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Television Review: Harry

May 8, 2013 Film & TV

Harry
TV3, Wednesday, 9.30pm.

Harry is good. By the looks of the first episode, really very good. With its detective beset with demons of his own (shades of Cracker) and gradually expanding depiction of the drug “food chain” (The Wire), it’s not breaking new ground, story-wise. But so what? New Zealand television has never had a crime drama like this.

According to the press notes, more than 60 locations across Auckland were used in the course of filming; future episodes will take the action to Remuera, Mt Albert, Westmere and beyond. The initial focus, however, is South Auckland’s cheerless suburbia: the family home of Lua Mataola, a bank robber in way over his head, is located literally at the end of a dead-end street.

Lua’s brutal, P-fuelled hold-up sets the story in motion. Still grief-stricken over his wife’s suicide, Counties-Manukau detective Harry Angelsea (Oscar Kightley) is assigned the case, alongside his boss and mentor Jim Stockton (Sam Neill).

Gritty locations and realistic crimes are one thing. What sets Harry apart is a deeper authenticity, both cultural and political. In various contexts, we see Harry dressed in a police uniform, suit and tie, or T-shirt and lava-lava. Conversations slip between English and pleasingly unsubtitled Samoan — don’t worry, you get the gist. And we see a police service too often in thrall to the news media machine, to the detriment of the policing itself.

Director Chris Dudman, also a co-writer, marshals the action with impressive verve, most notably in two set pieces: that opening bank robbery, and a wrong-headed AOS raid on the Mataola family home. Both end in a strikingly similar way, with a group of terrified people cowering on the ground.

From the first episode, then, Harry looks promising, but that’s not to say I don’t have quibbles. I’m not a fan of flashbacks — they always seem faintly ridiculous, and a little lazy — and could have done without them here. And it’s depressing to once again see women relegated to roles as carers (mothers, counsellors) or prostitutes.

But I guess one can’t laud a series’ realism in one breath and criticise its (true to life) depiction of a male-dominated police force in the next. Hopefully, we’ll see some more nuanced female characters, besides Harry’s troubled daughter Mele, as the series continues. For now, I’m enjoying the ride.

Co-creator and star Oscar Kightley on the making of Harry.

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