"You're on your own," says Nick, a boyishly handsome homicide cop to his partner, heading off toward a murder victim's van. Which promptly explodes. We're about three minutes into the first episode of Hyde & Seek, a cornily-named Australian thriller which debuted on Three on Monday.
So far, so ominous: the series is created by New Zealand showrunners Rachel Lang and Gavin Strawhan, whose shows always seem to start with a big hooky event - a suicide, an arrest, a bomb - as if there's no other way into a story. Hyde & Seek was their third major production to screen last year (this played in October 2016 in Australia), after Filthy Rich and Dirty Laundry. The productivity is impressive, sure, but it's hard to escape the sense that some of the deep flaws present in the two New Zealand productions might have been a result of trying to do too much.
Of the trio though, Hyde & Seek is comfortably the best. It follows murder cop Gary Hyde (get it?!), played by ex-leaguie Matt Nable, who's auditioning for Russell Crowe's taciturn tough Australian spot and seems a good bet to get it. He's the one whose partner gets blown up at the start, and who then has to go to his son's birthday party and tell Nick's pregnant partner than her husband's passed.
It's upsetting news, so she's upset. But everyone else is weirdly unruffled, up to and including his partner and bestie Nable. A commanding officer tells him "this isn't a vendetta - you make it one you're off the case", yet he mostly seems a bit frustrated. The most jarring element of the opening episode is its emotional calibration: a beloved colleague and expectant father is blown up and the most annoying thing for all affected seems to be the jurisdictional squabbling it creates within the investigation.
The fact is Hyde & Seek didn't need the bomb - once it's rolling it does fine. There's a chain of events under way which see the scope of the investigation and its implications widen every few minutes. The cop gets renditioned out of a routine interview by the federal police; the dead man's a Kiwi; he's there under an assumed name; he's doing electrics at a hotel where a big political conference is due to be held; he's linked to the Madrid bombings; he's associated with some suspected Islamic terrorists; hence yet another slick dude gets to tell Nable that he "doesn't have appropriate clearance".
It's a lot to take in.
What it means is we have the pace of a mystery of the week crime show and the scope of a Homeland-style sprawling intergovernmental investigation. The two styles sit vaguely uneasily beside one another, but the performances and a more terse, clipped writing than Filthy/Dirty mean it mostly carries it off.
The conclusion, in which the arrest of some purported terrorists becomes a sniper-ridden bloodbath, is both the most ludicrous and tense moment of the debut episode. If the position of the assailants is unclear to all, and the sense of a routine crime having gotten unimaginably huge on all the participants is clear and impressively conveyed.
It wasn't enough - the Hyde & Seek hasn't been renewed for a second season. But it shows that the team TVNZ has backed to make its big budget television isn't incapable of turning out taut, entertaining television. We'll have to wait until the return of Filthy Rich later this year to see whether they've learned enough across the ditch to raise that series above its hokey debut.