Great TV You Might Be Missing: Cleverman
Sundance is now showing season two of Australian show Cleverman–and if you’re not watching it, you’re missing out.
Set in the near future, the show is about a society of a race from Australian Aboriginal myth–the Hairypeople. In Cleverman, the Hairypeople are presented as a part of the human evolutionary chain (newscasters in the show refer to them as ‘subhuman’, which evokes images of the worst parts of human history), and they’re portrayed incredibly strong, long lived, and covered in a lot of thick hair. They live in a walled ghetto alongside human Aboriginals, who seem to be the only group of humans accepting enough to do so.
The story follows aboriginal brothers Waruu and Koen.
Waruu is a somewhat affluent man for where he is, involved in the fight for Hairy rights and often in front of cameras.
Koen is almost Waruu’s opposite–he lives outside the walled ghetto. He runs a bar with his friend, and in the first season he was scamming Hairys who try to escape the ghetto. Koen shrugs off his Aboriginal heritage and believes the stories of magic and the legacy of the tribal Cleverman (a sort of shamanic protector of the people that intervenes for them in matters of magic and the spirit world) are just fanciful myths. Waruu takes them far more seriously, knowing all of it to be true.
When the men’s uncle–the current Cleverman–dies after summoning a vengeful spirit, his powers pass on to the brother he has chosen…but it’s not the brother who was expecting it.
Koen is imbued with powers he barely begins to understand.
Throughout the first season, he has to come to terms with the heavy responsibility laid on his shoulders, and now in season two it appears he finally understands what’s at stake. The development of the character has been interesting to see, as the uncaring young man turns into a very serious and driven Cleverman.
There are a lot of politics at play, as the ostracized and feared race of Hairypeople are simply trying to live while being treated like a political football. People fear them for their strength and appearance, and things frequently get ugly and frightening. It is immediately clear the humans are the real bad guys.
The interplay between the brothers as they choose their real sides becomes fraught, and both characters become fascinating for differing reasons.
The series also follows a family of Hairypeople who undergo so much hardship and tragedy that it’s easy to see the real-world parallels. A clash between the family and police outside the ghetto ends in a child being shot to death, and the murder shown on broadcast news for all the world to see.
Cleverman is a refreshing change to the usual parade of summer shows–this is no predictable drama of police, medical, or political stripe. These characters are a diverse breath of fresh air in your usual expectations of cable TV.
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