SBS may only bring us one local drama each year -but it does so with conviction, with 2016’s Deep Water following on from Better Man and The Principal.
Based on gay hate crimes of the 80s and 90s in Sydney, this 4 part drama is set in 2016 but raises entrenched issues of homophobia, injustice and identity. On the edge of Australia’s most famous beach lie a series of dark and ignored crimes…
Yael Stone (Orange is the New Black) plays NSW detective Tori Lustigman, who has moved from the bush to Bondi. When Detective Nick Manning (Noah Taylor) summons her to a clifftop apartment, forensics Brenda Macintosh (Danielle Cormack) is gathering evidence of a brutal murder: a naked dead young man, an answering machine with a pleading lover, and intimate photos of two handsome young men.
While Tori is convinced a gay hate crime has taken place, her new boss Chief Inspector Peel (William McInnes) has no time for intuition. He pushes her to uncover evidence, which leads her to cold cases with grim similarities, amongst a litany of murders and assaults still unsolved by police. Were they buried by an indifferent force? Is this a copycat or even a serial killer at work?
Juxtaposed with the procedural elements is a backstory involving Tori’s own deceased brother, once partners with local surfer Oscar Taylor (Jeremy Lindsay Taylor), who remains close to her family comprising teenage Will (Otis Pavlovic) and father Don (Geoff Morrell) -although the relationships could do with a little more clarity.
Yael Stone shoots with a straight arrow in this measured drama directed by Shawn Seet. Casting her is an inspired move and this role marks a solid homecoming, poles apart from her ‘comedic’ US role in Orange is the New Black. While there are greyer police echoing a culture of the past, she follows the book, looking to right past wrongs when “poofter bashing was a sport.”
Noah Taylor represents the boys in blue from years earlier, distractingly styled with wild hair and a thick moustache, but without the temptation to block his partner at every step. A greying William McInnes adopts the cynic role.
The supporting cast are universally strong here. Craig McLachlan plays a gay bar manager harboring conflicted emotions, George H. Xanthis represents a troubled minority, Victoria Haralabidou follows up her Barricuda performance in style and Jeremy Lindsay Taylor is relaxed as a 2016 gay man still mindful of community scars.
Subsequent episodes will also draw upon some excellent performers including Simon Burke, Renee Lim, Ben Oxenbould, Dan Speilman, Lynette Curran, Ben Gerrard, Paul Capsis, anita Hegh, Deborah Kennedy.
The script by Kris Wyld also references the grim reaper AIDS campaign and Mardi Gras, as it cleverly adapts historic crimes into a contemporary whodunnit (I could have done without the badly named gay dating app, “Thrustr”).
Visually there’s a lot of blue hues in this tale. The backdrop of crashing waves and ominous cliffs add to this palette at the same time as reminding us of their fatal power.
Blackfella Productions moves away from it Indigenous past for this drama to explore other diversities and comes up trumps. Deep Water is a fine work which, together with the documentary Deep Water: The Real Story, turn the focus onto homophobia at at time when a same-sex plebiscite is at risk of doing the same.
This is history that must never be repeated.
Deep Water airs 8.30pm Wednesday, 5 October and continues Thursday October 6 on SBS.
Deep Water: The Real Story airs Sunday October 16 at 8.30pm on SBS.