The opening of this week’s City Homicide (Monday 8.30pm on Seven) was nothing short of magnificent. Just as Law & Order, the undisputed champion of police procedurals (vanilla version only), made an art out of the discovery of the body in the opening scene, so did Monday’s Australian-produced Homicide turn the most horrible crime into a spectacular, even glamorous, piece of high-concept television.
And then it topped it off with a cracking piece of cross-promotion (Seven are truly the masters) as a young (bound and gagged) boy was plopped down in front of Friday Night Footy (called by Bruce, of course) to distract him from the bloody gore-fest just outside the study door. Unreal.
Seven have been having terrific success with City Homicide in a year where it seems that everything they touch turns to 1.8 million viewers. Assembling a cast of some of Australia’s most popular actors doesn’t hurt – Shane Bourne, Noni Hazlehurst, Nadine Garner, Daniel MacPherson, Aaron Pedersen and Damien Richardson across the board do a wonderful job. But there’s more to City Homicide than a likeable cast and a big advertising campaign.
Monday’s opening proved it. It was more than just an artful conflation of visual devices. It was a bold refusal to fall into the common Australian television drama groove that sees sound and pictures as mere tools for conveying narrative information. The prevailing television industry wisdom has generally been that the spectacular visual style of the big-budget US imports like CSI and Without A Trace was best left to the Yanks. Aussie crime shows like Blue Heelers and White Collar Blue, for all their storytelling skill, didn’t look exciting. Whether it was from lack of vision or massive budget constraints (probably the latter), they basically showed people doing things, rather than people doing things in a really cool way.
But Homicide threw that gentle conservatism to the wind with a ripping opening that used the basic components of filmmaking to create a wonderfully defiant piece of theatrical and cinematic indulgence.
And it was worth it. The pace barely dropped after the opening in a twisting, turning ep that showed that, when it comes to plotting crime, writers John Hugginson and John Banas know what they’re doing. There’s also a lovely understatement in the emotional subtext that runs through the series. Rather than beat us over the head with its characters’ personal dramas, Homicide is content to flip us a sly little wink now and again – yeah, our cops have private lives, but they’re not going to whine about them all day. They’ve got murderers to catch.
But the most satisfying thing about City Homicide? The opening sequence declared it proudly: it is not content to be just another interchangeable police procedural. In a well-worn television genre, Homicide has its own style. And it’s proud of it.
In other news, The Sopranos is nearing the end on Nine. If you haven’t already downloaded the epic final season of the single greatest achievement of humankind to date, tune in. If you have, and are looking for something about as different as it is possible to be, you could do worse that seek out the deadpan musical comedy genius that is Flight Of The Conchords. A pair of singing comedians from New Zealand plucked off the stage by HBO and sent to New York to play… a pair of singing comedians from New Zealand. It’s not on telly here yet, but I’m sure you have your ways. If not, YouTube has a taste.
I will be writing about telly every Thursday. So if you have any hot burning televisual issue that you feel needs urgent attention, let me know via the usual Crikey channels.