The edgy SBS drama East West 101 makes a blaz­ing re­turn with its sec­ond sea­son. Guy Davis ex­plains why.

Geelong Advertiser - TV Guide - - FEATURE -

RATED M CAST Don Hany, William McInnes, Susie Porter SUM­MARY East West 101’ s gritty sec­ond sea­son po­si­tions it­self to flesh out its now fa­mil­iar char­ac­ters as De­tec­tive Zane Ma­lik tack­les racially mo­ti­vated clashes from the per­spec­tive of a young Mus­lim, who is also that of an of­fi­cer of the law.

It’s a big call, com­par­ing a lo­cally pro­duced crime drama to the ac­claimed Amer­i­can se­ries The Wire, which is jus­ti­fi­ably re­garded one of the finest of all time. But the SBS show East West 101, which has re­cently re­turned for a sec­ond sea­son, is get­ting such com­par­isons … and what’s more, it’s earn­ing them.

The first sea­son of the show, cre­ated by Steve Knap­man and Kris Wyld of Wild­side fame, ex­plored mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism in an Aus­tralia left fear­ful and sus­pi­cious in the wake of the ter­ror­ist at­tacks of Septem­ber 11, 2001.

By part­ner­ing Zane Ma­lik ( Don Hany), a young Mus­lim de­tec­tive in the Syd­ney po­lice force’s Ma­jor Crime Unit with con­ser­va­tive old-school cop Ray Crow­ley ( William McInnes), the se­ries was able to deftly and or­gan­i­cally fold hot-but­ton top­ics such as racial con­flict into a com­pelling po­lice pro­ce­dural.

Its sen­si­tive but no-non­sense han­dling of the is­sues it tack­led won East West 101 a de­voted fan base and no small de­gree of crit­i­cal ac­claim ( it picked up sev­eral Sil­ver Lo­gie nom­i­na­tions and won an AFI Award).

But Knap­man and Wyld re­port­edly strug­gled for months to come up with a suit­able con­cept for a sec­ond sea­son of the show and were on the verge of shut­ting it down com­pletely, when the de­ci­sion to fur­ther ex­plore Ma­lik’s Mus­lim cul­tural and re­li­gious back­ground, as well as strengthen the fo­cus on squad leader Pa­tri­cia Wright ( Susie Porter), pro­vided them with a wealth of new ma­te­rial.

The seven-episode run of East West 101’ s sec­ond sea­son jug­gles many sto­ry­lines and top­ics – with con­fronting is­sues like hu­man traf­fick­ing and drug ad­dic­tion among them – but th­ese are wo­ven into an over­rid­ing plot that spans the sea­son’s en­tire run.

Af­ter a man is killed by a car bomb in a Syd­ney sub­urb, the re­sult­ing racially fu­elled back­lash leads to the kid­nap­ping of an Is­lamic child.

Team­ing with the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Or­gan­i­sa­tion, Ma­lik and the Ma­jor Crime Unit are on the case. But doubts are grad­u­ally raised over the mo­ti­va­tion be­hind the bomb­ing – was it re­ally the work of Mus­lim ex­trem­ists or is there some­thing far more so­phis­ti­cated and sin­is­ter in the works?

As he delves deeper into the mys­tery while at­tempt­ing to help quell the ur­ban ten­sion and para­noia that re­sulted from the in­ci­dent, Ma­lik finds him­self up against a con­spir­acy that reaches fur­ther than he imag­ined.

The se­ries’ multi-lay­ered sub­terfuge and in­trigue is de­mand­ing – this isn’t a show you can sim­ply have play­ing in the back­ground – but it’s also cap­ti­vat­ing and thought­pro­vok­ing ( Knap­man has cited mas­ter of in­trigue John le Carré, writer of A Per­fect Spy and The Rus­sia House, as an in­flu­ence on the sec­ond sea­son).

And while racial and so­cial pol­i­tics play a ma­jor part in East West 101, the show is never heavy-handed in its ex­plo­ration of them. The char­ac­ter of Ma­lik is con­tin­u­ally striv­ing to be a good cop, a good Mus­lim and a good man, and the se­ries as a whole and Hany’s tough-minded, full-blooded per­for­mance con­stantly dis­plays how th­ese things are bound to­gether.

SBS clearly has faith in East West 101 – while it de­layed the sea­son two launch so it wouldn’t be over­whelmed by the sure-fire suc­cess of the Hey Hey, It’s Satur­day re­union spe­cials, it has put it up against Seven’s Packed to the Rafters on Tues­day nights.

That faith is war­ranted, be­cause East West 101 drama pro­vides a brac­ing al­ter­na­tive to other crime se­ries cur­rently on of­fer.

Cul­ture shock: Don Hany deals with racially fu­elled vi­o­lence on the streets of Syd­ney in East West 101.

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