CLeVer­man

Aus­tralian dystopia gets very hairy. Lit­er­ally

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Viewscreen - Dave Golder

UK Broad­cast BBC Three, fin­ished Aus­tralia Broad­cast ABC, fin­ished Episodes Re­viewed 1.01-1.06

Rather bizarrely, ig­nore all the swear­ing, gore and sex in Clever­man, and there’s a re­ally good idea for a new spin on the “cho­sen one” trope so pop­u­lar in chil­dren’s fan­tasy lit­er­a­ture: what if the cho­sen was a com­plete loser? Be­cause that’s es­sen­tially what hap­pens here.

Clever­man is an Aus­tralian/New Zealand/Amer­i­can co-pro­duc­tion – made and set in Aus­tralia – that, rather im­prob­a­bly (but sur­pris­ingly suc­cess­fully), mar­ries Abo­rig­i­nal mythol­ogy with the dystopian genre. In a near-fu­ture Oz, a sub­sec­tion of the Abo­rig­ines, the Hairypeo­ple, have come out of hid­ing and are be­ing treated as sub­hu­mans, feared, de­tested and forced to live in a con­trolled zone. They’re stronger, faster and, as the name sug­gests, a good deal hairier than us, and they have a mys­ti­cal con­nec­tion to the Dream­time.

Waruu, a kind of mil­i­tant leftie, runs the zone and fights for hairy rights. He ex­pects to be­come the Clever­man, an abo­rig­i­nal Shaman, but the cur­rent Clever­man, his Un­cle Jimmy, gives his in­her­i­tance to Waruu’s screw-up half-brother Koen. Koen doesn’t want these pow­ers and doesn’t be­lieve in the leg­ends. But when some­thing starts rip­ping the hearts out of hu­mans and Hairypeo­ple alike Waruu knows he must get Koen to step up to the mark.

Mixing in Game Of Thrones’ Iain Glen as a dodgy me­dia mogul, cor­rupt politi­cians and the spirit of Dream­time (or some­thing), in a plot where ev­ery­body who isn’t hairy is frankly vile to one an­other, this is con­spir­acy drama meets racism al­le­gory – it’s full of great ideas, com­pelling per­for­mances and hard-hit­ting mo­ments. What it doesn’t have is much of a story. It presents it­self as a minis­eries but ends on a cliffhanger, with enough dan­gling threads to recre­ate the Bayeux Tapestry.

Pos­si­bly it’s aim­ing to be enig­matic but it sim­ply ends up sprawl­ing, vague and un­sat­is­fy­ing. It is grown up but it’s not nec­es­sar­ily clever. Also Weta’s Hairypeo­ple make-up is pure Carry On Scream­ing.

But while it may not be the most co­her­ent of shows, at heart there are some in­ter­est­ing themes and world-build­ing go­ing on.

One of the Hairypeo­ple. Not too sur­pris­ingly.

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