On a desolate beachfront, two drunk First Nation teens stumble upon a naked corpse; in a meticulously organized house full of labeled Mason jars and Post-it notes, two women attempt to have sex while their dog watches, confused and upset; outside of the house, there are four garbage cans with ACAB painted on them. These are the scenes that open Deadloch, a new Australian murder mystery black comedy created by Kate McCartney and Kate McLennan. The Amazon Prime series wastes no time establishing a world whose queerness, murder, and incompetent law enforcement underpin Senior Sgt. Dulcie Collins (Kate Box) and her team’s attempts to maintain order in Deadloch while unmasking a misandrist murderer.
Small-Town Murder Mysteries™ have become shorthand for prestige dramatic vehicles that showcase serious actors: True Detective, Fargo, Sharp Objects, Top of the Lake, and Mare of Easttown all boast impressively expensive cast lists and saw their fair share of awards love. It’s not difficult to track the genre’s constructs: emotionally damaged detectives who struggle to work together, an idyllic community that harbors a dark and damaging secret, a serial killer always one step ahead of the law. These tropes have roots in Nordic Noir and were popularized by the breakout British series Broadchurch, which deeply influenced the Kates during Deadloch’s development. For eight years, they refined their show (whose working title was aptly “Funny Broadchurch”) into a gut-busting, politically sharp takedown of a genre full of unchallenged misogyny, heteronormativity, and copaganda.
Located under the Land Down Under, the sleepy Tasmanian town of Deadloch shares only superficial similarities to its counterparts. The town itself is rapidly gentrifying, the recent influx of queer couples directly challenging the locals’ regressive (read: sexist and homophobic) views. The one thing everyone agrees on: Cops are useless. Unlike the righteously flawed paragons of morality and justice associated with the genre, Deadloch police languidly dole out parking tickets and coax seals off bridges. And when fitness bro Trent Latham’s (Barry Wheeler) body washes ashore, the task of determining what happened is thrust upon people typically victimized within these narratives: type-A lesbian Dulcie, naive true-crime junkie Abby (Nina Oyama), Gay and Tired delegator Sven (Tom Ballard), and crass, out-of-town female detective Eddie Redcliffe (Madeleine Sami). As tongueless bodies pile up and lies are exposed, only Dulcie and her ill-equipped team of outsiders can protect the men of the town from an unspeakable demise.
Each of the eight episodes is a perfectly concocted alchemy of dramatic intrigue, engrossing character interactions, and pitch-black comedy that scathingly critiques the murder mystery genre. Eddie is a parody of the Outsider Detective archetype, an alcoholic mess who forgoes personal hygiene and closed-toe shoes to ruefully tramp around town and illegally obtain evidence in an effort to return home to Darwin as fast as possible.
Her relationship with Dulcie, whom she refers to as “Horsehair,” is less of a partnership and more of a nuisance. Instead of quietly constructing accurate theories behind the killings, Eddie spouts hairbrained conspiracies that obstruct and prolong the investigation. Although she eventually grows out of it, her willful incompetence is frustrating at times — she consistently shoots down the possibility of a serial killer in favor of a “Dead Cunt Football Drug Ring.” Thankfully, her sheer lunacy coupled with Sami’s charming if slimy performance makes her engrossing to watch.
Dulcie, alternatively, feels plucked from a cookie-cutter whodunit: a technologically inept control freak who’s a sucker for the chain of command. As a former detective, Dulcie understands the trauma of murder better than anyone else in Deadloch, but none of the civilians take her seriously — some because she’s police, others because she’s a lesbian. Box, who is queer herself, ironically plays the Straight Woman to the wacky characters surrounding her. The friction between Dulcie’s terseness and Eddie’s boorishness propels much of the humor and tension in the season’s early episodes.
These tonal shifts ground the series, each giggle and surprised gasp working in tandem to uncover something more honest and human than a strict drama could ever hope for. The townsfolk’s sunburnt resilience makes them more realistic — they aren’t beaten down enough by the murders to stop their bickering, scheming, and communal gossiping, nor their signature Winter Feastival (a massive tourist event filled with food and bizarre art exhibitions). People are dying, but life goes on.
It’s possible the townsfolk don’t mind because they feel inherently better off with these men gone. Unlike other shows within the genre, the fact that Trent was a sexist drunkard keeps the town from mourning him too much — they raise their glass (twice) and plan to forget about him before it’s emptied. Deadloch isn’t really about its victims; it’s about the living, who return from a brief, bloody distraction back to their lives under the patriarchy. The problems of toxic masculinity, performative feminism, colonialism, homophobia, and unjust power dynamics don’t die with their perpetrators. In the face of existential angst caused by the unfair and unbalanced world around us, the Kates understand that there’s only one thing we can do: look it right in the face and laugh.