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ABC TV Harrow review: a brilliant, Welsh, maverick, classic-film loving, forensic pathologist in Brisbane

Is ABC TV’s new, 10 part drama Harrow intelligent in a bad kind of way, i.e. smug and contrived, or idiotic in a good kind of way – like a guilty pleasure? After watching the first two episodes, I remain in two minds. We are certainly told from the outset that the titular protagonist Dr. Daniel Harrow (Ioan Gruffudd) is himself rather brilliant: a forensic pathologist with Holmes-like powers of deduction, who (as the press notes put it) “solves the cases the others can’t.”

Harrow is a maverick and a rule breaker, and also a man with fine taste in films. When we first meet him he is in a morgue, feet up on a metal counter, watching High Noon projected onto a sheet pinned to the wall. Behind him is a dead clown – literally – with Heath Ledger, Joker-like make-up smeared across its face. Just an average day in the office, for the forensic pathologist who solves the cases the others can’t.

Harrow’s boss (Robyn Malcolm) enters the scene and blasts the pathologist for goofing off. This provokes from him a witty riposte and a diagnosis of the clown’s death, which smugly concludes: “He died twisting his neck doing yoga in his make-up, wearing it because it brought back tender memories of all those children whose lives he destroyed…You really shouldn’t interrupt a guy watching High Noon.”

As a big admirer of the classic 1952 western – which is, in fact, one of my favourite films of the genre – I agree with Harrow on that last point. But still: who watches High Noon, at work, on a projector? Let alone in morgue, near a corpse? And what kind of line is “You really shouldn’t interrupt a guy watching High Noon,” anyway?

You can’t take Harrow seriously, nor are you supposed to laugh at it.

It’s clear from the start that co-creators Leigh McGrath and Stephen M. Irwin (also the head writer) aren’t suggesting Harrow as a work of social realism. But even with the caveat that this is pure escapism, nothing about the aforementioned scene rings true, and Ioan Gruffudd’s delivery is serious and egotistic – with no trace of fun or self-awareness. This issue keeps flaring up: you can’t take Harrow seriously, but nor are you supposed to laugh at it.

The core narrative integrates a ‘This Time It’s Personal’ premise. It’s a weird one, involving concrete-covered bones pulled out of Brisbane River; I’ll be spoiler averse and leave it at that. Harrow gets a steady stream of gnarly circumstances to investigate, working in a morgue where the city’s unnatural deaths are brought in.

The initial characterisation of the protagonist as a feet up, film-watching loafer evolves into a portrait of a workaholic whose devotion to his job cost him his marriage, and tests his relationship with his teenage daughter, Fern. She is played by newcomer Ella Newton, who delivers a fine and nuanced performance, squeezing a high impact and robust presence out of limited screen time. No doubt we’ll be seeing more of her.

In the titular role, the Welsh-born Ioan Gruffudd channels forehead-heavy actors such as Nicolas Cage, juggling dramatic responses in the spaces around his eyes.

In the second episode, Fern and her boyfriend Callan (Hunter Page-Lochard, aka the protagonist in Cleverman) make out on the couch while an old black and white movie plays on the television. It is the 1931 version of Dracula, starring Bela Lugosi. Does this classic film bear any special significance? Like the earlier nod to High Noon, the hat tip feels calculated but pointless, as if the writers were trying to be clever but forgot to have a reason behind their supposed wit.

The first five episodes (one and two forming the extent of this review) were shot by cinematographer Robert Humphreys with an antique, musty glaze, as if infused with the smell of old socks. Director Kate Dennis, whose recent work includes helming episodes of The Handmaid’s Tale, establishes a dank, neo-noir-ish tone in the debut episode, handing over the directorial reigns to Peter Salmon, Tony Tilse and Catriona McKenzie.

In the titular role, the Welsh-born Gruffudd (who played Mr Fantastic in 2005’s Fantastic Four) channels forehead-heavy actors such as Nicolas Cage, juggling dramatic responses in the spaces around his eyes. He cranes his eyebrows and manipulates creases above his nose, by turn looking unintentionally comedic, obnoxious, quizzical, and like a man in desperate need of a hug.

Is Gruffudd’s performance intelligent in a bad kind of way, or idiotic in a good kind of way? That is the $64,000 question. About both the performance, and the show itself.

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Harrow commences on ABC TV on Friday 9 March 2018, at 8.30pm

42 responses to “ABC TV Harrow review: a brilliant, Welsh, maverick, classic-film loving, forensic pathologist in Brisbane

  1. I loved this series. With all the reality crap on tv it is a sheer delight to watch a well scripted and well acted show. I am so thrilled that Harrow has got a second season. I hope the cuts to the ABC don’t effect it. The government should be investing more into the ABC.
    I can’t wait for Harrow to return.

  2. Wow … what a last episode… ice cool Sargeant girfriend cools…. i thought she worked him out… not sure maybe she was a plant.
    Anyway moral of story… tape record the villain…. Quinn. He didn’t use excessive force perhaps but no story otherwise. His gay assistant helped him survive. Likewise Jack gave witness from the other side. Not sure they couldn’t have proved cutters were planted. Could have looked closer at vodeo. Anyway a bit like the old Saturday movies as he gets some comeuppance at end… but from who… who wants revenge. A bit cruel ABC to wait years to see.

  3. Harrow seemed quite OK but why so strong against the police girlfriend… maybe she’s a plant. Some real moral issues covered like drugs and why determine the murder date so for sure.
    Still open who did it and second series means Harrow sage safe. Maybe too repeats develope more the Police and not always solve it by looking in the mouth. I am retired biologist and like Miss Fisher ones as tricky too. Dr Blake a cad to partner.

  4. I started watching Harrow because I thought it was a Australian version of Forever without the silly immortal component. And it kinda sorta is. Reed Richards is playing nearly the same character nearly the same way.

    The daughter in that first episode is a serious downer, zapping all of the potential fun out of everything.

    The nude corpses is different. We don’t get that in the states.

    And then the first episode ends with our hero being a criminal. And I generally don’t watch those shows.

    I really didn’t like that first episode, but then here I have watched 8 so far and about to watch 9.

    It is getting a second season so Harrow probably isn’t going to jail for murder.

    Also, cop dude was bartender dude in Terra Nova. That’s where I have seen him.

  5. Love the setting of Brisbane! Beautiful at night. I don’t understand the casting of Harrow. He is the least authentic actor in the series. Good choice by ABC to show it on a Friday night, nothing much else to watch! The teenage daughters’ character doesn’t have enough of a back stry to have any empathy for her;not the actor’s fault.
    I’m happy to keep watching however :)

  6. To all you naysayers that went “Oh my gawd the first episode was the worst television ever produced”, I say persist. It really is a great series.

  7. The best thing about Harrow is the setting. Brisbane works really well for this. But … Fern is a spoilt brat. Why is she so tortured and angry and such a pouty depressing victim? She is incredibly annoying. I feel like shaking her and saying, “Stop playing the victim! Just get out there and live your life and stop this suffering routine! There are people who are actually really suffering in other countries on this planet, you know! You have it so good, you have so much to be grateful for, and yet all you can do is play the victim for no reason. Complete loser.” It’s very very tedious and infuriating and we have no idea why. And the policewoman played by Mirrah Foulkes is such an annoying snoop! I hate her for it. Snooping around Harrow’s wife’s house and finding a ring — that would never be admissible as evidence anyway. What a stupid coincidence and so contrived. That was a huge script fail. And in the last episode she is even snooping among Harrow’s stuff. She just went to bed with him and then she gets up and snoops through his things. It’s very contrived and most distasteful. Plus she’s a pretty bland actor. Her character has no life, she is just flat and the same all the time, quite cringeworthy. I think she is quite self-conscious, trying too hard to be attractive and the tough successful detective all at the same time. She doesn’t pull it off. And as if she would have the luxury of spending so much time on one skeleton fished out of the river. I mean, please! Harrow’s ex is pretty good, quite credible, and her new boyfriend is a highlight too. But Harrow’s boss, well there’s another cringe factor. Talk about cliches done badly. Harrow himself is quite good and amusing apart from some of the silly stuff they’ve written into his script, but one of the real highlights is his long-suffering assistant played by Remi Hii. For me, he pretty much steals the show. And the other highlight is Harrow’s nemesis forensic scientist played by Darren Gilshenan, he is just fantastic. The right blend of quirky and brilliant. Overall, I know we can do better — surely they had someone who could read the script and point out all the gaping holes? And some better casting, please. Sergeant Dass and Harrow have zero chemistry.

    1. I am only through episode 8, but it really seems like the daughter’s distress is because a) the dead cop probably molested her and b) she probably killed him. That’s the sort of thing that would put a privileged child out of sorts.

      I could be wrong.

  8. Very concerned about snowflake teenagers. Where have you seen a middle-aged career man promising his teenage daughter that’ll he’ll quit his job for HER? That irked me senseless. He who brings in the bacon (divorced or not) – wh0 thought this out? A daughter insisting her father quits one of the most essential jobs on earth to go sit on an island with her. That is bizarre and really OFF.

  9. The commentators referring to how Harrow performs poorly when compared to Silent Witness clear have a short memory. SW and in particular Amanda Burton were parodied relentlessly for the first two series due to the plodding, deliberate pontification of the lead character.

    Nowadays it seems that a new series must launch with perfection. Consider how many multi series shows we look back on and think “it was rubbish until series three”?

    Let it mature. Early episodes of Dr Blake felt like they had been dug up on Sovereign Hill!

    To get an Australian show that is from somewhere other than Melbourne lane ways is one plus. I admit that the world
    Probably doesn’t require another pathology series, yet it isn’t unwatchable and it certainly improves and grows on you. I’m up to episode 6.

    It’s fantastic to have some free to air drama. Perhaps it would be more popular in its Reality TV guise “Solve a murder at first sight”.

    1. I agree.
      I was one of those who didn’t give the first ep a good review (see further below) though I did say “it shows promise”. I haven’t seen the first ep again but I recall most of the complaints here were correct. There were far too many cute but unconvincing things thrown into that opening, including the very opening seconds with that seriously dumb thing with the old movie projector and seriously cliched old retro movie.

      While it has retained some of the cliche quirky things (he still plays LPs in the PM room) but overall it seems to have steadied with them. The relationships things (wild homeless daughter; ex-wife; police girlfriend; thicko police boss and grumpy-cliched immediate boss etc etc) even don’t seem so bad, possibly because the actors are ok and the writing is ok. And of course, as you point out, we’ve grown used … to their faces. The stories aren’t going to win awards but they aren’t any worse than a dozen other shows.
      One thing they have got right–though I am biased on this–and that is the cinematography and scene-setting in Brisbane. Of course it is obvious to a photographer but not so much to legions of movies/tv shows shot in the Sunshine State that all that glare is actually pretty awful for the screen, and so instead here they have shot a lot of it at night. And it is rather spectacular. They even set a police office with the backdrop at night of the city and the ferris wheel rotating, ie. obviously the ABC building! A cheap set piece and spectacular. Incidentally, Harrow living on his boat on the river is not so unrealistic or cliched since there is quite a lot of that these days. In fact, in the 1970s my then supervisor at UQ was an eccentric Englishman who lived on a boat next to the university, probably quasi-legal and without town utilities!

      So, I find myself watching it on Friday nights, willing it to keep getting better. So far so good …
      But it strikes me as odd to cast Ioan Gruffudd in the lead. Not because he doesn’t do it justice. He does. But that if successful and they want to make a new series, it would seem a risky bet as to his availability.

      [Re your comment about early series of Silent Witness, I think Amanda Burton was a big part of any problem it may have had because she really does play a unrelenting misanthrope–which she seems to play in everything. I have only watched some of those ancient SW recently and don’t find them nearly as compelling as the later ones, including the ones with AB but when William Gaminara and Tom Ward joined (then took a serious upward turn when Emilia Fox joined (didn’t overlap with AB), and has survived the loss of Gaminara & Ward. ]

  10. I agree that the show is poor. It is very cliched. Australia can do so much better. The story plot is unbelievable. The main actor would be better if could be an Australian. And less arrogant and smug. The relationships between the main actor an all others is terrible. The love internet is so predictable and annoying. Who allowed this to be aired

  11. I agree, if you judge the pilot episode on the basis of the case, Harrow is a middle-of-the road procedural with the required quirky, likable characters, a charming yet fallible lead and the required case of the week to hang it all on. And on that Harrow works, but isn’t anything to write home about. I didn”t know the show was produced by Disney, but that explained the ‘paint by numbers’ approach which is so typical in the pilot driven US network TV. However, Harrow uses this – I guess deliberately – very pedictable plot to create a backdrop and contrast to the final reveal. And that’s what made Harrow work for me and was done rather well. Suddenly nothing is at it seems to be – Harrow the TV show is not just another procedural and Harrow the character is not just another brilliant, maverick pathologist. I’ll give Harrow the full season to form an opinion.

    The point some people make that it does not reflect what a pathologist actually does is moot, neither does Dr Blake or any other TV pathologist, because watching ‘a hard working and ethical’ protagonist would not make good TV. I also have to say that I was all with Fern for swearing at her Dad being ditched so unceremoniously. The show very much needed the F word there (the only occurence, afair), a ‘I hate you, Dad’ just would cut it.

      1. I also agree. Tuning out early in the show as some here seem to have done to me indicates impatience, poor attention span or ruined expectations that the show didn’t meet straight away. Such comments appear built on personal bias and could mislead potential viewers reading this. It takes a while to character-develop in 52 minutes and I think this show deserves a “go” if you’re willing to put in the time.

  12. Monday night, looking for something even mildly entertaining to watch, stuck with this till the bitter end (of the first episode) and will not be watching the second.
    It really is pretty awful.
    Gruffudd (Harrow) looks like he’s set to jump into the next passing cab that’s heading in the direction of the international terminal in the hope of saving what’s left of his career and the rest of the cast just seem glad to be working.
    The dialogue is lifeless and formulaic, the characters are cardboard cutouts and I’m annoyed at myself for sticking it out for the whole dreary episode.

    1. I absolutely agree. He looks like he’s regretting the whole thing. For me, watching this renowned actor was ..well ..harrowing. Once was enough.

  13. My opinion of the first episode of Harrow
    We can not trust the opinion of others, we should see with our own eyes. So, I watched this first episode of the show and I can say I liked it. I liked the acting of each actor. It seemed to me that everyone interpreted it naturally. All the scenes seemed to me to flow well. The show has its own identity. On the show there is a feeling of a new environment that we can enter and get to know. Who is this charming, sensitive character, concerned about the victims who come to his investigation? And his relationships, and his joviality, and the paternal interest in his daughter. I liked. There’s a to make eyes at between Harrow and the cop who looks like the Forever series: I found that curious, and I liked it. And, why this captivating character: Harrow threw a corpse into the sea? What does he have to hide? He does not seem to me to be guilty. It’s as if he had a secret he was forced to hide, but not that he was guilty. But why has he to hide ? Anyway, no doubt, I intend to continue watching the series. I was a little insecure because of the Forever series that I liked, and I was going to be comparing the two in a nostalgic way of the other. But it was okay, I can watch this series without me getting upset. Good luck Ioan Gruffudd with his new series. The show has conquered me.

  14. The lead is foreign because Disney International TV commissioned it and takes international distribution rights. The ABC comes in as co commissioner and acquiesced in use of a foreign lead, a sad and unprecedented development for ABC drama which could have insisted on a local lead just as marketable but money talks in co-productions and clearly Disney put in a lot. But then they all waved through a script that looked little better than a bad first draft. If Disney was actually making this show for one of its channels it would have taken far more care. The show was cringeworthy and the ABC would be relied upon to bring the deep editorial scrutiny all drama requires. It simply wasn’t up to it but should be. Heads really should roll at the ABC as the list of half baked drama there gets very long. But if nobody there knows a bad script when they see then the ABC will continue its slide into mediocrity.

  15. “Like the earlier nod to High Noon, the hat tip feels calculated but pointless, as if the writers were trying to be clever but forgot to have a reason behind their supposed wit.”

    Because that is exactly what hipsters, or worse, those who are desperately trying to appeal to hipsters, do. They don’t have a clue why something is considered “hip” (no one does) but if it has attained that magical and sometimes mysterious accolade, then it must.be.obeyed.

    As the comments reveal, this show has annoyed almost everyone because it is an inept attempt to shove a dozen or more hip tropes into the show–in principle to widen the audience appeal–but without any backstop of real skill (notably script & plot). Thus every single one of these tropes or tokenisms has offended its own segment of audience, and appealing to none. With Silent Witness following immediately after, it only rubbed the salt into the wound. (SW hasn’t survived almost 20 years without reason.)

    However, I would say that the show had promise. I think this is where the American pilot system works: “people who know” would have acknowledged the show’s weaknesses as these comments have, and imposed some broadstroke changes & simplifications that would have improved it. Or of course they would have killed it mercilessly. Shows with promise can improve beyond their first season (where experimentation is inevitable). I am watching some of the very first series of Law & Order SVU (on one of the secondary channels) and it is interesting to observe the changes: there was a wider cast of people (quickly considerably narrowed to focus on the central characters), too much smart-arse jokiness (it became more serious with much more subtle and low-key humour), the boss became less involved and more serious (as in the real world), and the personal (of the characters) became less a part of the story (they reversed this in the last few series –approaching its 20 year run, in an attempt to inject some life; not sure that is really successful, but it still limps on.)

  16. Safe Harbour on SBS is so much better than this- after just one ep I am intrigued to find out which of the Australian characters is the most guilty. And hoping against hope that the Muslim characters are not all portrayed as evil. With Harrow I didn’t find myself emotionally involved or intellectually challenged at all.

  17. Like a lot of Aussie produced TV shows Harrow tried to be too cute instead of catching our attention with something interesting in the beginning it was so boring my wife said is there anything else we can watch in the PVR , we won’t bother with it again , another waste of money ,still the actors got paid so that’s a good thing ,thank the something we had Netflix ,always a good backup!!,

  18. Never mind the classic movies , a pinch from The Sopranos me thinks , I liked the “classic “ sound track , I’ll be listening to the other 9 epiodes and will buy the the CD if they put one out.
    Why they run Silent Witness straight after Harrow is more of a real mystery , how many cadavers can a viewer bear

  19. What in Heaven’s name is wrong with cliche ridden scripts? You want original, write it yourself! Reckon International Women’s Day brought out the pseudo-highbrow neo-trolls to attack a medium-clever if bog-standard pathology drama with a particularly weak female cast – incompetent boss, awful ex wife, flaky daughter – what’s not to hate? bouncing off the edible ex-Hornblower. Give a series a chance, there’s sod all on Our Michelle’s ABC and less on the rest of free-to air. Any show (except The Footy Show, falsely reported to have been reanimated) taking down a real estate maven gets a little forgiveness from me…

  20. I can’t understand how this show made it to the TV screen. The characters are cliched, likewise the dialogue eg ‘we need to talk’. How many times have we heard this in 3rd rate shows?
    The acting is unconvincing. The plot full of holes.. Why can’t Australia produce something of the quality of Vera, Shetland, Endeavouir? I am sure we have the talent.

    1. I agree with Gillian. It also does not represent the hard working and ethical duties of a pathologist’s speciality.
      I will not be watching further episodes either.

  21. I like crime and investigative shows and watch many of them including NCIS, Midsommer Murders, Vera, Death in Paradise, etc, none of these need to use swear words. Why does this show need the F word? I’ll not watch the rest of the series.

    1. I love crime shows and enjoyed the following program (Silent Witness) more than Harrow. I watch similar shows as Isabel does. I also deplored the language which seems a bad Australian trait. Good quality writing doesn’t need constant bad language. A good actor can appear to swear with different words. The main character of Harrow wasn’t endearing at all and everything was so ho-hum.
      I won’t be watching the rest of the series either!

      1. I totally agree with u, the expletive deletives finished it for me. Swearing is not acting, its crude vulgar an uncalled for, an doesn’t add anything, to what may have been an enjoyable medical series…

  22. Instead of importing actors why not import a decent script consultant such as Jimmy McGovern who did a great job with Redfern now? This was typical ABC – a ‘brilliant maverick’ (what other type is there?) , wooden actors snarling their clever-clever lines at each other and nothing to like about any of them.

    1. Well I would like it if there’s more representation of idiotic maverick who just happens to solve things by pure sheer luck or a lot of help from put upon assistants. That would be refreshing at this stage.

  23. Same old same old same old……The genre is having a quid each way and never settles to one thing or another. The golden rules of theatre are avoided, and the simple rules are not even in sight. The direction is clumsy at best, and all over the shop at worst, while the acting is generally so obvious that it grates.
    Once again in an Australian TV production, the characters appear and disappear as if they were waiting just out of shot for the cue to enter frame and deliver the well remembered lines, nobody is coming from anywhere or going anywhere, they are simply drifting around waiting to be used for the relevant scene.
    General note: Over written, overacted and under directed.

  24. We agree in our opion it just got worse and worse I’m sure the actors were giving their all but it didn’t suit our tastes eg,Vera Shetland

  25. I am a doctor who has done some GMO work and know a few forensic pathologists. This show is an embarrassment. The acting of all the Australian cast is appalling. I usually like Ioan Gruffudd but this is unwatchable. Bring back Dr Blake. I don’t care what Craig McLachlan has done. It is a well written series that rings true.

  26. I just watched the first episode of Harrow and found it very disappointing. It’s a by-the-numbers, totally formulaic program using thoroughly worn-out tropes that, despite some not-bad acting, holds no surprises for the hopeful viewer. A brilliant, obsessive forensic pathologist – gee! – with some dark secret in his past – wow! – has a troubled relationship with his teenage daughter – amazing! – and an anti-authoritarian streak that gets him into trouble at work – well, knock me down with a feather! He also has arty tastes in films and music and – to make him even more quirky and eccentric – owns a yacht. So original! So off-the-wall! So creative! Sorry, but all this has been done many, many times before.

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