The recent influx of small-town set mysteries is enough to make your head spin, but this trend is nothing new. The small town is a natural setting for conflict, perhaps more so since the highly influential 1973 film, The Wicker Man – each one its own incestuous hotbed of gossip and intrigue and surprise.
It’s a location perfect for a ‘Character Personae’, a cast of colourful characters shaped by a claustrophobic world, and for the ‘fish out of water’ protagonist — a lead character forced to penetrate or negotiate the traps of a small town-with-a-secret.
Of television’s small towns, which would we approach without caution?
Twin Peaks, Washington [Twin Peaks]
A place where grief comes in the form of dance, mimicking birds witness murders, and identical cousins turn up without seeming soapy. A place of sensuality and nightmares. Oh, and of even more dance.
While were unsure whether we’d make it out alive, and thanks to the rough certainty of psychological scarring, wouldn’t know whether we’d want to either.
Would we want to visit? Yes, but just to say we did.
Lillehammer, Norway [Lilyhammer]
A pretty town doesn’t always equal a riveting town, which is why we can empathise with antihero and New York City mobster Frank “The Fixer” Tagliano when he starts a comparatively snail-pace existence in a dot of a town in a remote part of Norway.
Though, as Frank’s a man known to attract excitement, and because it has a TV narrative to maintain, this quiet town might just end up more interesting —and full of potential, than initially feared.
Would we want to visit? It seems inevitable that any overnight stay will turn into a more permanent stay.
Seyðisfjörður, Iceland [Trapped]
There’s something a little gorgeous —albeit unpronounceable— about the freezing little portside town of Seyðisfjörður. We couldn’t rule out a visit - perhaps for a night’s layover, at a time where no stray Ferry’s are on approach. If Andri was in a good mood he might cook us up a whale BBQ.
Would we want to visit? Depends on the time of year/state of emergency.
Kiruna, Sweden [Midnight Sun]
The show Midnight Sun relishes in existing Nordic Noir tropes and uses it to tell its own story, which, frankly, is a little bit concerning as a potential visitor. What with the strong likelihood that you will meet your grissly demise, and all.
Would we want to visit? The show exposed viewers to the little-known Indigenous Sami people of Sweden, their traditions and culture, lends a fresh and lived-in feel to the proceedings, creating the perfect climate for mystery. We'll visit and take our chances.
Cicely, Alaska [Northern Exposure]
Unfazed by coming across as pretentious, Northern Exposure was a thoroughly entertaining abridged course in cultural history.
A place where art and poetry and music and philosophy and the treatment of your fellow man is at the forefront of everyone’s mind and heart and any conflict always leads to a lesson and a restoration of order.
Deliciously optimistic and open to feeling life’s full gamete of emotions, these few hundred citizens make as attractive a microcosm as humanly possible.
Would we want to visit? Expletive, yes. If only to listen to Chris In The Morning.
Rome, Wisconsin [Picket Fences]
Light-hearted and idiosyncratic (I’m trying really hard not to use the word quirky, as the word has lost all its meaning), David E. Kelly’s Emmy-hogging series may have run out of steam a few seasons in, but when it shined it shined, tickling ribs and touching hearts with a series of left-of-center court cases and character conflicts.
Would we want to visit? Of course, but just as long as we never became Mayor - those guys never made it out of town alive.
Pearl Bay [Seachange]
After her husband’s infidelity (with her own sister) uproots high flying city lawyer Laura Gibson’s (Sigrid Thornton) city life, she takes her two children and starts anew as the magistrate of the small coastal town of Pearl Bay.
Taking a leaf out of Northern Exposure’s book and offering up a cast of characters with which we can’t help but fall in love at the same rate as the initially wary protagonist.
Would we want to visit? Yes. With such memorable supporting characters as David Wenham’s Diver Dan, and considering it only took creators Deb Cox and Andrew Knight 39 episodes to create an Aussie classic, our answer is obviously ‘yes’.
Poor personal hygiene and surprise flashes of ultra-violence aside, Deadwood might be a fairly interesting place to visit, but it’s impossible to put aside the poor hygiene and ultra-violence considering both are mainstays of every episode.
Therefore the only way we’d really want to visit is if Deadwood were a fun-park with no lasting consequences, a la Westworld.
Would we want to visit? The real wild west was a pretty scary place and there's no Radiohead playing on the saloon piano, so we're giving this one a hard pass.
Midnight Sun got us thinking about small towns on TV. That show continues with double-episodes on Thursday nights at 9:35PM on SBS, or catch-up from the beginning on On Demand: