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]