A new series tweaks post- 9/ 11 anxiety to create scarily realistic drama, writes Graeme Blundell
YOU’RE either an Arab or you are a cop,’’ snarls Senior Detective Crowley ( William McInnes), old- school policeman, at odds with everything, especially himself. Young Muslim detective Zane Malik ( Don Hany) stares him down edgily, torn between his religion and his role in the major crime squad.
A battle for dominance between two strong men or a metaphor for the fear that exists between East and West, as two lost people search for forgiveness and authenticity?
This is how SBS’s seductive, highly intelligent and often abrasive new six- part police procedural series begins. And good it is, more cinematic than any crime show we’ve produced so far, its clever use of conventions setting up a persistent play of meanings and ambivalences.
Malik was 12 years old when a masked gunman held up the family shop and shot his father, leaving him with brain damage. The Muslim detective has never stopped hunting the shadowy figure in the black balaclava. But what was Crowley’s part in the original investigation?
Crowley’s son was found dead of a drug overdose, the drugs sold to him by a Lebanese dealer who is eventually found murdered. Internal affairs starts an investigation and Crowley is suddenly at Malik’s mercy. Or is he? Is Crowley’s redemption interwoven with that of the cop he despises?
The series is constructed around these delicious circles within circles and the appearance of rational order is transformed into a labyrinth of deceit that entraps its victims.
East West 101 is a highly ingenious version of the traditional detective story. And it works a treat as producer Steve Knapman and co- creator Kris Wyld dramatise the ambiguity inherent in the search for truth, meaning and citizenship in the post- 9/ 11 world.
We are playing around with the notion of an audience empathising inside a genre piece with an Arab hero; this is the game we’re playing,’’ Knapman says. The idea was to play with the audience’s emotional investment in character in a climate where there is a degree of bigotry and even racism in the media against Islam.’’
Habit, conditioning and ignorance are the enemies when it comes to an audience accepting a Muslim hero, Knapman believes, especially if viewers happen to switch across from Channel 9. ( We are hardly likely to encounter confronting truths on the anodyne Sea Patrol .)
Commissioned by SBS to do a generic crime show, Knapman and Wyld were initially perplexed. What did they want from us?’’ Knapman asks. We didn’t want to do a politically correct multicultural show.’’
A police contact eventually led them to former policeman Hany Elbatoory, a devout Muslim, and his one- time Samoan cop offsider, a Catholic. As serving officers they had been involved in many cases skirting the problems of civic and cultural integration. We decided to drive the show from the ground up, using the research from their real world,’’ Knapman says.
Another inspiration was the shooting on the London Underground of 27- year- old Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menezes.
The scripts also drew on extensive research and the expertise of other detectives and specialist advisers that Knapman and Wyld have developed during the past 10 years with shows such as Wildside and White Collar Blue . It was painful to write,’’ Knapman says. I kept fighting to make Crowley likable and Kris was more sympathetic to the Muslim position. We weren’t always slapping each other on the back.’’
Tough nut Crowley balances the show for
Self- examination: Don Hany plays Muslim detective Zane Malik in the new SBS series