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Why You Should Watch Deadloch: The Aussie Detective Comedy with Gay People in it

"It gets rave reviews."



Despite my love for neo-noir, mystery, and intrigue, I’ve all but given up on the police detective TV genre; the Happy Valleys, Line of Duties, and Broadchurches of the world which have long oversaturated British prime time schedules (and my parents’ Sky Box) with dour-faced national treasures moping their way through some bleak regional copaganda.


I probably wouldn’t have been tempted, then, to click on the thumbnail of Amazon Prime’s Deadloch, perhaps mistaking it for another antipodean entry into that canon (Top of the Lake with Elizabeth Moss anyone?). But it was on my radar thanks to the presence of comedian Nina Oyama, whose chaotic queer energy made her a firm favourite from the first season of Taskmaster Australia. So I knew it would be funny. “Funny Broadchurch” was in fact the initial pitch for this series by creators Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan. But I wasn’t quite sure what to expect; half of me was braced for a full parody, something like Charlie Brooker’s A Touch of Cloth, an irritating extended sketch where every line and detail was a joke at the expense of the genre.


I was so, so glad to be wrong because Deadloch is great. It’s a black comedy reminiscent of Martin McDonagh where the humour adds to the pathos and serious drama. It’s a fantastic, complex detective mystery with a clear love and respect for the genre. And it’s very, very, queer.


A man’s body on the beach threatens the peace of Deadloch, a blue-collar Tasmanian coastal town that has become a “lesbian utopia” thanks to its progressive mayor and annual feminist winter “feastival”. On the case is by-the-book Senior Sergeant Dulcie Collins (Kate Box), a former Sydney detective who took a demotion for a fresh start in her life partner’s hometown, along with her underprepared local bobbies (Oyama’s wide-eyed, dippy, but quietly brilliant constable Abby and Tom Ballard’s Sven, a well-meaning gay officer who seems to have become a cop by accident).


All the Tasmanian detectives are conveniently busy escorting a minor royal around the state, so a homicide detective is flown in from Darwin; Eddie Redcliffe (Madeleine Sami) the gender-swapped archetype of the “dick-swinging”, foul-mouthed Aussie copper who wants to tie up the case and go home asap. But, of course, more bodies turn up, meaning the wildcard from the tropical north must adjust to the cold colour palette of midwinter Tasmania and the detective duo must learn to love each other.


The odd-couple detective partnership is just one of the old-hat, parody-able genre tropes that Deadloch decides to invest in and properly subvert by examining it from a queer, female perspective. The relationship between the two leads feels real because it's given the time to grow over the entire eight episodes as both characters reveal their depths, flaws, and failures. Like I said, the show is funny, but it knows when to centre the serious stuff; some of the character-based exploration of the realities of grief and romantic partnerships hits hard. Both lead actors nail it too. Sami’s brash scene stealer with an Aussie fondness for the c-word is a memorable highlight but Box also shines in the quieter role; constantly changing face as she is caught between found family, community and her duty as a copper.


And then there’s the actual murder mystery which is one of the most masterful examples I’ve seen in a long while. Eight episodes is a lot to spend on one mystery, but Deadloch manages it by spinning a twisty, complicated story that weaves its way through the entire community, with about two new suspects being examined every episode. (There’s a fun running gag where Detective Redcliffe can’t remember anyone’s name so gives them inappropriate nicknames - it’s also a clever way to help the audience keep track of a village-worth of supporting characters). It does my favourite detective genre thing as well, which is dropping tiny details to the viewer so you can deduce their significance alongside the characters. The mystery doesn’t run out of steam either; even though the chaotic finale stretches plausibility, there is at least one decent red herring maintained until the very last episode. The final reveal of the killer and their motives is an absolute gem of an idea that is so darkly funny and satirical I’m struggling not to spoil it.


Over the course of the series, Deadloch’s plot guides us through this fictional microcosm of a Western culture reckoning with identity and changing power dynamics with a fascinating satirical bite. It’s a fresh, contemporary story that pinballs between themes like the indigenous fight for reparations, white feminism and the queer community’s role in gentrification, the policing of gender-non-conformity and, most in the foreground, the misogynistic backlash towards feminist and LGBT progress. There’s even a healthy dose of ACAB sentiment (for a cop show at least), examining the police force’s role as an extension of patriarchy. It’s notable as well that the women and marginalised people in this story are not the murder victims in another gender reversal of genre clichés.


I can see an alternative universe where a more Tumblr-friendly version of Deadloch gets an Our Flag Means Death-style fandom as The Gay Cop Show. But instead, it presents a mature exploration of 21st-century queer culture and grown-up relationships that cuts a lot deeper. A satisfying murder mystery that leans on old tropes to explore modern themes with a dark, deadpan Aussie humour; a queer feminist satire wearing the skin of my parent’s favourite primetime detective series. Hmm, maybe I can smuggle it onto their Sky Box this Christmas…



 


JC is a musician, graphic designer, and one-third of dinopunk band Nervous Rex. Follow them on Instagram and Twitter. You can also support them on Ko-Fi.



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