Review: Tidelands, Netflix
The first original Netflix series filmed in Australia, Tidelands, is a speculative story about half-human/half-siren beings who live in the coastal Queensland town of Orphelin Bay. The story follows the return to the bay of Calliope (Cal), after she has spent time in jail for alleged arson. Tidelands has a lot of expectations to live up to. Unfortunately, it doesn’t always meet them.IMDb
The initial episodes offer a strong, if not overly creative, premise. Supernatural beings are meddling in the world of humanity. It is an idea previously encountered in Interview with a Vampire and TV series such as Being Human, Teen Wolf and the Canadian series Bitten.
In Tidelands, the offspring of sirens and a mortal man, known as “tidelanders”, have various supernatural abilities. They can control the flow of water (and by extension blood), breathe underwater, are inhumanly fast and strong, and can influence people using their voices. (The latter ability is attributed to the sirens of Greek myth.)
But aside from the inhuman strength - which is routinely demonstrated- these abilities are left largely unexplored.
The cast is divided in two primary groups, the titular tidelanders and their queen Adrielle (Elsa Pataky), and the humans. The town, seemingly based on fishing, is actually the centre of a drug cartel, the drugs supplied by the tidelanders and sold by the humans.
Successive plots revolve around keeping the cartel running, the discovery of ancient artefacts, tensions between the town people, the tidelanders’ adultery, and several murders. Calliope’s brother runs the drug operation, and the town’s people suspect the tidelanders of the murders. There’s also a rebellion amongst the tidelanders, which draws in almost the entire cast.IMDb
The tidelanders themselves present an attractive, sexually diverse cast. The series includes lesbian and bisexual women (but not gay men), and has a notable variety in ethnicity. The townspeople, in contrast, are mostly white Australian actors. The tidelanders also live in a settlement outside of Orphelin Bay, perhaps referencing Romani camps of today.
Plotwise, the series contains many narratives - too many really. Many are left unresolved by the end of the season. There are multiple murders and romances, mysterious prophecies, and ancient artefacts.
The show has something of an identity crisis. It is not a procedural drama, nor an extended murder investigation, or supernatural romance. The result is a tangled confusion of storylines, all enjoyable to watch, but in need of greater exposition.
The cast members do deliver excellent performances but their characters aren’t explored deeply enough. This is, in part, because of the number of story lines but also because a lot of the time, nudity and sex are used as temporary resolutions to sub-plots, distracting from more major plotlines.
Elsa Pataky’s performance as the aloof, enigmatic queen of the tidelanders, Adrielle, is spectacular. She is graceful and charming, despite the character’s vicious tendencies. Alongside Charlotte Best’s performance as the rebellious outcast Calliope, the two actresses create a superb tension, which drives the first season.
The series is very well filmed, showcasing Australia’s beaches, oceans and small town life. The sets are beautifully made, particularly Adrielle’s manor, which is both austere and fitting for the queen of mysterious supernatural people. This focus on detail and capturing the cast’s expression and movements makes it watchable - but it could use more focus and clarity.
Authors: Adam Turner, PhD student, University of Newcastle