3 out of 5
Created by: Yolanda Ramke
covers season 1
Subplots can be a great way for fleshing out characters in a TV series. Subplots can also be filler. Troppo’s Aussie detective tale, adapted from Candice Fox’s book Crimson Lake, rather does something that splits the difference, seeming both like it’s stretching its material to fill eight episodes and buffering its central mystery, and then also not giving enough room to some very well-considered, intersecting themes found in those subplots. This is somewhat mirrored by our two leads’ performances – Thomas Jane as disgraced cop Ted; Nicole Chamoun as local would-be P.I. Amanda – who both come across as fully committed and incredibly effective, but then also playing tropey damaged character types. Somewhere past the show’s midpoint, this imbalance all begins to tire a bit, but the various puzzle pieces in play have you interested enough to look past the patchwork nature of the composition, hanging in there for an ultimately satisfying final picture.
A good opening helps: a seemingly crazed man is seen, by tourists taking a river tour, purposefully baiting ‘gators to feed upon him; Amanda Pharrell, friend to the man, wants to look into it more, but her fledgling detective business isn’t helped by her reputation in town – she’s hated, for reasons we’ll come to learn – and isn’t well-funded by her side gig as a tattoo artist. So she takes a job searching for a missing man – a B-plot at this point – but the offer of the case is rescinded, necessitating recruiting similarly hated Ted Conkaffey to assist / guide her. This is all very well knit together, and promising: complex personalities with their own odd couple quirks; a lead mystery that can fall back on a B-plot mystery, and an extra underline to a central theme of denial due to this dual mystery conceit – Amanda perhaps not giving her all to B, because she actually just wants to figure out what happened to her friend. Chamoun and Jane play off of each other rather naturally; the other principles have their share of secrets, but things feel lived in and not overly Broadchurchy-overwrought.
But we dawdle. We dawdle so the show can play casually with its many, many breadcrumb red herrings, hiding them behind a lot of what-happened-in-Tom-and-Amanda’s-pasts baiting, and then getting way too complex with its B-plot in order to push it into A-plot territory, and doing so in a way that brings in too many characters and piling-ons to the main theme. It all makes sense, it’s just too much without much motion on the mystery / -ies; it’s a show that likely would’ve benefitted by prioritizing aspects for a movie, or somehow spreading things out – giving more room to balance character and story, and less need for continual escalations that act as cliffhangers in place of plot developments.
However, as mentioned, this sensation creeps up only after the bits and pieces have some hooks in you, so it still feels worthwhile – and ultimately it is worthwhile – to show up each week / episode, to be reminded, bit by bit, what the story was about, and let the hooks sink in a bit more.