TL;DR – A good pilot with an interesting story and characters, but needs to work a little more on world building to give the story context
Score – 3.5/5 Stars
Review – First Contact is the first episode of an interesting new Australian TV show Cleverman, a show that blends a future dystopic Australia, with its mythological past, whilst taking a megaphone to its present. The main thrust of the show is the story of two brothers Koen (Hunter Page-Lochard) and Waruu (Rob Collins) who grew up in a walled off part of future Sydney called The Zone. Koen escaped his life and family, and runs a bar outside The Zone, as well as other less than legal business activities, while Waruu has become a pillar of the community in The Zone.
While all of this is happening with have the issue of The Hairypeople or ‘Hairies’ or ‘sub-humans’ while it is not really clear where the Hairypeople come from yet, what is clear is that they are deeply persecuted against, and any Hairy found outside The Zone is arrested and jailed. So the residents of The Zone both human and Hairy are fighting for survival against a repressive government that assumes as long as their problems are behind walls and out of sight then there is nothing to worry about.
There are a lot of things that Cleverman gets right, it is so good to see an area of Australian culture that rarely gets any prime time exploration. There is such a wealth of stories, history and talent, that it is absurd that we use weasel excuses like, people won’t watch a show like that, well it is clear that they would. Using the stories of the Gamilaraay and Bundjalung people and themes that are found across Australian Indigenous communities and indeed stories that can be related to in many Indigenous communities across the world like what tribe do you belong in? how do you live in a post-colonial world where your heritage and history is discounted? creates a very unique area to explore. Indeed for many watching this episode it might be the first time they have ever heard an Indigenous language of Australia being spoken.
Both the lead actors have some really great moments showing the dual nature they inhabit, and when that conflict reaches a head at the end of the episode it is really great to watch. You can see the fingerprints of Weta Workshop here and they always do some really amazing work. Game of Thrones’ Iain Glen (Jarrod Slade) and noted Australian actor Jack Charles (Uncle Jimmy) provide an interesting counterpoint of potential power in the show, and it is good to see such strong thespians at work doing what they do best.
There however a couple of things that they do need to work on, getting the balance of mystery and explanation is a tough job, but I do feel that there needed to be a bit more world building in this first episode, and hopefully we will get more of that soon. There was also a really weirdly placed sex scene at the start of the show which really had no context as to why it was there. While I think it was meant to show Waruu’s duplicity, since we did not already know him then it lacked any meaning and felt more gratuitous then necessary. Finally, at the moment, some of the supporting cast feel like more of filler then lacking a purpose.
The end of the episode the stakes for the characters changed in a very interesting way with some very interesting prodigal son allegories, so am I going to watch the rest of the season?, yes I think I will, it was a strong start and I hope they build upon this moving forward. However, Cleverman presents a world in the very near future where the Australian Government willfully ignores international condemnation of our Human Rights policies, actively stifles the media to stop them reporting on things that would make the Government look bad over their policies. and engages in a policy of locking people away in squalid conditions just because of who they are, so what I am saying is Cleverman may present itself as a science fiction show, but unfortunately, as we see today, there is not much fiction in its portrayal, and that is truly sad.
By Brian MacNamara: You can follow Brian on Twitter Here, when he’s not chatting about Movies and TV, he’ll be talking about International Relations, or the Solar System.
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Written by – Michael Miller & Jon Bell
Directed by – Wayne Blair
Staring – Hunter Page-Lochard, Rob Collins, Iain Glen, Ryan Corr, Tysan Towney, Tony Briggs, Deborah Mailman, Frances O’Connor, Stef Dawson, Tasma Walton, Andrew McFarlane & Jack Charles