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Review: Desert Road Productions' Harry for TV3

Before join­ing ONFILM, I spent most of my screen view­ing time star­ing at the big screen as a cin­ema reviewer. I didn’t have much time left over for broad­cast tele­vi­sion and my Sky sub­scrip­tion served only to feed my remote addic­tion to the Pre­mier League and reg­u­lar dis­ap­point­ment in the Black Caps.

Thanks to some loan DVDs (and Out­ra­geous For­tune on US Net­flix), I have been catch­ing up on what I’ve been miss­ing and was stoked to spend the last six weeks in the com­pany of Desert Road’s gritty cop drama Harry, co-written by and star­ring, Oscar Kight­ley in his drama debut.

The first thing I want to acknowl­edge is that, based on Harry, I can report that TVhas got really good while I’ve been away. The pro­duc­tion val­ues, look and feel, act­ing, direc­tion and edit­ing are all first rate. It’s also got a lot more grown-up — the nudity, swear­ing and vio­lence are of inter­na­tional standard.

In Harry, Kight­ley plays Detec­tive Sergeant Harry Angle­sea, a recently wid­ow­ered father of teenage Mele (Hunter Kamuhemu). Sleep­walk­ing through a depres­sive grief, he throws him­self into a mur­der inves­ti­ga­tion — a bank teller has been shot dead in a rob­bery gone wrong and the evi­dence leads Manukau’s finest to a high level “P” man­u­fac­tur­ing out­fit led by gang boss Chocka Fahey (Errol Shand look­ing like he’d be right at home in Game of Thrones). Mean­while, screen leg­end Sam Neill remains fairly office-bound as Harry’s boss, DSS “Stocks” Stockton.

While Harry ticks all the right boxes, it often felt a lit­tle like it was doing just that — box tick­ing. There weren’t too many sur­prises in the plot­ting or the char­ac­ters. In fact, pretty much every sec­ondary char­ac­ter turns out to be exactly what you think they are going to be when they first appear: the senior cop with an eye on the Her­ald front page, the cor­rupt lawyer, the well-meaning but inef­fec­tive school guid­ance coun­sel­lor, the Remuera rich kids with absen­tee par­ents, the Chi­nese gang boss — the list is endless.

The prob­lem with char­ac­ters like this as they are never more than echoes of peo­ple. As my view­ing com­pan­ion said, why are watch­ing them when they are less inter­est­ing than we are? That’s not true of Harry him­self, though, even if the depths of his char­ac­ter are buried so far down it took six episodes to fully reveal. Kight­ley is an always appeal­ing screen pres­ence, even if he has to dial the charm down so low that it all but disappears.

This might be a fact of life for tele­vi­sion these days, but I’m not sure why we needed flash­backs to things we’d seen only fif­teen min­utes before (back to pre­vi­ous episodes, I under­stand) and Karl Steven’s insis­tent elec­tronic score was so annoy­ing it undid all the good work done by his excel­lent heavy duty theme music.

Harry does so much right that, despite my mis­giv­ings, I couldn’t take my eyes off the episode six cli­max and there’s enough going with the cen­tral char­ac­ter that I’d like to see where he goes next. I won­der if we’ll get a chance.

[Printed in the July 2013 issue of ONFILM]


Review: Desert Road Productions' Harry for TV3