Unashamedly silly and undeniably binge-worthy, Tidelands is murder-mystery meets CW fantasy show meets Australia’s Next Top Model.
Someone once told me that in Australia you’re never more than a couple of meters away from something that can kill you, and having been there I can confirm that this is basically true. But it obviously wasn’t true enough for the creators of Netflix’s new Original Series Tidelands, which debuts on the platform today. (Among other things.) Now, alongside the indigenous wildlife, there’s a new threat in the Outback: mermaids.
Apparently the more believable term is “sirens”, but look – they’re mermaids. And either way mythical fish monsters are a weird proposition in a show that is primarily interested in drug trafficking. But Tidelands just doesn’t give a ****. It doesn’t play coy, doesn’t tease the reveal, none of that; it just comes right out and says, “Here’s a mermaid.” And why not? If you’re going to make a crime drama full of absurdly beautiful people and traumatic family secrets and whatnot, why not just stick a mermaid in it?
This predilection towards doing whatever the hell it wants is what makes Tidelands so eminently binge-worthy, and I’m sure it’ll find an audience who gobble up the breezy eight-episode season like nobody’s business. It has all the right ingredients: sex, violence, family drama, old secrets, seductive mythical creatures. What’s not to like? Shows like this always seem to make a splash (sorry) with the streaming crowd, and being an Australian import it has the luxury of not putting off people who’re too lazy to read subtitles.
If we’re being frank it doesn’t have much substance. It pays lip service to various themes and ideas but mostly ignores them in favour of leaning heavily into the silliness. It’s pretty half-arsed about its worldbuilding and hilariously unsubtle about its character development. Its erstwhile ex-con protagonist Calliope ‘Cal’ McTeer (Charlotte Best) is established in a brawl with two butch prison chicks, for instance, and things hardly become low-key from there. Co-creators and writers Stephen M. Irwin and Leigh McGrath are obviously aware, on some level, that this probably should be explored or at least legitimised, but they’re also aware that there’s a certain rabid section of the television demographic that wants to see unreasonably attractive people frolic with fabled creatures. And there’s plenty of that material to be chewing through.
I mean, put it this way. Do you want to know about how economic anxiety and living within society’s margins relates to the incarceration rates of young women, or do you want to know how Cal’s brother Augie’s (Aaron Jakunbenko) drug-running enterprise relates to a globetrotting mermaid commune? I already know the answer. And so does Tidelands.
Jonathon is the Co-Founder of Ready Steady Cut and has been Senior Editor and Chief Critic of the outlet since 2017.