It’s been a while since we’ve seen her like this, but Madeleine Sami’s eccentric detective in Deadloch steals every scene.
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The skies are overcast, and a grey mist hangs over everything. The music is eerie, choral voices chiming over dull basslines. “Why wasn’t I alerted to this earlier?” asks senior sergeant Dulcie Collins. She’s standing over the sandy corpse of a man washed up on a beach in the fictional Australian town of Deadloch. A junior police officer admits she didn’t call because she didn’t want to interrupt Collins’ evening. “A dead body trumps work-life balance,” she spits back.
Judging by the beginning of Deadloch, Amazon Prime Video’s latest Australian-produced show, viewers are being prepared for yet another bleak police procedural. The tried-and-true clichés are present and correct: this small town is full of characters, everybody knows everybody else’s business and their friendly smiles bely a darkness bubbling beneath the surface.
Five minutes in, we have a murder mystery on our hands, and everyone – including a giant feral seal perched on a nearby foot bridge – is a suspect.
Kate Box, a familiar screen presence in Australia, plays senior sergeant Collins as stern and straight-faced – she’d fit right in on Happy Valley, Broadchurch or Top of the Lake. Yet Deadloch is not that type of story, and nor is it trying to be. “I’m running the show … and I need a Coke,” declares detective Eddie Redcliffe. She’s stormed into Collins’ urgent police meeting like a hurricane, yelling, “Gidday!”, sneezing, then muttering, “Fuck me, it’s colder than a witch’s tit!”
Redcliffe’s Hawaiian shirt, jandals and laid back attitude mean she stands out in a room full of uniformed police. They don’t even think she works there. Indeed, she does: Redcliffe, played by our own Madeleine Sami, is – here comes another cliche – the big city detective who’s arrived to scour this small town and crack the case. “Alright, dead man in dead lake,” she says, clearing a whiteboard, then realising her mistake. She doesn’t care. “Deadloch? Whatever. Let’s get this over with. How long has shrivelled dick been dead for?”
Welcome back, Madeleine Sami. It’s been a while since we’ve seen the local comedy veteran really going for it. We know she can: across two seasons of her unrepentantly rude 2011 cult comedy caper Super City, she played every single character: a homeless mother, a gym junkie, an inappropriate WINZ staffer, an immigrant taxi driver, and infamous party-girl Pasha. But the last time we really saw her doing her thing was in 2020, when she appeared in the first season of Taskmaster NZ donning yellow gloves to make a caravan disappear.
In Deadloch, Sami’s channelling that Super City kind of energy. Her Detective Redcliffe is there to be the agent of chaos, to upend every scene she’s in. She’s the comedy foil, and you can tell she’s loving every second of it. Instead of the staid police procedural Deadloch could have become, Sami’s performance elevates it to another level. It still hits all those mystery show tropes. If you want a whodunnit, Deadloch delivers. But Sami’s wired, unhinged energy also helps gently mock the very familiar genre the show’s working within.
This could have gone sideways so easily. The show’s creators, Kate McLennan and Kate McCartney, have admitted they thought up the concept while stuck at home with newborns while bingeing Scandi-noir shows. “We started to think, ‘What if you took a show like Broadchurch, tonally, and then just dialled up the comedy – how would that work?’” McLennan told the Sydney Morning Herald.
It’s a fine line to tread, appealing to fans of mysteries and comedies at the same time. Don’t take it far enough and the jokes fall flat. Go too far the other way and you become American Vandal. All of that hinges on Sami, and she probably couldn’t have pulled this off without the experience she had on Super City. “It’s probably one of my favourite characters I’ve ever played,” she told The Spinoff’s podcast The Fold. “She’s like nothing like you’ve ever seen a woman do on screen before – get to be that really brash, aggressive … unlikeable, rough gal.”
Lol? I did, many times. Sami steals many scenes. At one point, she sings the lyrics to Talking Heads’ ‘Psycho Killer’ to rev up her fellow officers, then tells them, “Fly, little piggies”. At another, she’s got a foot up on the desk, mimicking masturbation as a suggestion for what may have happened to the victim. “What do you think, Sarge?” she says. “Is it a tug gone wrong?”
Deadloch offers a rude, crude palate cleanser. At one point, the murder case is thwarted when footage of the murder is interrupted by copulating seagulls. “I’m not going to be here long enough to rub titties with you,” declares Redcliffe at another. During the excellent pilot, there’s a full choir rendition of Divinyls’ raunchy hit ‘I Touch Myself’ complete with an “orgasm breakdown”. Yes, Deadloch is that kind of show.
If you’re burnt out by the tense finales for Succession and Barry (who isn’t?), brutalised by Dead Ringers or Couples Therapy NZ, or feeling savaged by the apocalyptic vibes of The Last of Us or Sweet Tooth, Deadloch is a nice, silly, fun, easy watch, with another brilliantly ridiculous performance by Madeleine Sami at the centre of it. You won’t be troubled by it, but you also won’t be disappointed. In the middle of 2023, just as winter kicks in, that might be the sweet spot everyone needs.