by Lia McCrae-Moore
I was particularly excited when I found out that the third season of East West 101 was to be broadcast on SBS this April. And, no it wasn’t only because I wanted to watch Don Hany perfect his performance as the ever-manly Malik – though this was definitely an added bonus. It was more that the endless search for another gritty, thought-provoking political drama could finally come to a brief standstill. Once again, I could indulge my couch potato tendencies without feeling any twinge of guilt. My brain and body would not decompose during the viewing process. This series would be stimulating and polemic. It would be Australian crime drama at its best!
The dramatic quality of East West 101 has remained consistently outstanding since its inception in 2007. Its delicate combination of strong script writing, direction, acting and production is everything you could expect from a collection of such seasoned professionals. The show’s prestige is reflected in its multiple AFI Award wins for Best Direction (Peter Andrikidis), Best Lead Actress (Susie Porter) and Best Television Drama (Krys Wyld and Steve Knapman). Filmed in and around Sydney, East West 101 continues to showcase the best of our local talent, both onscreen and off.
The first series of East West 101 was conceived during the post 9/11 era of terror and anti-Islam sentiment. It was a particularly intense period of heightened fear and resentment. Arguably then, the decision to make the show’s lead protagonist, Detective Zane Malik (Don Hany), a practicing Muslim, was politically as well as dramatically motivated. Producers and writers Krys Wyld and Steve Knapman clearly wanted to explore how Australia was responding to this new wave of racial and religious vilification. Malik is the best kind of contemporary hero, one who wins over his audience with a genuine blend of vulnerability, compassion and conviction while remaining ardently aware of his cultural position as an outsider.
In the first series, Malik must navigate the internal tensions of the Major Crime Squad while simultaneously investigating a deeply personal and disturbing crime. Senior detective Crowley (William McInnes) continually questions Malik’s dedication and commitment to the Force but Malik remains determined to prove his loyalty and overcome Crowley’s unwarranted skepticism, without burning too many bridges.
In Season Two, the Major Crime Squad joins forces with the NSO (National Security Organisation). The team’s primary goal is to investigate the cause of a devastating car bomb attack. The Sydney media attributes the crime to a group of Muslim extremists but Malik remains doubtful. This negative media portrayal has detrimental consequences for the local Muslim community and Malik must position himself on the issue sensitively. He remains as impartial as possible though his new Inspector, Patricia White (Susie Porter), is paying close attention to him. Ultimately, her initial misgivings are disproved and she learns to trust Malik’s instinct, reinstating him as a positive role model in the Squad and in his local community.
By the third series of East West 101, the Major Crime Squad have become involved in an international military investigation that has connections to the war in Afghanistan. This case has personal ramifications for Malik but he must temper his own anger and hurt in order to reveal the truth. The new volatile and disconcerting presence of Detective Neil Travis (Matt Nable) proves to be difficult and compromising. Malik discovers that Travis’s hostile attitude towards Islam is largely due to his military service in Iraq. In tracking down the case’s savage perpetrators Malik and Travis must negotiate their differences, but unforeseeable consequences arise, further complicating their fragile relationship.
In the episode The Price of Salvation Detective Sonny Koa (Aaron Fa’aosa) assists Mere Hahunga to reign in her wayward son, Sam. Sam has been involved in a brutal robbery led by the notorious Ned Reweti, the local Maori gangster. Koa feels it is his duty to ensure that Sam does the right thing by testifying against Reweti but Sam is not so easily convinced. His reluctance jeopardizes Koa’s own position within the investigation and ultimately leads to dire circumstances. Meanwhile, Malik is hell bent on seeking justice for the death of his only son by ruthlessly tracking down the killers. When the case claims another victim, Malik is determined to reveal the truth. But this proves to be more difficult and frustrating than Malik expects and he rapidly loses patience.
The episode cuts between these two storylines cleverly; interweaving the threads in a complex fashion that keeps you biting your fingernails and gasping at the television screen with anticipation. Each shot is framed with class and conviction, the camera honing in on important details but not lingering too long on the extraneous. The editing is quick and snappy so that the storyline steams along at a decent pace. After watching the last couple of series, I am now quite fond of the cast’s familiar faces. Their well-developed characters have become hyper-real extensions of my furtive imagination as they join me in my lounge room while I sip on a peppermint tea or toast my toes in front of the heater. Each season has built upon the last, adding layers of complexity to the narrative and solidifying its storytelling rigour.
But perhaps, what I appreciate most about this series is its willingness to engage with current socio-political issues and debates. It is not afraid to dissect the very real cultural divisions and racist opinions that exist in contemporary Australia, today. Rather, it courageously confronts these “difficult” issues by demonstrating the very real ramifications they have on the people involved. Both explicit and implicit racism is still prevalent within our society. East West 101 acknowledges this and encourages us as audience members to open up these displays of inappropriate and unacceptable behaviour to a broader cultural analysis and criticism. It prompts us to question our immediate, often unthinking, emotional reactions and identify them as either warranted responses or irrational prejudices.
As the series has only just finished airing, I am reluctant to divulge too much more information. I would prefer to encourage you to watch it online or on DVD, your bum on the edge of your seat and your eyes glued to your screen. If you’re anything like me then you will watch with unabated enthusiasm, one episode after the other, as the team grapples with the next installment of corruption, rape or murder. Remember, this is Australian crime drama at its best. You won’t be disappointed.
All three series of East West 101 are now available on DVD.
East West 101: AFI Award Wins
▪ Best Television Drama Series (2009)
▪ Best Direction in Television – Peter Andrikidis (2009)
▪ Best Lead Actress in a Television Drama – Susie Porter (2009)
▪ Best Telefeature, Mini Series or Short Run Series (2008)
East West 101: AFI Award Nominations
▪ Best Screenplay in Television – Michael Miller and Kristen Dunphy (2009)
▪ Best Lead Actor in a Television Drama – Don Hany (2009)
▪ Best Direction in Television – Peter Andrikidis (2008)
▪ Best Screenplay in Television – Kris Wyld (2008)
▪ Best Lead Actor in a Television Drama – Don Hany (2008)
▪ Best Lead Actor in a Television Drama – William McInnes (2008)
▪ Best Guest or Supporting Actor in a Television Drama – Taffy Hany (2008)
Read Previous ‘Why I Adore’ Posts:
Paul Anthony Nelson (the ‘Why I Adore’ godfather and founder) introduces the concept, and rhapsodises about Mad Max. AFI Membership Administrator Lia McCrae-Moore revisits the lyrical beauty of One Night the Moon and Clem Bastow reminisces about a childhood spent watching the television show Round the Twist. Or you can read Anthony Morris flirting with disaster in his adoration of Romper Stomper, Annie Stevens going bridal with Muriel’s Wedding, or Popzilla bowing down before the altar of literary screen adaptations.
Contribute: We’re currently looking for more ’Why I Adore’ articles devoted to Australian film and television. Send a one paragraph summary to editor[at] afi.org.au and we’ll get back to you with more details.