Par­adise vice

Why has it taken so long for Surfers to be­come the set­ting for a crime drama se­ries, asks Graeme Blundell

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Tv -

IF the Gold Coast, that place of ob­sti­nate philis­tin­ism, with its mix of sun, beaches, theme parks and colour­ful lo­cal fauna, is Aus­tralia’s Florida, then Surfers Par­adise is chan­nelling Mi­ami. In Surfers there are the same kinds of frontage flog­gers, condo de­vel­op­ers, pol­lu­tion vi­o­la­tors and all man­ner of de­spi­ca­ble mer­chants as there are in Mi­ami.

New sub­di­vi­sions have erupted like cankers in all di­rec­tions; thou­sands upon thou­sands of cookie- cut­ter houses, jammed to­gether so tightly it looks as if you could jump from roof to roof for miles on end. Then there is the coast’s lan­guid sleaze, racy sense of prom­ise and oc­ca­sional breath- grab­bing beauty.

If place rep­re­sents fate in crime fic­tion, you would have to won­der why it has taken so long for Surfers to be­come the set­ting for a lo­cal tele­vi­sion crime drama se­ries.

It fi­nally has, in Knap­man Wyld’s stylish, and pleas­ing, The Strip , which like Seven’s City Homi­cide is a com­mer­cial, char­ac­ter- based pro­ce­dural po­lice drama, ex­plor­ing tightly knit tales set against the dis­or­derly facts of so­cial in­sta­bil­ity, per­sonal un­rest and straight- out civic cor­rup­tion.

‘‘ In the beginning we wor­ried about the im­plau­si­bil­ity of solv­ing a ma­jor crime ev­ery 45 min­utes,’’ says Frankie J. Holden, who plays top lo­cal cop In­spec­tor Max Nel­son, boss of the Main Beach CIB, in the show. ‘‘ But this is a fer­tile place for bad crime with a tran­sient pop­u­la­tion, many night­clubs, sex clubs, dis­cos and a lot of new im­mi­grants.’’ He says the crime- a- show thing wor­ried him un­til he re­alised as he sat on his condo bal­cony at night af­ter re­hearsals that all he could hear was the sound of sirens.

I’m re­minded of some­thing Mi­ami crime nov­el­ist Carl Hi­aasen told me about his home town. When­ever he goes any­where in the world and says he’s from Mi­ami, peo­ple duck. ‘‘ They ei­ther dip their heads ex­pect­ing a bul­let or they look at you just like you got off a space­ship.’’

The Surfers of The Strip is not as lurid as the world of Mi­ami Vice or CSI: Mi­ami , though the se­ries has just started. But the Gold Coast set­ting is still a world of lurk­ing dan­gers, swing­ing, sprawl­ing and rapidly chang­ing, per­fect for pro­duc­ing the sit­u­a­tions and tempo in­dis­pens­able to fast- mov­ing de­tec­tive sto­ries.

The Strip cen­tres on the Crim­i­nal In­ves­ti­ga­tion Bureau, a small and elite unit of de­tec­tives who in­ves­ti­gate the se­ri­ous crimes in Aus­tralia’s play­ground of ex­cess. Holden’s Nel­son is mas­ter of the Strip’s land­scape and its pe­cu­liar brand of weirdos, cor­rupt of­fi­cials and sun seek­ers. He bounces through life like a pin­ball, re­spond­ing shrewdly to the mo­ment and giv­ing lit­tle thought to the fu­ture.

De­tec­tive Frances Tully ( Vanessa Gray) is a lo­cal with the knowl­edge of all the bad­ness on the coast. Her part­ner, De­tec­tive Jack Cross ( Aaron Jef­fery), a tough cop from the south, is newly ar­rived in the hope of patch­ing up a bro­ken mar­riage with his ex- wife, DPP pros­e­cu­tor Mar­cia Cross ( Alice Parkin­son).

The same show on the ABC, SBS or ca­ble might have been darker, more sin­is­ter and polem­i­cal. But The Strip ’ s cops are never go­ing to beat and tor­ture sus­pected drug lords, blow up Rus­sian arms dealers with plas­tic ex­plo­sives wired to an in­ter­ro­ga­tion chair, or al­most drown crooks in a bar­rel of used mo­tor oil in or­der to gain a con­fes­sion.

Like the cops of the suc­cess­ful City Homi­cide , the new Surfers cops’ de­tec­tion meth­ods ab­sorb us with their ba­nal­ity: rou­tine in­ter­ro­ga­tion, painstak­ing scru­tiny of bu­reau­cratic records, leg­work, stake- outs, the use of in­for­mants and, es­pe­cially, serendip­i­tous trial and er­ror.

There is lit­tle play with red her­rings or shift­ing in­ter­pre­ta­tions of clues and sus­pects and, un­like some of the Amer­i­can pro­ce­du­rals, no trea­tise on crime and pu­n­ish­ment. Lightly us­ing irony, ob­ses­sion and al­lu­sive­ness, The Strip moves fast, con­cen­trat­ing on sim­ple, lin­ear sto­ries, the pro­duc­ers wisely es­chew­ing du­bi­ously un­in­tel­li­gent de­tours and co­in­ci­dences.

‘‘ Most TV cop shows give you sharp in­ves­ti­ga­tions and great nar­ra­tive drive,’’ cre­ator Steve Knap­man says. ‘‘ We are now more in­ter­ested in the com­plex­i­ties of the char­ac­ters rather than the way they drive the mys­tery.’’

The trick with char­ac­ter- based TV crime is in avoid­ing the comedic sen­ti­men­tal­ity of soapies, which The Strip cer­tainly does with a sar­donic, off­beat style of in­ter­ac­tion. ‘‘ The point of dif­fer­ence with other cop shows is the hu­mour, es­pe­cially in the play­ing style,’’ Holden says. ‘‘ It’s a de­ri­sive Queens­land- style of hu­mour; no one takes any­one too se­ri­ously.’’

Like City Homi­cide , The Strip de­lib­er­ately es­chews the CSI - ap­proach. The cops solve crimes in the dogged, old- fash­ioned way, though the two po­lice­women ap­pear to have an em­pa­thy for the psy­cho- so­ci­o­log­i­cal mo­ti­va­tions un­der­pin­ning vi­o­lence the men don’t share.

We may see them op­er­at­ing more by in­tu­ition ( th­ese days even on TV they would never de­scribe it as a woman’s gift) and by per­se­ver­ance and courage than through col­lect­ing and in­ves­ti­gat­ing clues or ma­te­rial ev­i­dence. In fact there are enough plau­si­ble strong women in this show that they may, in time, be­come the dom­i­nant group, with the men the eye candy.

Grey’s hand­some Tully is es­pe­cially hard­bit­ten, her tongue abra­sive and com­mon. She’s a ter­rific new cop char­ac­ter, one with a dat­ing rit­ual, it seems, which has left a suc­ces­sion of males scratch­ing their heads as she aban­dons them without no­tice and moves on to the next.

‘‘ She’s a kind of a Howard Hawks woman,’’ Knap­man says, re­fer­ring, of course, to the great Amer­i­can di­rec­tor for whom the threat women pose to men was a re­cur­ring mo­tif. Hawks wanted to put an in­so­lent woman on the screen for the first time, as free a spirit as any of the men. And that’s what Knap­man’s Tully rep­re­sents, some­one who can give it back to the blokes without sac­ri­fic­ing sex­i­ness, wom­an­li­ness.

There is much play on her ro­man­tic cal­lous­ness. In last week’s de­but episode it was es­tab­lished as a key plot point. She ex­plained her sex life to the slightly moral­is­tic Jack Cross: ‘‘ A smile on my face and no delu­sions hang­ing around my neck.’’

You sense that for once in lo­cal TV co­p­land, if a woman’s pri­vate life is a fail­ure in tra­di­tional and mod­ern terms, her pro­fes­sional life of­fers com­pen­satory suc­cess and ful­fill­ment.

Joe Pick­er­ing’s photography gives us the city as a sur­face of spe­cious and am­bigu­ous glam­our hid­ing depths of cor­rup­tion. He per­fectly cap­tures the right un­trust­wor­thy tone, a sta­ple in all good de­tec­tive fic­tion.

Knap­man showed with East West 101 that he un­der­stands how place ex­poses char­ac­ter. Dark deeds on black days de­mand dark places, or at least blind­ing sun­shine, a whiff of thick sun­screen- lo­tion- tinged trop­i­cal air, see- through sarongs and hard- faced blondes with man­i­curist’s voices and a way with knives.

The Strip: Thurs­day, 8.30pm, Nine.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.