HHow do you get a creature feature airing on ABC TV, which has an average viewer age of around 105? You smuggle him into a show about an outback detective! I’m a little facetious, though that’s actually the style in which the first episode of Queensland’s entertaining and funnier tropical crime drama Troppo begins: with a disturbed-looking guy dressed in underwear getting nibbled by a crocodile.
A tour group is on a boat led by a tour guide with a flair for theatre, talking about the foul stench of a croc’s breath and how human bodies make it “stink of death.” Then the aforementioned man catches the attention of the reptile and swims towards – making it an apparent “suicide by crocodile”.
In terms of thrills and icky genre spills, series creator Yolanda Ramke is in shape: she co-directed the 2017 zombie flick Cargo, starring Martin Freeman as an infected man. desperately trying to find someone to take care of his little bub before he turns into a flesh eater.
Filling a surprising gap in the backcountry TV sleuth genre, despite Mystery Road’s excellent if relatively recent spinoff, this eight-part series, inspired by Candice Fox’s bestselling Crimson Lake, is addictive in a sort of airport novel: steeped in formula but attractive enough written, acted and directed (by Jocelyn Moorhouse, Catherine Millar, Grant Brown and Ben Howling).
At its core is a fun and tense dynamic between the two main characters. The shaved-headed, tattooed Amanda (Nicole Chamoun) is toughness personified: lots of steely stares and attitude-filled dialogue (including “touch my shit, I’ll kick your ass!”). The other is ex-cop Ted (Thomas Jane, American star of 2004’s The Punisher) who we meet while indulging in a bit of booze and who is potentially suicidal – but also a decent guy. We know this because he takes pity on an injured goose and takes it to the vet, continuing a long tradition of softening tough men by associating them with cute animals (think Tony Soprano and his ducks and John Wick and his dog).
We briefly meet the chief engineer of a deep-sea mining company, Park Jong Min (Sonny Le), who pours whiskey into his laptop’s keyboard – causing it to malfunction (which I do some time in time, but for him it is intentional) – then disappears. Park’s wife, Yoon Sun (Sun Park), only hires Amanda, an aspiring private detective, to track him down after Amanda assures him she has an old detective partner with more running errands. painting – then argues for Ted’s help.
The pair make for a reasonably entertaining combination, Amanda irritated in a “I don’t have time for this” manner and Ted in a more weary, defeatist “been there, done that” manner. In terms of intensity, she raises the dial and he lowers it – though both performances are heightened in slightly odd ways, as if from separate narrative universes. Jane is the dirty guy underneath, with her wide-brimmed hat and gruff, and Chamoun is the cosmopolitan guy more likely to hang out in an alley than a cornfield.
They snoop around, poke their noses into places that don’t belong to them, and narrowly escape dangerous situations – you know the drill. When we see Damien Garvey (so good at playing slippery characters) appear as CEO of deep-sea mining company Dellagua, we know he must be hiding some kind of jiggery-pokery. Crime novels often present vertical narratives, in the sense that they build a hierarchy for characters of a lower social level (Jack Irish, for example) to penetrate.
The tour guide from the chompalicious intro scene returns to deliver a title drop in episode two (this review encompasses the first four), explaining that it’s time someone cared about their community, because ” the whole place is out of whack”, with crocodiles “acting out” and people “going troppo, driven mad by the tropical heat”. Too bad this warmth had to be referenced rather than expressed visually: the show would have benefited from a warm, tacky look – as in These Last Hours or Phillip Noyce’s 1982 film Heatwave – rather than its airier aesthetic, lighter, even autumnal. .
There’s not much originality to the writing, but the dynamic between the two awkward characters works for the aforementioned reasons and the pacing has a decent ebb and flow. The tropical Queensland location allows for fun settings and storylines – from wildlife interactions to a man (played by Simon Lyndon, aka Jimmy Loughnan in Chopper) whose version of “an apple a day” injects himself with venom of snake. You don’t get that in CBD; at least not at your local pharmacist. You also don’t tend to see, on ABC, outside of nature documentaries, shows with beastly predators and grisly deaths.