Just a couple of weeks ago I wrote about the rather exciting state of Australian television. I had no idea that, so soon into the future, I would be spending four consecutive hours slack-jawed and square-eyed, completely addicted to another locally made head turner: this one a four-part police drama starring Yael Stone and Noah Taylor as Bondi homicide detectives.
Stone (best known for Orange is the New Black) gives Deep Water’s protagonist, Detective Senior Constable Tori Lustigman, a fiery don’t-fuck-with-me indignation and a real sense of compassion and decency. Taylor, on the other hand, gawd luv ‘im, still resembles The Nostradamus Kid or the hand-in-pocket juvenile coming of age in The Year My Voice Broke.
The 47-year-old looks like he necked a gallon or two straight from the fountain of youth. That boyish zest doesn’t help when it comes time for him to do adult things – like kick a door down or wave guns at people. And the moustache, to toughen him up a bit, isn’t fooling anybody.
There were times in Deep Water I wished that moustache was pencil thin, and Taylor would twirl it like a magician, warming up for the inevitable future whereby he finally lands that role as Moriarty. They were, however, relatively few and far between, for the simple reason that Stone and Taylor got game: not a particularly realistic pairing, but irresistible detectives nevertheless.
The cast is propped by supporting players including William McInnes (as a crabby fair dinkum sergeant), Danielle Cormack (a crime scene investigator) and Ben Oxenbould (a haunted man who one evening, as these things tend to go, Saw Too Much). There’s genre thrills and spills aplenty; all one expects of a homicide serial. It’s the show’s real-life connections, however, that give the drama real kick, turning it into something of a television event.
The premise is rooted in a gnarly what-if. What if…a gay-hate serial killer is on the loose, using a Grindr-esque app (called Thruster in the show) to lure victims? When the detectives examine their first corpse in Deep Water the chap looks, shall we say, a mite worse for wear. Dead, of course, for starters. Also with his genital region obscured by a pool of blood and a carefully positioned blanket to restrict the audience’s view.
The Grindr-esque app is not the real-life connection; screenwriters Kris Wyld and Kym Goldsworthy have broader-reaching historical associations in mind. The detectives discover the case they are investigating bears some similarities to a spate of unsolved crimes committed during the ’80s and ’90s. Such crimes are matter-of-fact in real-life Australia, and the correlations are far from incidental.
SBS is billing Deep Water (directed by Shawn Seet, who helmed both seasons of The Code) as a milestone: the first cross-genre and cross-platform event in the network’s history. That’s marketing speak for its premiere (on October 5) coinciding with a feature-length documentary and online web series. Without those it’d still be clear a frighteningly real inspiration was coursing through the creators’ minds, something that gives Deep Water heft and gravitas.
At one point Stone says to Taylor, as the two detectives converse on Bondi Beach during sundown, “there was a killing epidemic that went on in the past. It went under the radar and it is back, because it was not dealt with”. This is one of several instances – you’d run out of fingers on both hands if you counted – where the writers want to tell you something so bad they stop just shy of spelling out the subtext on a post-it note and sticking it to the lens.
Still, Deep Water is an electrifying watch, with a cracking pace and several stirring performances. The fused contemporary and sort-of historical premise is a very compelling context. How many articles have you read about gay hate crimes? How much has it been an issue? It seems to be a part of Australian culture where we have not so much been told to look the other way, as told virtually nothing at all. Producers Darren Dale and Miranda Dear were inspired by the question: “why isn’t this news?”.
To see a TV show that fiddles around with genre to set an agenda in such a way reminded me of Ivan Sen’s feature film Goldstone, which expertly uses outback noir to rethink how we consider business interactions with the Australian landscape (i.e. mining). In Deep Water I would have loved a little more character in Bruce Young’s cinematography, perhaps a more distinct palette in the colour grading to give it some edge. It’s not exactly Scandi-noir.
But a great many things about Deep Water impress. The first episode (no spoilers) starts strong and ends with a cliffhanger. By halfway into the second ep, I realised I was addicted. By the end of the second tingles were going up my spine – or maybe they were shivers. In the third and fourth episodes…well, tune in for yourself. You’ll be talking about it afterwards, that much is for sure. And chances are the conversation won’t be about Noah Taylor’s moustache.