What a great trick the Australian series Deadloch pulls off: it grabs the sinister reins of Nordic noir, then steers it off the road into a refreshing briar patch of dark comedy and feminist subversion. These unlikely components combine perfectly in a zippy, addictive series.
Set in Tasmania in the fictional town of Deadloch, the show centers on Dulcie Collins (Kate Box), a former Sydney homicide detective who has relocated to the sticks with her neurotic wife Cath (Alicia Gardiner). When a mutilated man’s body turns up on the beach, Dulcie is the most experienced officer on the scene—much to Cath’s dismay, since Dulcie’s police work nearly derailed their marriage. Dulcie’s dormant investigative instincts are activated by the case, however, and they only get more active when a reckless out-of-town detective named Eddie Redcliffe (Madeleine Sami) is brought in to lead the investigation—and impulsively steers it in the wrong direction. Eventually, though, the beleaguered officers forge a semi-coherent working relationship, and with the aide of an eager young constable named Abby (Nina Oyama) and an unlikely cop named Sven (Tom Ballard), they begin to unravel Deadloch’s storied mysteries in pursuit of a rampaging serial killer.
Wracking my brain for drawbacks, there are only two minor ones to Deadloch. One is an initial unlikability problem for Redcliffe, whose erratic, chaos-agent policing clashes with the writers’ clear intention for us to like her. Alas, her opposition to the quietly competent Collins comes off too obnoxious—at least until we get to know her, and the odd-couple dynamic finds its chemistry. The other (and miniscule) one is that the shows’ cheeky feminist subtexts occasionally erupt into plain old text—in bold fonts that draw unnecessary attention to messaging that was already crystal clear.
In the scheme of things, though, these are mere quibbles, easily dismissed in light of the sheer awesomeness everywhere else. Deadloch’s genre-twisting masterstroke is to perfectly deliver Nordic noir while also slyly, dramatically inverting it. (Including geographically!) A small-town murder mystery in an intricately entwined community? Check. Fish-out-of-water detective arrives and stirs things up? Check. Grisly serial murders done with graphic nastiness? Check. Fans of the genre will find all their itches scratched. But amidst these familiar elements, one also finds outrageous humor, quirky camaraderie, and a rallying refusal to accept the dark realities that make such horrific scenarios plausible. The very unlikeliness of Deadloch, a rural Shangri-la for lesbians and oddball artistes, being a hotbed for this murder and mayhem makes it the perfect canvas upon which to examine, satirize, and subvert the grim furniture of a popular genre. Creators Kate McCartney and Kate McClennan execute this brilliantly—while not forgetting to include the elements that make such narratives are so very compelling. As our relatable viewpoint character, Box is quietly charismatic and inspiring, while Sami eventually finds her footing as Dulcie’s struggling, unselfaware foil. Oyama’s Abby, meanwhile, is a pure delight as a fledgling constable coming into her own professionally, even as she awakens to the power imbalances in her relationship with a pompous medical examiner names James (Nick Simpson-Deeks). And how does one describe the brilliance of Tom Ballard? I won’t even try; see Sven for yourself. These four characters in particular form a rallying center for the high dramedy of the situation. The swirl of townspeople they’re interacting with, meanwhile, effectively complicate their every move, while also illuminating the gender, class, and racial politics informing the community and its greater plot. Even when these aspects cross the line into on-the-noseness, the mindful approach is hard not to appreciate—particularly in a genre that doesn’t always interrogate the seedier elements of its appeal.
Upshot: Deadloch is a brilliant cross-genre unicorn, extremely satisfying across multiple genres, and breathlessly watched. The scenario is so specific and intense, I’m not sure how you repeat it, but I certainly hope to visit this eccentric community again.