‘Deadloch’ Is the Best Australian Crime Drama Spoof You Will Probably Never Watch, But Should
A pair of teenagers stumble upon a naked corpse on the beach outside a small town. The local cop — who’s moved there in order to downshift from a high-pressure detective job in the big city — is ready to hand off the investigation to the more seasoned officer who’s been called in. But then, the local cop and the out-of-town know-it-all clash over the newcomer’s aggressive methods, flouting of protocols and lack of sensitivity toward surviving loved ones. And the local cop gets frustrated that evidence tying this crime to mysterious deaths earlier in the town’s history is going ignored. Tensions rise when a second body is discovered. Is this village being terrorized by a serial killer, or is the culprit maybe a giant seal named Kevin?
Deadloch, which premiered its first three episodes (of eight) on Prime Video on Friday, has all the markers of the dark crime dramas that have proliferated since Denmark’s breakout hit Forbrydelsen (aka The Killing, a title it shared with its 2011 AMC remake). Our protagonist — in this case, Senior Sergeant Dulcie Collins (Kate Box) of the Tasmanian town of Deadloch — is driven to solve the crime, whether or not that comes at the expense of her personal life. Her wife (Alicia Gardiner’s Cath) tries to be understanding of the demands of Dulcie’s job, but grows increasingly resentful of the ways the case encroaches on their time together. The crime seems, at first, to involve only local dirtbags with pre-existing police records; however, it soon implicates the town’s wealthy and powerful elites. And, of course, it is literally dark: Blue gels on every camera make it look like the titular town is constantly overcast.
The difference between Deadloch and Top of the Lake or Broadchurch or Trapped or Mare of Easttown is that none of the police commissioners you see in any of those is likely to end a phone call to their lead officer with, “I’ll have to leave you to it. A wombat just shat on Princess Mary.”
Cop shows are a reliable target for TV parodies, from Medical Police to Angie Tribeca to Police Squad!, the short-lived sitcom that spun off the Naked Gun movies. Unlike those, Deadloch isn’t a 10-jokes-a-minute spoof. It’s a note-perfect satire of contemporary noir dramas in every aspect, from look to setting to the casting of Box in the lead. A past star of Australia’s grim prison drama Wentworth, Box’s deadpan is so unshakeable that she could walk straight off this set and onto The Brokenwood Mysteries.
The authenticity will be no surprise to anyone who’s followed the careers of its co-creators, Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan. Their web series The Katering Show spoofed food influencers nearly a decade before TikTok birthed Pink Sauce. Next came Get Krack!n, goofing on the relentless cheer of early morning soft news programming. Having established themselves as satirists of media primarily targeted at women, McLennan and McCartney turned this lens on crime dramas, and describe Deadloch as a “feminist noir comedy.” Whereas most of the shows in this genre start with the murder of a woman (generally young, generally white), all of Deadloch’s victims are men, and all its authority figures and high achievers are women. (Junior Deadloch police officer Sven Alderman, played by Tom Ballard, might break in here with a very accurate correction about gender being “made up,” “like the stock market,” and “rooted in white supremacy and colonialism,” but that is how things shake out for show characters who do identify on one side or the other of the gender binary.)
While some crime shows start and end at the idea to gender-flip the typical crime-drama formula (see: Japan’s Miss Sherlock), as Deadloch’s plot unfolds, we learn that the eponymous town may not have become a “man-free les-topia” by happenstance, but by design. Thus, reductive and cringy ideas about how the world would be different if women were in charge also become targets of the show’s satire: in Deadloch, women have shattered the glass ceiling and proven themselves as…criminals with as much capacity for violence as men.
The series premiere has a bit of a slow start until the detective arrives from Darwin. Eddie Redcliffe (Madeleine Sami) is coarse, condescending and constantly complaining about how cold she is (in her aloha shirt, three-quarter-length pants and Teva sandals) — when she’s not getting her new colleagues’ names wrong and jumping to whichever conclusions she thinks will let her close the case and leave town as soon as possible. Female cops can be just as lazy and sloppy as male ones: representation matters!
It’s through Eddie’s perspective as an outsider that the audience sees how much attention has gone into building the authentic weirdness of Deadloch, from the exasperation residents have for chaos agent Kevin The Seal (a literal giant seal who doesn’t respect human spaces or thoroughfares) to the Indigenous resident (Sinsa Jo Mansell’s Fay Hampson) who is getting sick of doing a Welcome to Country for people she doesn’t actually want to welcome to the outdoor outfitter advertising a sale with a sign reading, “Now Is the Winter of Our Discount Tents.” Nothing can stop Eddie from patronizing Deadloch and its residents — not even a mishap that loses her a Teva, which she remedies by fashioning a replacement from cardstock and duct tape.
Though I understand that Deadloch is going for a particular vibe, the pace is a bit stately for me overall; maybe the idea is to gently trick viewers into thinking Deadloch is a “real” crime drama by delivering hour-long episodes, but at a half-hour apiece we would still get the references, and there would be less space between the jokes. But as someone who has watched and enjoyed murder shows from around the world — don’t sleep on Norway’s Borderliner! — I am kind of in awe at Deadloch’s ambition; there really is no part of the noir buffalo that they don’t put to comedic use.
And if you’re still in the mood to stay in Australia once the season is over, here are five more shows from Down Under to check out next…
Though The Katering Show is free on YouTube, you’ll have to shell out for McCartney and McLennan’s follow-up on the Apple TV app. But Get Krack!n — which dares to ask what a morning show would be like if it started even earlier, and its guests were even more unqualified — is well worth it. Keep an eye out for future Mythic Quest star Charlotte Nicdao.
Also set in a quirky Tasmanian town that lends its name as a series title, Rosehaven tells the story of Daniel McCallum (co-creator Luke McGregor), who returns from the mainland to cover his mother’s real estate agency while she has surgery. Daniel’s plans change when his best friend Emma (co-creator Celia Pacquola) flees her honeymoon and decides to join Daniel, starting her life over. Five seasons of mostly gentle comedy ensue — think antipodean Northern Exposure.
Sammy Cooper (creator Sarah Kendall) couldn’t wait to ditch her life in Newcastle, Australia, and remake herself as a wealthy housewife in London. Unfortunately, their life was financed by massive debt, so her husband’s death leaves her penniless, and forces her to return to Newcastle in disgrace, with two teenage children in tow. Both seasons are streaming on Max; Diane “Philomena Cunk” Morgan appears in a pivotal supporting role.
Aunty Donna’s Big Ol’ House of Fun
Australian sketch group Aunty Donna — Mark Samual Bonanno, Broden Kelly and Zachary Ruane — got their chance to make an American show when Netflix was flush with cash and willing to take a flyer on well-known comedy EPs like Ed Helms. It seems to have been a casualty of the pandemic, but its six episodes are still streaming on Netflix. Expect I Think You Should Leave x The Monkees.
The British panel show Taskmaster, which just wrapped its 15th season, challenges comedians to perform various absurd tasks — destroy a cake as beautifully as possible; make the most accurate egg timer, and so on — to impress the Taskmaster and earn points; the season victor takes home a statue of the Taskmaster’s head. The show is so popular that the format has been remade around the world. Australia’s version premiered in February, featuring both Luke McGregor and Deadloch star Nina Oyama.