As winter draws to a close, so Winter begins, an Australian crime serial which itself seems caught between seasons, unable to figure out which generation of television it belongs to. The show, spun off from a well-received telefeature, follows Eve Winter, a tough, take-no-shit murder cop " sound familiar? " played by Rebecca Gibney.
She's joined by a solid cast, including ex-league player Matt Nable and ex-soapie Peter O'Brien as grizzled " aren't they all? " detectives. New Zealander Antonia Prebble also stars, in a more prickly role as a young, marginalised detective.
The show covers a pair of crimes, one murder, one hit-and-run, the victims a pair of striking young women. One investigation is federal, the other state. They're linked by tattoos and old friendships, by a cold case and family secrets.
It opens with flashes of the moments leading up to the incidents, each moody and alarming, neither outcome resolved. While impactful in isolation, it also feels like a modern slasher movie, over-the-top, showy.
Then we're dropped into domestic bliss, two small children playing happily, cartoons buzzing in the background. Grandma arrives, happy, excited, blissfully unaware. She asks after their mother. "Mummy isn't here," says the 4-year-old, distractedly. Then the slow realisation that something is badly awry seeps in.
The scenes are the strongest of the opening episode, and feel similar to those of Broadchurch, one of a number of contemporary shows that Winter is seeking to emulate. And frustratingly, had they simply chopped those stylised opening crime scenes and let the domestic scene open we'd have been much more engaged, and shocked. That kind of heavy hand, of not trusting the audience's ability to respond emotionally without big, loud signals, intruded too often in what was otherwise a promising start.
The opening episode was composed of equal parts tension and release. The problem being that the tension was released by moments of overly dull scripting, rather than artful plot machinations. An example: when Winter's inquiries are blocked by the parallel federal case, a detective warns Winter, "Be careful Eve - start messing with a federal investigation and they're not going to like it."
Such a redundant line! We already know Eve is driven. We already know the Feds are arrogant and dismissive. Worse, we already know that this type of show, centred on a long-running case, works best when it trusts the viewer's intelligence. Top of the Lake, The Fall, both versions of The Killing and even our own Harry showed police as flawed and human, perpetrators found in unexpected places, driven by complex motivations.
The first criminal we meet on Winter is a caricature: "A former mercenary, with a long list of priors." A mercenary! Do they even exist? We see police in full riot gear, bashing down a door, followed by a confession elicited in around 20 seconds. Later the hit-and-run victim awakens from her coma ... with no memory!
It's very familiar from the CSI-style of drama, where the necessity of wrapping a case in 40 minutes leads to dramatic leaps being taken, and a pact between the audience and creators that while the show will be ridiculous, it will be entertaining.
The reason this frustrates with Winter is that there is the basis of a very good show buried underneath the hoarier techniques. The cases are mysterious, and the style, opening aside, is quiet, domestic, allowing suburban dread to creep in. The female leads mostly acquit themselves well, while the men's machismo is at least recognisably Australian. Hopefully the dully familiar elements will slide away as the series progresses, revealing the hard-core of the crime, which remains bloody and compelling, at Winter's heart.