Review: One Lane Bridge 1×1 (New Zealand: TVNZ)

Maori powers enliven a murder-mystery

One Lane Bridge

In New Zealand: Mondays, 8.30pm, TVNZ1
In the UK: Not yet acquired

New Zealand has a habit of making TV shows that look like they’re going to fit in one relatively mundane genre yet end up having a supernatural or sci-fi twist. The Almighty Johnsons would have been just a bunch of brothers behaving badly were it not for the fact they were also descended from Norse gods. Cast your mind back to period drama Children of Fire Mountain and you’ll recall the supernatural hallucinations that drove the narrative, while Children of the Dog Star seemed like a rural coming of age tale, right up until an alien space probe showed up in the nearby swamp.

And now we have One Lane Bridge, which at first seems like a perfectly ordinary “big city cop has a culture clash with a small town cop when the two have to investigate a mysterious death” show. You’ll have seen plenty of those before, but here, the big city cop is a Maori (Dominic Ona-Ariki) and when he starts to investigate the crime, he discovers he has ‘Matakite’ – the gift of second sight and he has visions of the dead.

Murder on the farm

The first episode sets the scene, both for the murder and Ona-Ariki’s character, Ariki Davis. Davis is ambitious and somewhat brittle, quickly clashing with other cops over their slightly racist attitudes (“What are you?”) and with his new partner, local cop Joel Tobeck (The Doctor Blake Mysteries, Ash vs Evil Dead, Xena: Warrior Princess), particularly once dead bodies show up to whom Tobeck has links.

Readily to hand, thanks to a centenary celebration for a (nearly bankrupt) local farm, are numerous possible suspects and potential victims, most of whom you’ll recognise from The Almighty Johnsons: Dean O’Gorman, Jared Turner, Michelle Langstone and Alison Bruce. We get to meet them, get to know their possible motivations, and guess who’s been having an affair with whom. Then someone turns up dead under the nearby titular one-lane bridge and everything starts to get more heated.

All of which looks lovely, thanks to the Queenstown landscape and some decent production values, and there’s some fine acting on display, with Tobeck and Davis well matched and an engaging pair. The show also doesn’t overbalance things too far away from the normal with its flights of fancy, ensuring that tragic deaths prove genuinely upsetting for both audience and characters.

However, it would be pretty mundane stuff were it not for that supernatural twist, with Davis discovering that he can see things others can’t, ranging from other dead bodies to the night of the murder itself. I’m imagining, given the star nature of the cast, that unless the show is trying to pull a Fortitude, the victim will also be making reappearances in later episodes, too, which either make solving the crime a whole lot easier or give us something a bit Raines-ish.

Not The Bridge

The first episode is a very decent start to the show, but by no means a slam dunk. The big city cop/small town cop dynamic is a bit time-worn and the cast of supporting characters is reasonably interchangeable with those of any other small town murder-mystery.

However, the central pairing, the casting, the location shooting and its infusion of Maori culture and folklore lift One Lane Bridge to a much higher level than you have might have expected, making it one to try, for even those who hate procedurals.

Advertisements