Deadloch review: McCartney and McLennan look to kill it in Prime crime comedy

A sleepy Tasmanian town is disturbed when the disfigured body of local man washes up just as a Winter Festival gets underway.

Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan are comic geniuses with a gift for satirical absurdity. Adroitly frothing over the inequitable ugliness lurking just below the sparkling whiteness of Australia’s morning TV scene in Get Krack!n and skewering insufferable foodie cult tendencies in spoof cooking spot The Katering Show, their observations are capital F funny with a stinging barb.

So the promise of them pursuing these themes while upending the more troubling tropes of crime shows and their chokehold on the popular consciousness in Prime Video show Deadloch is alluring.

The peaceful pace of the sleepy Tasmanian town of the same name is disturbed when the disfigured body of local man Trent Latham (Barry Wheeler) washes up on the beach, just as an outré arts and food fusion Winter Festival not entirely dissimilar to Hobart’s headline-seeking winter hullabaloo Dark MOFO blows a bunch of highly lucrative tourists into town. (The roll-call of festival guests namechecked but unseen is a grand running gag).

Two young First Nations women, Miranda (Kartanya Maynard) and her AFL-aspiring cousin Tammy (Leonie Whyman), literally stumble across Trent’s corpse, with the latter promptly dropping both her guts and her joint. ‘Holy shit, his dick’s on fire.’

Burn baby burn

It’s a fantastically funny opening gambit, with the import of this naked cadaver being a (presumably heterosexual) bloke hanging in the air like an exhale of breath on a brisk winter’s morn. While Twin Peaks famously opened on Laura Palmer wrapped in plastic, she was, at least, integral to David Lynch’s everyone’s a suspect story. Far too many genre entries before and since used women’s bodies as plot points of little consequence, entirely stripped of agency.

McCartney and McLennan establish that Deadloch will be different, to a point. But it’s probably worth tempering expectations that the show will be a whip-smart parody of the genre. 

Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney on set in Tasmania. Image: Prime Video.

Trent’s unfortunate end irks scuba diving Mayor Aleyna (Susie Youssef), who’s fuming that it might interrupt the Winter Festival’s opening night lantern parade. You sense that local cop Dulcie Collins (Wentworth’s Kate Box) relishes the chance to sink her teeth into an intriguing case that takes her away from her loving but teeny bit smothering wife Cath (Offspring star Alicia Gardiner).

This release is short-lived, however. An oafish male colleague further up the chain rings in prolific C-bombing Darwin detective Eddie Redcliffe, played by Aussie accent-affecting The Breaker Upperers filmmaker and star Madeleine Sami.

Read: What to watch in June: new to streaming, cinemas and film festivals near you

A show like this obviously hangs on the good cop/bad cop approach, but Sami’s obnoxiously loud Eddie swiftly derails Deadloch. What’s not to love about a ramped-up-to-the-max, perma-cussing, wildly uncaring out-of-towner riding roughshod over the locals while leaping to the most basic conclusions humanly possible, you might ask?

While there’s no denying lines like, ‘Which one of you cunts is leaking like an old cow’s tit,’ are snort-inducingly funny, the fact that Eddie only speaks like this, at the top of her lungs, gets a little tiresome. Sami’s far-too-broad read on the character reduces her to a mighty pain in the arse, with the show’s oddly oscillating tone undermining both the comedy and the crime drama.

Read: Run Rabbit Run and Late Night With the Devil: meet the directors

Plus Box, usually a charismatic presence, goes so far the other way that Dulcie’s kinda dull, making their many scenes together a bit of a jarring chore.

Utopia star Nina Oyama and fellow comedian-turned-actor Tom Ballard strike a better balance as junior cops Abby, juggling her impending wedding admin, and ditsier colleague Sven, who’ll never pass up a lazy opportunity to delegate. Gardiner’s eager beaver morning tea-delivering vet, and the insecurities that lie behind Cathy’s festooning of love on Dulcie, is lowkey the more intriguing way into how the pressures of a spiralling case like this impact a small town.

Everyone’s a suspect

Sadly, Deadloch is, for the most part, a frustratingly straight (despite the town’s much-remarked-upon over-representation of lesbians) and not particularly original small town whodunnit where everyone’s a suspect and uncovered secrets stack up as fast as the bodies on the beach. This is a shame, because McCartney and McLennan have interesting stuff to say about how gender, race and sexuality usually play out in shows like this. It just gets a bit lost in the playbook procedural.

There’s fun to be had within an overstuffed cast that includes the inimitable Pamela Rabe as a self-important philanthropist who’s far too keen to rub off brownie points from ‘supporting’ folks like Tammy, and Sinsa Jo Mansell as straight-shooting First Nations Elder Fay Hampson, who begrudgingly opens the Winter Festival with an Acknowledgment, rather than a Welcome to Country, because she refuses to welcome bemused festival goers intruding on stolen land. But too many support characters wind up feeling same-same, both within the show and the genre more broadly.

Leonie Whyman as Tammy Hampson and Kartanya Maynard as Miranda Hoskins. Image: Prime Video.

Directors Beck Cole, Gracie Otto and Ben Chessell do a good job delivering a sturdy crime show vibe beautifully shot by cinematographers Katie Milwright and Simon Ozolins, and you can sit back and enjoy it on that level.

But coming from the razor-sharp minds of McCartney and McLennan, you can’t help but feel a little short-changed by their strange half-and-half decision to simply insert comically heightened characters into an instantly recognisable template, rather than engaging with a more nuts-and-bolts retooling of the material. The eight-episode series’ overlong one-hour runtime also has the unfortunate effect of drawing out the mystery to a meandering pace.

By the time you get to episode three’s brilliant bait-and-switch gag, upending the body on a beach trope better than the series opener by subverting both Spencer Tunick’s in-the-buff-art and our expectations, you can grasp the focus and pacing problems here. While Deadloch’s far from dead on arrival, its enervating lack of structural ambition did kill a lot of the buzz I had going in.

Deadloch premieres on 2 June on Prime Video.


3 out of 5 stars


Kate Box, Madeleine Sami, Alicia Gardiner


Ben Chessell

Format: Movie

Country: Australia

Release: 02 June 2023