The Gulf

Rating :   ⭐️ ⭐️ ⭐️

Categorisation: Crime drama

Availability: Netflix 

Plot:  This joint New Zealand/German detective series was released in 2019 and spent some time on TV-on-demand in New Zealand before migrating to Netflix. The drama begins when Jess, the main character, and her husband Alex have a dreadful car accident one stormy night. She survives, but he does not.  Clearly injured and with memory loss, Jess struggles to work out what happened that night. Slowly, across the six episodes, she recovers her memory while going about the business of solving crimes on New Zealand’s Waiheke Island – and consuming large quantities of heavy duty painkillers. First, one of her old cases re-emerges, the disappearance and presumed death of a young boy on the island. Then other investigations take her deeper and deeper into the underworld of crime. 

Cast and screenplay: The cast is competent overall, although you have to get past the first episode when there is too much shouting and emotional overacting. But then it settles down and Kate Elliot, playing DSS Jess Savage, does a good job looking fragile, fraught and difficult, particularly in the scenes with her daughter Ruby, also played well by Timmie Cameron. Ido Drent plays an ambitious Justin Harding the junior detective, a character with his own murky background, and Jeffrey Thomas plays the equally murky Doug, Jess’s old boss. There is a lovely example of relaxed and confident film-making when Doug and Jess chat casually together, both leaning on the bonnet of a car, while he eats his ice cream cone. Alison Bruce is understatedly terrific as the local sergeant in charge, Denise Abernathy, as is Pana Hema Taylor as the young constable. The screenplay is heavy-handed at times and you have to suspend disbelief, more than occasionally. At other times though it’s forceful, for example when a local Māori is killed and as his body is moved from the death scene his tribe perform a haka to powerful effect.

Filming and setting: The drama is set on the idyllic Waiheke Island, the second-largest island in the Hauraki Gulf – hence the title of the series. Although it’s New Zealand’s most densely populated island, you wouldn’t know it from this production. Waiheke is presented as an insular village with all the small town characteristics that we have come to expect from detective stories across the world – a somewhat resentful constabulary suddenly being critically overseen by city police, and a small community of people with secrets that they prefer to hide. There are some great shots of the island, and they make a fine job of photographing it.  

Personal Comments:  This is a pretty solid series that generally conforms to a well recognisable crime detective series formula. So it’s a bit short on originality, and the ending would also have benefited from extra thought. But it does have a few surprises, and it’s good to see a kiwi series gaining a wider Netflix audience.

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