Imagine Jerry Bruckheimer was so taken by producing The Amazing Race Australia (yes, there was one) that he creates a cop show set in Oz. It’ll have all the Bruckheimerish trademarks: lush, glossy production design, lots of pretty people, less-than-Chekhovian character development, stories that don’t tax the viewers’ minds overmuch. Could it be his next Without a Trace – or the second coming of The Forgotten?
Too late, Jerry. Someone beat you to it. They called it The Strip.
The setup should sound familiar. Jack Cross (Aaron Jeffery, Neighbours), a Sydney detective, moves to Queensland’s Gold Coast to try to glue back together his busted marriage. He lands in Main Beach CID Homicide with a sardonic new partner, Detective Senior Constable Frances Tully (Vanessa Gray, Dance Academy). Together they chase dead bodies up and down the Miami Beach-like strip of surf, marinas, high-rise condos, and nightclubs south of Brisbane while working out their own plentiful personal issues and those of Detective Constables Jessica Mackay (Simone McAullay, Broadchurch) and Tony Moretti (Bob Morley, Home and Away). Gruff, blokish Inspector Max Nelson (Frankie Holden, Blue Heelers) yells at them all at least once an episode when the case gets tough.
That Miami Beach reference isn’t accidental. The series looks a lot like CSI: Miami: tons of saturated blues and greens, palm trees, bright sunshine on white stucco and white sand. Swooping flyovers, ocean sunsets (even though the ocean’s off the east coast) and nighttime skylines are liberally interspersed with the story action on the ground, lest you forget Our Heroes are working just up the road from a place called (I swear!) Surfer’s Paradise.
The characters all look like they came off Horatio Caine’s B shift, too. Cross is a rugged man’s man; Tully’s a strawberry-blond spitfire; Mackay’s the hot blond Emily Procter stand-in; and Moretti’s the dark, good-looking young stud (though not quite in Adam Rodriguez’s league). Of the regulars, only fiftyish Nelson is average-looking, but he’s the boss and needs the gravitas.
The interiors are as glitzy as the exteriors. Cross’s and Tully’s adventures often take them into high-end waterfront mansions, top-floor flats with endless Pacific views, black-marble-and-glass nightclubs, yachts and, of course, the beach. You’ll keep expecting David Caruso to walk out as Our Heroes walk in. Needless to say, real cops in real beach towns spend their time in cheap motels, skanky bars, half-sinking sailboats and the local shooting galleries…but those don’t look nearly so cool.
Nor is the built environment the only eye candy. Like in certain American cop shows, Mackay swans around crime scenes in miniskirts and improbable heels, and whenever she or Tully go undercover, they’re required to wear skintight, crotch-length skirts and plunging necklines. Cross gets his shirt off with some regularity. Many of the dead and live bodies Our Heroes encounter are also some degree of hot, and many of them are much less dressed than their counterparts in Fargo. Atmosphere shots featuring beefcake or cheesecake abound. Even Inspector Nelson (a middle-aged surfer) models a Speedo on one occasion, something that should’ve earned the episode a content advisory. The visuals are like watching the bikini shots in Miami Vice, Burn Notice and CSI: Miami all rolled up into one.
The stories? Oh, yeah, that. The plots are about as challenging as those on the various flavors of CSI. Don’t expect Agatha Christie, but they’re sufficiently opaque that when Our Heroes arrest the wrong person halfway through, you won’t say “seriously?” Despite my constant CSI comparisons, The Strip’s action happens mostly on the street (or strand), not the lab, with Cross and Tully nearly always in the lead. In this way, it’s more like a less-cute Castle than one of the forensic procedurals.
Steve Knapman and Kris Wyld, producers of the well-regarded series Wildside and East West 101, were clearly influenced by the new breed of American crime shows when they put this together. Unfortunately for them, homage often turns into cloning.
Their worst offense – the one that more than likely earned this series a quick death – is that it feels so generically American. The stories occasionally make a stab at local color (one is set during Schoolies Week, the Down Under version of Spring Break), but could be transplanted to Santa Monica or Palm Beach without breaking a sweat or changing anything other than street names. The characters, the locations, the attitudes, even the orgasmic title theme will remind you of any one of a dozen post-2000 American cop shows. The local reviewers complained that it just wasn’t Aussie enough – and they’re right.
Of the three Aussie crime series I’ve reviewed lately, The Strip’s born-in-the-USA vibe makes it easily the most accessible to an American audience. You won’t find a thing here that’s exotic or worrying to a Yankee viewer. It probably would’ve done fine on TNT or USA.
The Strip ran for thirteen episodes on Nine Network in 2008 and is now available on Hulu.
Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. Everyone stays fully dressed in his international thriller Doha 12, but there’s a beach and a waterfront mansion in his near-future thriller South. He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks, art crime and archaeology, among other things.
Read all of Lance's posts for Criminal Element.