Even shows that are clearly of their time can be timeless. Cleverman is among the elite band that falls clearly into this category, its themes reflecting on issues like racism, immigration and segregation in a way that are sadly reflective of the world today.
This new show focuses on the lives of estranged Australian Aboriginal brothers Koen (Hunter Page-Lochard) and Waruu (Rob Collins) as they deal with the chaos caused by the tumultuous backdrop of heightening tensions between humans and the ‘Hairypeople’, who are partitioned off in ghettos away from the rest of the populace. Amid all this, Koen turns out to be the prophesised ‘Cleverman’, causing further strife between him and his sibling and threatening to set alight the whole tinderbox of a situation.
Initially at least, Cleverman’s strength lies in the ambiguities of its characters: Koen subsists by betraying Hairypeople for money; Waruu balances fighting for equal rights with a steamy affair with a journalist, and it’s no surprise at all when xenophobic government minister Geoff Matthews (Andrew McFarlane) turns out to have a penchant for visiting Hairypeople-occupied brothels. Every character is problematic in some way, embodying the grey waters of the issues that permeate the show.
Effectively, Cleverman is a superhero show without the costumes – a mythology-infused drama that has plenty to say. Occasionally this ambition overreaches (the terrible CGI monster should have been kept in the shadows), and the ending is annoyingly abrupt, although the promise of a second season does alleviate our quibbles somewhat.
It doesn’t quite manage to be the show it wants to be, but you have to admire the intention that clearly exists to be something different.