Troppo review: addictive Queensland detective drama – with crocodiles | Television & radio


How do you get a creature feature broadcast on ABC TV, which has an average viewer age of approximately 105? You smuggle it into a show about an outback detective! I’m being slightly facetious, although this is actually the style in which the first episode of the entertaining and moreish tropical Queensland-set crime drama Troppo begins: with a perturbed-looking bloke dressed in undies getting munched on by a crocodile.

A group of sightseers are on a boat steered by a tour guide with a flair for the theatrical, talking up the foul stench of a croc’s breath and how human bodies make it “reek of death.” Then the aforementioned man summons the reptile’s attention and swims towards it – making this an apparent “suicide by crocodile”.

In terms of icky genre thrills and spills, the show’s creator, Yolanda Ramke, has form: she co-directed the 2017 zombie movie Cargo, starring Martin Freeman as an infected man desperately trying to find someone to look after his wee bub before he turns into a flesh-muncher.

Filling a surprising gap in the outback TV detective genre, notwithstanding the excellent albeit comparatively recent Mystery Road spin-offs, this eight-part series, inspired by Candice Fox’s bestselling book Crimson Lake, is addictive in an airport novel sort of way: steeped in formula but quite appealingly written, performed and directed (by Jocelyn Moorhouse, Catherine Millar, Grant Brown and Ben Howling).

Troppo is ‘steeped in formula but quite appealingly written, performed and directed’
Troppo is ‘steeped in formula but quite appealingly written, performed and directed’. Photograph: Daniel Asher Smith/ABC

At its core is an amusingly testy dynamic between the two principal characters. The tattoo-covered, shaved-headed Amanda (Nicole Chamoun) is toughness personified: lots of steely looks and attitude-filled dialogue (including “touch my shit, I break your face!”). The other is former cop Ted (US fly-in Thomas Jane, star of 2004’s The Punisher) who we meet while indulged in a bit of hard drinkin’ and is potentially suicidal – but also a decent bloke. We know that because he takes pity on an injured goose and brings it to the vet, continuing a long tradition of softening hard men by associating them with cute animals (think Tony Soprano and his ducks and John Wick and his doggo).

Troppo trailer

We briefly meet the lead engineer of a deep sea mining company, Park Jong Min (Sonny Le), who pours whiskey into his laptop keyboard – causing it to malfunction (which I do from time to time, but for him it’s intentional) – then goes missing. Park’s wife, Yoon Sun (Sun Park), only hires the inexperienced Amanda, a wannabe private investigator, to track him down after Amanda assures her that she has an old gumshoe partner with more runs on the board – then wrangles assistance from Ted.

The pair make a reasonably entertaining combination, Amanda testy in a “don’t have time for this” manner and Ted in the wearier way of a “been there, done that” defeatist. Intensity-wise she cranks the dial up and he turns it down – though both performances are heightened in slightly odd ways, as if from separate narrative universes. Jane does the rough blokey-bloke down under thing, with his wide brimmed hat and his gruffness, and Chamoun is the cosmopolitan type more likely to be hanging about in a laneway than a cornfield.

They go snooping around, sticking their noses into places they don’t belong and narrowly escape dangerous situations – you know the drill. When we see Damien Garvey (so good at playing slippery characters) appear as the CEO of the deep sea mining company, Dellagua, we know it must be hiding some kind of jiggery-pokery. Detective stories often present vertical narratives, in the sense they build a hierarchy for characters on a lower social level (Jack Irish, for instance) to penetrate.

Amanda (Nicole Chamoun) and Ted (Thomas Jane) in the first episode of Troppo
Amanda (Nicole Chamoun) and Ted (Thomas Jane) in the first episode. Photograph: Daniel Asher Smith/ABC

The tour guide from the chompalicious introductory scene returns to deliver a title drop in episode two (this review encompasses the first four), discussing how it’s about time someone took an interest in his community, because “the whole place is out of whack”, with crocodiles “acting up” and people “going troppo, driven mad by the tropical heat”. It’s a shame that this heat had to be referenced rather than expressed visually: the show would have benefited from a hot, sticky look – like in These Final Hours or Phillip Noyce’s 1982 film, Heatwave – rather than its airier, lighter, even autumnal aesthetics.

There’s not much originality in the writing, but the dynamic between the two bothered characters works for the aforementioned reasons and the pace has a decent ebb and flow. The tropical Queensland location allows for some fun settings and scenarios – from wildlife interactions to a man (played by Simon Lyndon, aka Jimmy Loughnan in Chopper) whose version “of an apple a day” is injecting himself with snake venom. You don’t get that in the CBD; at least not at your local chemist. Nor do you tend to see, on the ABC, outside of nature documentaries, shows with beastly predators and grisly deaths.

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