Three's marketing for its new crime drama The Gulf has dubbed the show "New Zealand's answer to Broadchurch".
It's a bold comparison. Usually such statements are compensating for something such as the bigger the brag, the poorer the show. Thankfully, that's not the case with The Gulf.
It may not have the same pedigree as Broadchurch (or include David Tennant shouting "murder" in his Scottish accent), but it's proving to be one of the more compelling local shows of the year.
Set on Waiheke Island, this six-part German-New Zealand co-production does share some parallels with Broadchurch, most notably a lead detective who's unravelling alongside their investigation and a seaside location that looms beautifully — and menacingly — over everything.
Unlike Broadchurch, however, where its story began with a young boy being found dead, The Gulf's spider web of mysteries begins when a traumatised young boy named Nathan (Niko Clare) is found alive five years after going missing on a school trip.
Kate Elliott stars as Detective Jess Savage, the investigator who originally concluded Nathan had likely drowned. Despite the fact she's recovering from a horrific car crash that killed her husband and left her with amnesia, she gets back to work on Nathan's case alongside Detective Justin Harding (Ido Drent), a colleague she has little time for.
While Justin gets busy poking holes in the original case (and putting a few local noses out of joint in the process) Jess is on intertwining missions of her own — finding Nathan's kidnapper and investigating her growing suspicions that her car crash was no accident.
For Jess, that means examining events both from five years ago and just a few days ago, a process that her foggy brain and bruised body is increasingly relying on morphine to do. And as we saw in Monday night's premiere, it's taking its toll.
Elliott is superb as her character battles grief and confusion both at home and at work, emotions that she said were easy to reach on this particular job. The actor told the Herald last week that she was "pretty broken" herself while working on The Gulf.
"I was walking round like a raw nerve for most of last year, so everything was on the surface anyway; it was all right there for me to access," she said.
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It sure was.
Jess' pain — both physical and psychological — is clear as she goes about her investigations. And while a tortured detective with a lot of demons and little in the way of social skills might be a common TV trope, in Elliott's hands, this character's far from cliché.
It also helps that the cast working alongside Elliott is very good. Pana Hema-Taylor and Mark Mitchinson are as dependable as ever, while newcomer Timmie Cameron delivers a fine performance as Jess' daughter, Ruby.
But it's Elliott's rapport with Drent that flows best. As a duo, they've managed to perfect the air of colleagues who barely tolerate each other. It's a weird kind of anti-chemistry that works really well, especially in a setting as moody as the Waiheke Island they've drawn on here.
The Gulf's Waiheke isn't the island we usually see on influencers' Instagram pages, where it's all poses with wine glasses in hand and sparkling blue water in the background.
Instead, the audience gets a darker, wilder — but still beautiful — Waiheke that suits the show's shadowy subject matter perfectly.
While The Gulf opened with a genuinely absorbing mystery on Monday night, the show only adds to these layers of intrigue next week. The relative slow burn of the first episode also gives way to much pacier action by the second chapter, though it's still not obvious where this tale is going to take us.
What I do know is that in an age where you can usually get a whole season of a show to stream in one fell swoop, it's going to be frustrating in the extreme to wait seven whole days for a new episode of The Gulf.
But I also know I'm going to look forward to taking this dark and twisty little trip down to Waiheke each week.
The Gulf screens on Mondays at 8.30pm on Three.