• Dead Lucky stars Yoson An and Rachel Griffiths (SBS)
Go deep into Dead Lucky with TV and Film critic Anthony Morris as he recaps the first episode of the new Australian crime drama.
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25 Jul 2018 - 10:20 PM  UPDATED 25 Jul 2018 - 10:20 PM

Dead Lucky begins with a corpse. Well, it begins with Mani (Mojean Aria) looking down at a corpse on a convenience store floor. But before we can get to who’s who and what’s what, we flash back to Mani and his girlfriend Bo-Lin (Xana Tang) having fun on a secluded beach.

So either this is going to be a show where people get murdered in armed robberies, or Mani is the latest arrival at Summer Bay. We then cut to a mysterious figure with a gun in his glove box; so I guess the Home & Away crossover will have to wait.

Still, that brief moment of happiness is vital: with all the bad things that lie ahead, it’s really important to establish that for Mani and Bo-Lin, Australia is a place with a lot to offer. It’s just that the good stuff is all up front and obvious; it’s not until you try to make a living here that you find out that every day isn’t all fun on the beach. So while Bo-Lin is running off to the Sydney Opera House for an audition, Mani is rushing to his convenience store job, where he promptly gets a gun shoved in his face. But the opening wasn’t a flash-forward to this scene: while the store is robbed by a gun-toting maniac who demands his victims light his (stolen) cigarettes for him, no-one (this time) gets shot. The murder is yet to come.

Across town, Detective Grace Gibbs (Rachel Griffiths) is having an anger management session. She’s has been asked to bring in a “special object” that will “take her to a safe space”; she pulls out a used biro. “It’s blue,” she says, “very calming”. You can tell her shrink is on the ball because she says “I don’t think you’re taking this seriously”. But no-one out-zingers Gibbs, who explains she’s only in anger management because “some people think I’m angry and they happen to be in management”. The humour’s important here: a lot of police dramas think a tough cop with issues is automatically interesting, not realising that spending time with someone who’s constantly pissed-off can rapidly become a drag. Griffiths establishes her entire character with just a few expressions; when the call comes in about the store hold-up it’s no surprise she’s out of there so fast there’s a Rachel Griffiths-shaped puff of smoke left behind.

On her way to fight crime, she runs into constable Charlie Fung (Yoson An) for a brief yet mysterious chat about how “he’s back” and “you’re a friend of Anna’s” – but before we can get answers we’re at the crime scene where answers await: both a wrist tattoo and a fondness for Island Gold cigarettes identify the armed robber as Corby Baxter (Ian Meadows), who killed a cop in a previous robbery investigated by Gibbs. Fung arrives with Anna (Anna Samson) in tow, which seems a little odd until it’s revealed that a): she’s also a cop and b): the cop Baxter killed was her husband. This time it’s personal!

Bo-Lin’s Opera House audition isn’t going so well, mostly because she seems to be auditioning in front of the League of Snobby Old Folk, who quickly tell her that despite rocking the violin, they can’t accept anyone not fully committed financially to music. “Teachers here are very expensive,” Bo-Lin tells them, “everything is”. This scene might not be subtle, but how often does someone say on Australian television the truth - that life here really is expensive? It’s a short scene with a side character, but it’s still heartbreaking the way her obvious talent just doesn’t cut it without money to back it up.

Back at the scene of the crime, Mr and Mrs Hodge, AKA the convenience store owners, have arrived just in time to see Anna stress-vomit all over their floor. “There’s sick on my floor!” says Erica Hodge (Justine Clarke), in the first of many classic one-liners she’ll deliver this episode. Erica is one of those racists who are tempting to dismiss as being over-the-top, before you remember how unapologetic most racists really are. It’s not even that she’s motivated by hate; she just sees her workforce as something to be exploited. It’s the dark side of our much-lauded small business community, and while it’s uncomfortable to watch, it’s also very much true-to-life.

The cops then split up to take everyone home: Gibbs warns Anna she’s too close to this case so back off (because Gibbs is clearly already snuggled up to this case and is making wedding plans), while Fung takes Mani back to his overcrowded share house. There Bo-Lin says “they don’t even pay you properly”, which is maybe not something you should say to your overseas student boyfriend right in front of a cop. But at least the flamboyant ladies man of the house gets to dance around while saying things like “you need to lieeeeeeeeeve”, promptly making him the breakout star of this series.

We then cut to Hodges mansion, home of the most on-point family portrait ever.

Notice how the extremely henpecked Mr Hodge (Simon Burke) is literally on his knees:

 

There Mrs Hodge says things like “We’ll have to cut wages”, “They’re still getting 12 an hour – make it 10” and “if they complain, we’ll have them deported,” while her husband stands around displaying as much backbone as a bendy straw. It seems that being robbed on a weekly basis puts your insurance premiums up, but she has a plan: “Tomorrow morning Jackson’s going to basketball, I’ve got a Zumba class, and you’re going to buy a gun.”

Gibbs is now reflecting on how Anna’s husband died, which is a little creepy considering she’s staring at her daughter’s bed at the time. But after all the build-up it’s almost a relief to see that Baxter kills Anna’s husband in a fashion that makes sense story-wise. It’s hardly plausible that a gun-toting thrill-killer could escape detection for long; if the cops are looking for him and he’s looking for cops (to kill), this is a cat and mouse game that’ll be lucky to make it to the second commercial break. But Baxter simply hits him with his car while fleeing the scene – it’s a crime more of opportunity than a naked lust for blood, and it keeps the manhunt subplot firmly grounded. Mind you, he does laugh maniacally afterwards.

It’s family time for Gibbs as she takes her daughter swimming, then returns her to her ex (ex-rugby star Matthew Nable). They seem on good terms until his new girlfriend (Upper Middle Bogan’s Annie Maynard) shows up. It’s not exactly news that Australia has a massive amount of acting talent on offer but it really can’t be said often enough, and this depth of casting really goes a long way towards making each scene memorable. Mostly because Maynard is excellent at selling passive-aggressive lines like “let’s do this later, when Grace has calmed down”. Bad move: GRACE GIBBS NEVER CALMS DOWN. Just to prove it, Gibbs promptly goes over to visit Baxter’s heavily pregnant sister and tears through her place making threats while looking for evidence she’s hiding her murderous brother.

Over at Fung’s house, his parents fit him for a suit that they openly admit they stole from their dry-cleaning business (Fung has really got to work on being menacing if he wants people to stop discussing their crimes in front of him). He tries to tell them there’s no way he’s going to be promoted to detective over the super-competent Anna, but it turns out he’s better at playing politics than even he realised; it seems Anna’s crime scene vomit (which, after all, only happened because he took her there) has ruled her out of the promotion – which the top cop (Rhys Muldoon) then awards to Fung right in front of her. He’s embarrassed, she’s pissed off, he takes it out on a passing Gibbs because he blames her for Anna’s husband’s death and then Gibb reveals that she’s going to be his supervising detective for the next year. So maybe Fung isn’t so good at the politics after all.

Mr Hodge is now buying a gun from his wife’s dodgy cousin Ivan, a man who refuses to say the word “gun” but has no problem putting a tray full of them on his shop counter in full view of any passer-by on the street. Still, Mr Hodges is the kind of guy who feels smart for figuring out that “pet supplies” means guns, so this isn’t exactly a Mensa meeting. Also, great shop sign:

Gibbs and Fung are working the case, which largely means having the other cops treat Fung like crap while saying to Gibbs “I thought the other one was going to get the job”. But they do find the getaway car, which eventually leads them to find Baxter’s sister bashed unconscious out the back of her work. It seems Baxter saw Gibbs hanging around and didn’t approve of his sister’s choice of friends and decided to express his displeasure physically.

One of the less obvious themes of this episode has been family: Gibbs’s daughter seems her only anchor, Fung’s supportive parents go a long way towards explaining why he’s the only nice guy on the force, and the Hodges aren’t exactly a model family no matter how many Zumba classes they take. But even with family shown as not exactly being a universal safe space, Baxter bashing his sister feels like it’s crossing a line. Is his violence going to be enough to push her to talk? Or will Fung’s hunch about the source of the cigarettes found in her house be enough to finally link her definitively to her brother?

The run of bad families continues with Bo-Lin’s Skype session with her mum, who it turns out had Bo-Lin filmed(!) kissing Mani and now wants her to come home. This is hot on the heels of Mani quitting his job after he turned up to find Mr and Mrs Hodges taking the security cameras down and telling him “it’s up to you lot to step up and protect this business” while handing him a gun. Those good times on the beach at the start of this episode sure do seem a long way away.

Still, it could be worse: after catching her making out with the gun, Mr Hodge snaps and dumps his wife to go live his dreams of moving into hardware sales. But no sooner does he call up the now jobless and very unhappy Mani to promise to pay him his unpaid wages than a mysterious figure comes into the store. Over the phone Mani hears “don’t shoot”, followed by a noise that -could- be a gunshot. Mani starts running, but he’s got a long way to go – then again, as we saw at the start of the episode, he’s also had a lot of practice running to work.

And then in one final twist, it turns out that was Mr Hodge dead on the floor at the start of the episode. With Mani standing over the body and no-one else in sight, he’s the obvious suspect. But is this a case of him being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or was Mani so angry over bad treatment and unpaid wages – and with obvious prime suspect Baxter still loose to take the blame – that he would resort to murder? 

Dead Lucky airs Wednesday nights on SBS at 9:30pm. You can watch the first episode at SBS On Demand:

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