Why don’t we ever hear about Australian crime dramas? All nations have crime. They all experience murder. If their local film industries have advanced beyond talking heads and news, you can be sure they’ll make TV shows about crime and murder and the cops who have to deal with it. By now, we’re all aware of the massive corpus of British police and detective shows (if not, go check out Acorn TV); much less known in the U.S. are the various French, German, Italian, Scandinavian, Russian, Japanese and Korean crime series. We Yanks don’t like to read our televisions.
Down under, the characters speak English (of a sort) and the Australian criminal justice system isn’t any more exotic than the British one. Their police officers even carry guns. Get the accents sorted, and you can see that their cop shows are just as worthy as American ones…if you can find them.
Case in point: City Homicide, which aired on the Seven Network between 2007 and 2011 and is now available on the free side of Hulu.
An ensemble show with a cast that shifts and morphs through its four and a half seasons, City Homicide follows the exploits of a Victoria Police detective unit in metropolitan Melbourne. (In case you’ve never seen a map of Oz: Melbourne is on the southeastern tip of the continent in the state of Victoria. It’s sort of the Aussie San Francisco, as opposed to Sydney’s role as Los Angeles Down Under. Melbourne’s the one without the glitzy opera house.) As you might guess from the title, these detectives investigate murders throughout the city while coping with various personal and workplace dramas.
All of which sounds like most American police TV series, right? Maybe, but there are some twists:
- This isn’t a special task force or elite unit or any of that; it’s the regular police homicide squad, and its members are ordinary detectives. There’s not a clairvoyant, genius mathematician, Israeli agent, smart-assed mystery writer, or wrongfully-convicted ex-con among them. Yes, we Yanks love our freaks, but it’s easier to identify with these guys and gals. It’s almost a throwback to the days of NYPD Blue or Hill Street Blues.
- Another side of “ordinary”: the detectives and their superiors screw up, act out, hold grudges, bicker with each other, get in trouble, sometimes hook up, and otherwise act like people in any other normal workplace. Unlike in Hollywood, none are extraordinarily attractive or hot. All of them (even the women) wear off-the-rack suits and sensible shoes. They look far more like the police detectives I work with than anyone I’ve seen on an American TV show for years.
- These characters have careers, not just jobs. Much of the flux in the cast comes through promotions, reassignments, resignations, new recruitments, and extended leaves – just like in a normal police force. This keeps things fresh and saves the unit from being a collection of characters sentenced to eternity with each other. How many years have Castle’s Ryan and Esposito been at the 12th Precinct? Law & Order ran forever, but how many of the principal detectives transferred or got promoted or demoted?
- The main characters all have the requisite complicated or painful private lives. However, we get to see them on a semi-ongoing basis, not just during those Very Special Episodes in which random family members get kidnapped or suddenly contract cancer. Private life often intrudes upon and affects work life, even to the point of causing characters to temporarily or permanently leave the series.
Murder is murder; the same general motives (greed, lust, revenge) drive it everywhere. City Homicide’s crimes could, with little tinkering, be easily transferred to Stadt Totschlag or Город Убийство. The cases can become satisfyingly twisty without going nuts. The detectives run them down with old-fashioned shoe leather and persistence; with their general lack of technical wizardry, these stories seem more closely related to Inspector Lewis than Numbers or Criminal Minds. This may be partly due to the show’s heritage. The lead writers (John Hugginson and John Banas) were both involved in the long-running, small-town police series Blue Heelers, which was as much about personalities and relationships as it was about crime.
Is City Homicide groundbreaking or earthshaking television? No. However, if you enjoy detective shows, you’re tired of looking at L.A. and Manhattan, and would like a few more dashes of humanity added to your TV crime intake, it’s worth a look.
Lance Charnes is an emergency manager and former Air Force intelligence officer. Sadly, Australia was not one of the three continents visited in his international thriller Doha 12. Mad Max wouldn’t be out of place in his near-future thriller South. He tweets (@lcharnes) about scuba diving, shipwrecks, art crime and archaeology, among other things.