Australian shows are in the same league of Australian films; sometimes we really knock it out of the park, with shows that hit a cultural nerve and become a core part of our growing culture. But even if a show manages to find success here, moving it overseas is perhaps twice as difficult. The strongest examples of Aussie film and TV are texts that are for us first and foremost. Cleverman, the latest endeavor paid for by our great Auntie the ABC, is an endeavour that manages to provide an interesting new show for our side of the pond, but perhaps not for the world around us just yet.
Cleverman is set in the future where the world is segregated by different groups of peoples, such as the Hairies (a group of people clearly being allegorically used as asylum seekers), these people are often referred to as ‘sub-humans’. It is through this segregation that we meet Koen (Hunter Page-Lochard), an inner city hipster who runs a bar, who often sells out members of the Hairies,. Later however, when his uncle Jimmy dies from what seems like an attack from a non-human form, he inherits special abilities. These skills include the power of healing, seeing into the future and connecting to the spirit world (an interesting connection point to the indigenous dream time). Through this new indigenous superhero, race relations between the indigenous, the whites and the hairies become the major theme over the course of this shows first six episode season.
Truthfully this show has a lot of really interesting and exciting things happening at once. Creator Ryan Griffen has stated Cleverman was created because he wanted to create an indigenous superhero for his son, and he does just that. The central premise of superhero texts, a person receiving skills to use to make a better place, is all there. Placing it in the future but with major issues of immigration and race relations elevates the text, more than simply making another Spider-man take off. However, the wish to spin so many plates in the course of this season did leave me a little baffled at times. While I was enjoying what I was watching it seemed a little too scattered for me to really focus on the show.
This was made more difficult with some of the supporting characters who act more like ‘stereotypes’ rather than the flawed, but eventual hero intrigue afforded to that of the lead character. Corrupt government officials and sleazy journalists are here and they do their job as well as could be expected, but with so much at stake and so many messages needing to be given to the audience, one could believe that a more narrowed focus for this show would have yielded an even stronger result. Sure, simple origin stories may be a little boring for characters like Batman on their 3rd and 4th time around, but Cleverman is new, with a new world and it would have been great to get an easier entrance for this show.
OVERALL: Cleverman’s large reach of issues and it’s even stronger use of allegories to the present world and particularly Australia’s history, make this show not terribly hard to recommend. It may not be the best new thing that Australia has produced on the small screen but it’s definitely one of its more promising and ambitious creations that has left me intrigued for a second season. Cleverman is indeed clever, but perhaps a bit too much so.
Cleverman is available now on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital form. Check out the eOne website for more information.