Boxset Tuesday: The Bad Seed (season one) (New Zealand: TVNZ 1; UK: Alibi)

A murder-mystery that becomes something better

The Bad Seed

In New Zealand: Aired on TVNZ 1 in April
In the UK: Tuesdays, 9pm, Alibi. Starts May 14

On the whole, New Zealand doesn’t produce a lot of top-tier drama. Mostly, the schedules are filled with US and UK imports, plus some local entertainment shows, but original dramas are rare. Good dramas – and I do mean dramas, rather than comedy dramas such as Fresh Eggs and The Brokenwood Mysteries – are about as rare as unicorn droppings.

It’s unsurprising, therefore, that when an actual bona fide, home-grown decent drama shows up, New Zealand makes something of a song and a dance about it.

Dean O'Gorman and Matt Minto in TVNZ1's The Bad Seed
Dean O’Gorman and Matt Minto in TVNZ1’s The Bad Seed

The Bad Seed

The Bad Seed, based on two books by New Zealand novelist Charlotte Grimshaw, originally aired as an ‘event series’ over five nights on main channel TVNZ 1. Billed as ‘the birth of a new breed of New Zealand drama’, it’s certainly a bit different from its predecessors of the past five to 10 years or so in having an eye on both domestic and international distribution – the international language of TV being the crime drama. So dedicated to drama is it that Madeleine Sami (The Breaker Upperers) fails to make even one joke.

The show sees Matt Minto (The Blue Rose) and Dean O’Gorman (The Hobbit, The Almighty Johnsons, Trumbo, Westside) playing two brothers who are products of a broken home: dad seems to have done such crappy things to them that Minto’s getting sent to borstal was actually a welcome relief to him and who knows about what mum did.

However, Minto got his life together. He went to university and is now a doctor. He’s married to Jodie Hillock and has two teenage daughters. He’s caught the eye of would-be PM Xavier Horan (Westside) and his wife Chelsie Preston Crayford (The Code). He even lets his brother live in the guest house, in return for which he helps out with odd jobs and looks after Hillock and the daughters when necessary.

Unfortunately, Minto also has a bit of a wandering eye and is having an affair with Keporah Torrance for reasons even he finds a bit mystifying. Is he broken inside thanks to the years of abuse he suffered?

It’s a question that others start asking themselves when Minto is implicated in the murder of one of his patients and it’s discovered that he beat up a girl when he was 13. Is Minto a bad seed in the heart of his seemingly perfect family? Is there even a bad seed inside him? It’s something cops Sami and Vinnie Bennett hope to find out.

Full review after the jump, but a word of warning – I will have to reveal who the murderer is to discuss it properly, although the show itself does the same very quickly so I won’t be spoiling too much.

Vinnie Bennett and Madeleine Sami in TVNZ1's The Bad Seed
Vinnie Bennett and Madeleine Sami in TVNZ1’s The Bad Seed

Not what you think it is

Episode one of The Bad Seed seems relatively conventional. It introduces us to Minto and his family, sets up the initial crime and puts the cops onto Minto’s scent.

Conventional… and boring, in fact. Indeed, given my dislike of crime dramas in general and the fact it was so conventional, I almost didn’t bother watching any more of it.

However, given Dean O’Gorman was in it and the fact TVNZ had billed it so highly, it made me think there might be more to it – and I was right.

Episode two flips the show into something different. Because midway through it, we find out exactly whodunnit – it’s O’Gorman, who is the titular Bad Seed. It’s not wholly unexpected, since it was a bit weird having one of New Zealand’s most successful actors playing such a meek supporting role, plus the title somewhat suggests it’s not Minto. All the same, revealing it so quickly was surprising.

After that, the show becomes something very different: a power-play between O’Gorman and Minto, as the former brother tries to inveigle his way further into the family (particularly Hillock)’s affections while incriminating his brother even more. Why’s he doing it and will he succeed? All is revealed by the final episode, but it has to be said, O’Gorman’s not half bad at it, so Minto’s in pretty serious trouble.

Indeed, as Minto is so guilty-looking, it’s unsurprising that Sami spends most of her time trying to bang him to rights. Consequently and to avoid Minto constantly being behind bars, the show adds various sub-plots involving Horan and Crayford that give Minto some get out of jail free cards. These he uses copiously to continue trying to prove his innocence to the police and everyone else.

Matt Minto in TVNZ's The Bad Seed
Matt Minto in TVNZ’s The Bad Seed

Too short

Whether it’s because The Bad Seed is two books distilled into one series or it’s simply bad writing, everything takes a turn for the odd at the end of the fourth episode when O’Gorman basically strongly hints to Minto that he’s been punked. So much for all that careful plotting.

The final episode is then (spoiler alert) high melodrama, with the cops quickly realising they’ve after the wrong brother, O’Gorman creeping out Hillock then taking hostages, shootouts and more.

The story then more or less ends. The plotline involving Horan and Crayford is never concluded, and we never really find out why O’Gorman spent years lying in wait before suddenly deciding to go a-murdering.

It’s a shame, because up until the end, it was pretty decent. Okay, everything involving ‘freelance journalist’ Kelson Henderson was daft and there’s an incident involving some steps that laugh-out-loud ridiculous. But I was enjoying O’Gorman’s mindgames and I wanted to know where Horan and Crayford’s storyline was going, since there was a nice hint of House of Cards to both.

Jodie Hillock and Matt Minto in TVNZ1's The Bad Seed
Jodie Hillock and Matt Minto in TVNZ1’s The Bad Seed

Not so Bad Seed

While I had been hoping for something better, based on all the reasonably smart mindgames of the mid-episodes, The Bad Seed isn’t a bad show and it certainly carries the viewer through to the end, leaving you wanting more. O’Gorman’s great and marvellously two-faced, while Minto is suitably worked up for most of the show.

It’s just a shame that it had more material than it knew what to do with and couldn’t quite come up with a strong enough conclusion to match what had gone before it.

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