In film and television, a lot of people are drawn to a series or film by the actor and/or star or the director. Generally, it would be because you have seen the actor in previous work that you enjoyed or the director’s body of work appeals. There are, of course, other considerations when it comes to choosing whether to watch something or not – genre, duration – but a trusted name is one of the more common ways to choose.
For me, the writer or creator, when it comes to television especially, is a major consideration. I am the sort of person who the ‘from the mind of..’ Adverts are aimed at when a show or film is being promoted.
If I watch a particularly good show, I will always look to see wrote the show or who the showrunner is on a series. If I see Aaron Sorkin’s name attached to a series, if Christopher Nolan has put out a film, Amy Sherman-Palladino name will always get my attention, as will Gillian Flynn, these are creators who names peak my interest in a project.
The one person that will get me watching anything his name is attached to is Joss Whedon. The creator of Buffy The Vampire Slayer, both the film and the television series, its spin-off, Angel, Agents Of Shield, Dr. Horrible’s Sing A Long Blog and The Avengers amongst other works, Whedon is my favourite writer/creator on the planet.
The reason I mention Whedon is, one of his lesser-known works, Dollhouse, came to mind when I thought about writing this review of another Netflix exclusive series, Tidelands.
Created and written by Stephen M. Irwin, Tidelands is an Australian production about a young woman, Calliope ‘Cal’ McTeer (Charlotte Best), who returns to her hometown after a decade in prison to discover a strange truth about her past.
Admittedly, I found Tidelands for the most part enjoyable. Like a lot of series on Netflix, it is bingeable, only being eight episodes in total. Unlike say, most of the Marvel series, it suffers from being too short.
This is what brought to mind Whedon’s Dollhouse series. Dollhouse was a vehicle for Eliza Dushku, who had been brilliant as Faith in Buffy. In Dollhouse she played Echo, an unwitting operative in a “Dollhouse’ where her mind is wiped and she has a different personality imprinted on it for various missions.
The series was okay, not great but certainly not terrible. Whedon had written a quite brilliant series before, Firefly, – if you have never seen it, you must! – and it was canceled after the first season. He managed to finish the story, in a fashion, with the film, Serenity.
With Dollhouse, still smarting from not being able to see through his vision with Firefly, he got greenlit for a second season. Even though the response to the first season had been lukewarm, he got a truncated second season renewal.
The second season was written and felt as though it knew it was not going to last to a third season. This feeling, this anxiety, was apparent in the work and it made that second season somewhat unsatisfying.
With Tidelands, there is the same feeling. It has a feeling of being ‘Tranked’. What I mean when I say Tranked is a reference to the director, Josh Trank’s much-maligned Fantastic Four – check out the best (worse) review ever here! Trank obviously had a vision for the film, but after the highly publicised clashes with the studio and his subsequent firing, he ended up taking the heat for an, to put it kindly, abrupt film.
Tidelands has exactly the same feel. For six of the eight-episode run, it builds nicely and somewhat cryptically to possible conclusions or stories. Then in the final two episodes, it accelerates to sudden explanations and a bloody conclusion. It just ends, hastily tying up plot lines and killing anything else that cannot be quickly explained.
There had been a lot of critical flack about the acting and looks over story depth aspects that some felt were on show. Admittedly, the early episodes were not so much cryptic as damn right confusing in deciding what sort of a story this was trying to be. The show also suffered a little from having no character with which the viewer could bond with.
Cal was, initially, far too abrasive. Her brother Augie, played by Aaron Jakubenko, was the local drug dealer whose entire gang turn on him by episode four and a couple of his crew were barely trustworthy to begin with.
The main antagonist, Adrielle (Elsa Pataky), is obsessed with collecting bits of pottery clay, which we do not find out the relevance of until the final episode! She rules her clan – she’s the ‘queen’- the Tidelanders, with an iron fist, having one young boy blinded – an eye gouged out – for lying to her. Lovely.
Cal’s mother, Rosa (Caroline Brazier), hates her guts because, as we find out in episode five, Cal is a Tidelander, hence her barely suppressed prejudice makes her instantly unlikable. Adrielle’s allure, which Patasky is perfectly cast for, has the men and women around her fawning over her, ready to her every bidding. One of her older lackey’s, Lamar (Dalip Sondhi), is not so willing to follow her anymore. Not that this story goes anywhere.
There is a nod to homosexuality – it is 2018 after all – with Lamar having an affair with the local police chief. That does not really go anywhere either. Mad lesbian, right-hand woman to Adrielle, Leandra – play by Jet Tranter – gets to show off her great body, murder one of Augie’s guys in the opening episode, gets a bit of beatdown in a later episode and not much else, except to walk around looking dyke-menacing, which I am not sure is a thing outside of prison.
Tidelands really feels horribly rushed, as though the writers were told halfway through the production that they had to wrap it up in the next four episodes. Hence we suffer a lopsided show where, in earlier episodes, there had been a gradual build-up and a smattering of intrigue and excitement, the odd gruesome act to keep the tension high The final episode is just a calamitous, hurried mess.
There is also the old seer, Genoveva (Cate Feldman), who is held by Adrielle in a dungeon and foresees Adrielle’s death, apparently at the hands of Cal. That storyline is wrapped up, vision and all, in about two minutes in the final episode.
It is a shame that the show ends up being so forced, especially as the two leads in Best and Patasky are wonderfully watchable and given some time and scope, I feel the characters could have grown more organically and believably.
With the way the show ended – the less said..! – it seems unlikely the show will get a second season. Netflix is notoriously secretive about their viewing figures, so it is very difficult to know how well a show performs on the streaming service. It seems unlikely that it outperformed any of the more popular shows on the platform.
Tidelands is watchable, though not unmissable. If you are curious and have an urge to binge watch a show on a quiet weekend, you could do worse.