The Messenger

Ed receives clues on cards that demand him to intervene in strangers' lives -but what does it all mean?

New ABC drama The Messenger, based on a best-seller by Markus Zusak, effectively asks you to leave your logic at the door and go with its heightened mix of drama, dark comedy and magic realism.

How else to explain its fantasy plot of strange instructions on playing cards for a young taxi driver, Ed (Will McKenna).

He lives in the run down house of his late father, in a fading rural town where the most action it sees is the adjacent train line and a congaline of barflies trekking to the local pub.

Ed is also an accidental hero, after stepping up to prevent a robbery at the local beer barn. He has three mates with whom he plays weekly cards: coffee kart manager Audrey (Alexandra Jensen), ‘town psycho’ Ritchie (Kartanya Maynard) and knockabout pal Marv (Chris Alosio).

While Ed is dealing with his own struggles, he unexpectedly receives a playing card with a local address -no further info, and no indication of who sent it to him. Curiosity getting the better of him, he discovers the elderly Milla (Maggie Dence) whom he can’t help but befriend.

Further addresses will appear on the card, leading him to the flat of an abusive husband, and to a young woman who undertakes daily jogs. What does it all mean, and how are they interconnected?

Against this backdrop are subplots involving his friends, with Audrey egging the property of a local furniture businessman (Felix Williamson), Ritchie faking her daily medication and live-wire Marv generally hustling for distraction in a town with little.

Frankly, early episodes by writer Sarah Lambert and director Daniel Nettheim raise more questions than answers, with touches of fantasy to bend your mind. Will McKenna makes for a likeable lead, as a fairly blank canvas upon which these demands and dilemmas are posed. Watching the remarkable Maggie Dence still at work after all these decades is a thing of pleasure, and Chris Alosio contrasts his very serious role currently seen in 10’s North Shore.

With such a young core cast, not unlike Savage River, ABC appears to be trying its darndest to pitch to younger viewers. I’m not sure if this will connect with core ABC viewers, and perhaps it might be best framed as premium YA content.

At 8 episodes the series will also need to start giving out some solid answers to its universe soon and have a very satisfying explanation for it all.

The Messenger screens 8:20pm Sunday on ABC.

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