In­ter­nal di­vi­sion

A new se­ries tweaks post- 9/ 11 anx­i­ety to cre­ate scar­ily re­al­is­tic drama, writes Graeme Blun­dell

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

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

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