Deadloch annual winter Feastival and two girls find a dead man left naked on a beach.  We’re in Deadloch, at the same time the most progressive and least progressive town in a land full of oddly named but real places (like Mount Mountain), and before now, its worst criminal is a sea lion named Kevin.  If you’re at all prudish, look the other way.  Otherwise, get ready to witness what brilliance can happen when two women take off their gloves and let loose with the ultimate crime show.

The tone of the series is like nothing you’ve seen before.  The series lead is Kate Box as local head of police Dulcie Collins.  She’s a little bit like a young Judy Davis, most recently of Mystery Road fame, a bit Walt Longmire, a bit like your typical low-key British crime series lead.  Dulcie is a straight arrow, she never swears, and she is the only one in town who keeps her cool while doing her job.  That gets challenged when her uppers in the big city assign another cop to work with her.  That’s Madeleine Sami as Detective Eddie Redcliffe, the mouthiest, foulest cop you’ll ever meet.  She’s a disheveled cop like Columbo, part Jim Rockford, part Gene Hunt, with language worse than Alex Foley, and she’s about as experienced at solving crimes as Vinny Gambini had practicing law (she also takes Mona Lisa Vito’s vocabulary to another level).  She’s actually a lot like Ace Ventura, and like Ace and Thomas Magnum, when she’s not wearing something from the Army-Navy Surplus, she’s wearing a Hawaiian shirt and sandals.  Together Dulcie and Eddie are the Odd Couple of crime.  If Dulcie is Turner, Eddie is Hooch.  This is a comedy, but this isn’t Police Squad.  The mystery plotting is as good as it gets for TV mysteries.  And Deadloch is what the ads for Poker Face promised, but didn’t deliver.

Deadloch is as atmospheric and intriguing as the best of British or American mystery police procedurals.  It’s a step removed from other Australian series we’ve reviewed here at borg, like Mystery Road, Glitch, and The Gloaming, which also took place in Tasmania.  Amanda Brown’s musical score is haunting and perfect.  Emma Fletcher’s production design creates the next Twin Peaks, the next Fargo.  But this is better and has more to say.  And did I mention the gut-busting humor?

Accompanying the two lead cops is Nina Oyama as Abby Matsuda, the rookie cop.  Abby is earnest, the eager, fresh-faced young cop, ready to work, and Oyama plays the role with the same seriousness as all the actors on the show.  It’s a dream team of acting, and must have been a joy to have gotten picked for this script.  Like many of the characters on the show, the actors are LGBTQ, too.  Tom Ballard is the chatty Sven Alderman, the other gay cop on the force.  Like the cop squad on Shetland, this crew will become familiar, new fast friends to TV watchers as the series progresses.  You’ll want them all to be back for another season.  Or six.

Not surprisingly the town is full of a diverse group of characters–so many you’ll find it hard to keep everyone straight.  New to some US audiences will be the concept of blackness in Australia (Aboriginal people view themselves as black), although there are no black-skinned characters of African descent on the show.  Susie Youssef plays Mayor Aleyna Rahme.  Kartanya Maynard and Leonie Whyman play the teens from the poor side of the tracks.  A fair amount of the introduction follows Dulcie’s relationship with her seemingly polar opposite wife Cath, played by Alicia Gardiner.  Holly Austin is Dulcie’s old friend Skye O’Dwyer, the local trendy chef and daughter of one of the victims, who quickly becomes a target of the murder investigation.  Harry Radbone plays Skye’s son Tom, who is harassed into getting “the goods” on his mom by his classmates.  Mia Morrissey is Skye’s wife. And Duncan Fellows plays Ray McLintock, Skye’s loyal sous chef and soon-to-be romantic interest of Eddie.

Cath and Eddie vie for the most cringeworthy scenes–Cath in her romantic public overtures for the straight-laced Dulcie (who she calls Sexy), Eddie in her over-the-top profanity (every single line is an exercise in crude, rude, ornery swearing as art).  But it’s hard to top the local choir singing “I Touch Myself,” or the “corpse stew” that nighttime movie attendees of the four-hour local film Poseidon’s Uterus encounter floating on rafts as one of the Feastival events.

But Deadloch isn’t entirely progressive.  The town villain is Shaun Martindale’s Phil McGangus, who hates women and gays and thinks the town is being taken over, leaving nothing for white men.  Hayden Spencer is the typical misogynist police commissioner, who berates and belittles everyone in his path who isn’t a white man.  Nick Simpson-Deeks plays Abby’s over-bearing fiance, and local coroner.  It’s no wonder the local serial killer is cutting the tongues out of the victims before killing them.

The audacity of the writers letting go, letting Eddie, a woman, take on the role usually assigned an obnoxious, rude male actor, is glorious, and it creates a scenario nobody’s seen on TV before.  This is not merely a parody of police procedurals, like we’ve seen in Angie Tribeca or Murderville.  This is the real deal.  The setting is rural, outback Tasmania, in Australia, and yet the pop culture references are as up-to-date, the pop music infused in key places makes a good mix tape, and the lingo could be uttered by anyone from L.A. to NYC.  The juxtaposition of current political dialogue, current humor, current slang, and the setting is jaw-dropping stuff.  Everything feels American, but it’s not.  It’s both a razor sharp autopsy of sex and sexism in society and a mirror of every type of person in Anytown, Anywhere in the 21st century.

Yet the outlandish situations and leads take the backseat to a well-drawn mystery that will keep viewers guessing until the eighth episode, where the two Kates deliver an exquisite, satisfying ending.  Every episode pulls in clues and science that can help the attentive viewer figure out the whodunnit, but it’s the journey that is the most fun.  We’ve seen lots of good mystery TV series this year, and yet if there is only one that gets renewed, Deadloch should be every TV watcher’s #1 choice.

Watch all eight episodes of Deadloch, a Prime Video production now streaming on Prime Video.

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