I know not all of my readers have cable, so I like to cover shows that not very many people are reviewing, because hey! if the show lasts long enough, it will end up on DVD, or Netflix. Hopefully, these reviews and recaps will come back to you when making a decision on whether or not to buy them.
So far the Sundance Channel has been alright about showing diverse programming. The last show I watched on Sundance was Red Road, with a nearly all indigenous cast, along with Jason Momoa. It was a pretty intense crime drama, which I actually started to enjoy. I think it’s on hiatus right now.
Cleverman is another intense drama, but mixed with fantasy. It’s American and Australian/ New Zealand based show, airing in Australia as well as here, and covers the topics of immigration and diversity, injustice and rebellion, but with superpowers and monsters. It sits well within my personal theory that non-western cultures probably would not be greatly upheaved by the introduction of superheroes, as those cultures already have mechanisms and narratives in place that would account for their existence. What in western cultures would cause people to freak out, in native cultures, will sometimes be fully explained and accepted with a shrug, or whatthehell! a party.
For information on the indigenous beliefs and cultures that led to the creation of Cleverman, visit here. Also listed are characters, books, and resources, for those interested in the intersection of Australian Aboriginal culture, religious beliefs, and superheroes. It’s fascinating stuff.
As for the show. It’s not bad. The production values are lovely. It may have been made on the cheap, but it doesn’t show it. As far as the plot, it’s a little different than I thought it would be. It can sometimes be difficult to watch because of a lot of the events seems to have a great deal of resonance with what’s going on in the US right now, except that it’s happening to Australian natives, whose names, though lovely, I’m not even going to try to pronounce. I listened really hard, but my linguistic skills were not up to the task.
Most of the violence seemed to involve a group of people called Hairies, and that’s the last time I’m going to use that word, because most of the characters used it as a slur, even though it’s merely descriptive. The people they’re talking about look kind of like old school werewolves. To my eyes, they were not unhandsome. Well ,anyway they’re being rounded up and put on reservations with the native Aboriginal peoples, who have been tasked to make room for them. They don’t like it but have little choice.
One of the more tragic scenes is the shooting death of a little girl by the police, who were attempting to separate her from her mother. Why these families were being separated was unclear to me. The takeaway I got was that it was either for crueltie’s sake, or so the men and boys could be experimented on.The Hs are faster, and stronger than humans, and the villainous white dudes, who run the government, were studying this, at one point.
It’s really difficult, given the political climate of the US right now, for me to watch people being abused just for looking different, so that was where the difficulty comes in. Apparently, some of the Hairypeople choose to fit in by shaving off their hair and learning English, and others decide to go ” au naturel”,and live how they want. They also have metaphysical abilities too and are based on creatures from Aboriginal mythology. They are distinctly non-human. They do not share DNA with humans, and it’s theorized that they’re a race of people who come from the Dreamtime. They also live waaaay longer than humans.
When the government starts stepping up its cruelty levels, Koen’s uncle tries to persuade him to take on the mantle of the Cleverman. A kind of superpowered vigilante who shows up when his people are in distress. The uncle passes this calling onto the non-consenting Koen, who develops the ability to see the past and future, and heal himself like Wolverine. He may develop other abilities later in the series. This all has something to do with monsters from the Dreamtime invading earth, but that hasn’t been made clear yet, since this is just the pilot.
There’s also some criminal shenanigans involving a neighborhood leader who seems to be in league with members of the government, while preaching rebellion, and holding illegal fight clubs. I was less interested in the political machinations, then I was in the social ties between the characters, though. I couldn’t really parse who was related to who, but maybe that’s the point. For some reason, all the older women get called Auntie, something which tickled me enormously, considering I’m an Auntie. I’m not sure who this leader is to Koen, as I had the impression they were related, but at one point he gets one of the Hairy People to break off Koen’s finger, which is something family members ought not be doing to each other. Koen’s superpowers are evidenced by his glowing blue eye. That and the finger healing sequence, was kinda neat.
I’m not in love with the show yet, but it does look promising, and pretty. I can’t say it’s must-viewing, yet. It doesn’t have the addictive quality of Game of Thrones or True Blood, or the deep, gothic, tragedy of Penny Dreadful, or the zaniness of Wynonna Earp, or Preacher, but its got novelty, social commentary, and drama, (that’s occasionally heavy handed), which is fine since this is just a first episode. All of that may change once the Dreamtime monsters show up, though.
It’s interesting how shows twist and transform during the course of a season. You think it’s about one thing, but by the end of the season, you realize it had an entirely different agenda. Some shows are better at this than others. We’ll see how this one goes.