Call it Australian noir if you want. Like the Scandinavian variety, only all the action happens on the beach, in blinding sunlight, the detectives cutting about in suits and Ray-Bans looking like something out of The Matrix. It‘s good, once your pupils adjust.
Deep Water, a dark (but bright) four-part crime miniseries that draws on the real-life, anti-gay hate crimes that took place in Sydney in the 80s and 90s, has taken a couple of years to get here. It first aired in Australia in 2016, but in a way the timing couldn‘t be better. At the heart of the series is the historical ineptitude of Sydney police – all too willing, it would seem, to turn a blind eye – a theme it shares with the current hit podcast series, The Teacher‘s Pet.
This one is set in the modern day, with an odd couple pair of detectives investigating the brutal murder of a young gay man in Bondi. Detective Tori Lustigman (Yael Stone, Orange is the New Black) has just moved back to the city with her son. She doesn‘t take any nonsense from anyone, not the feds and certainly not partner Detective Nick Manning (Noah Taylor, the one who looks like he was born to star in a Nick Cave biopic).
At first, it seems a fairly straightforward case – “angry iced-up, sleep-deprived boxer (the victim‘s downstairs neighbour) or a jealous lover”, Manning summarises. The victim is found to have been using an app called Thrustr (on an iPad no less), a slightly cringe-worthy, made-up version of Grindr, to “meet random men for sex”. Their old-school boss, Chief Inspector Peel (William McInnes, better known as Schultz from Blue Heelers), seems all too happy to pin it on the jealous boyfriend theory and go home to watch some rugby league.
Detective Lustigman digs a little deeper, though, and uncovers chilling similarities to an unsolved murder 26 years ago in the same spot. This is where the historical element starts being folded in – quite convincingly, all things considered – and where the show finally starts to hit its straps.
The first half of the episode is a little bit ropey: the dialogue doesn‘t quite click and the use of technology makes it feel prematurely dated. “Nothing like social media to do our job for us”, Manning explains at one point while typing a suspect‘s name into a website called searchonthe, the results floating across the screen.
But, stick with it and things soon pick up. The second half of the episode has a dodgy bar owner, a disgraced former detective, and a brilliantly tense final scene.
For a more thorough background on the shocking number of unprosecuted assaults and murders of gay men in Sydney in the 80s and 90s, there was also a documentary, Deep Water: The Real Story, which accompanied the release of the miniseries in Australia. It will be on TVNZ On Demand this time next month.
• Deep Water is streaming now via TVNZ On Demand.