‘Cleverman’ Premiere: How Hairy are You?

by Agent Alicia Glass (a.k.a. Pandora the Punctuation Horror)

It’s important to note that there are many different kinds of mythology from all over the world, and nothing makes any one of them more powerful than the other. In theory, ‘Aboriginal’ used as a term of categorization means that the thing or person you’re talking about is very close to nature and of the earliest times, when the world was newer than it is now.

So, work with me, here. The Australian Aboriginal mythology and world-creation stories are collectively known as The Dreaming. Spirits and creatures and Gods, oh my, The Dreaming is very much like its own version of the afterlife, astral spirit realms and other such stories more western folk may be familiar with. Each tribe has its own myths for The Dreaming, and each tribe also has its own Cleverman, the conduit between reality and The Dreaming, the man of power and guidance, like a shaman or a priest. Each tribe has their own methods for making their Cleverman, and I haven’t heard as yet whether or not a woman can be their shaman. For the purposes of the show (thus far), this particular Cleverman appears to be a title and power passed on to family by the previous chosen Cleverman, and boy, does it create an uproar when he does so.

Set in a futuristic dystopian society, the world has divided along the lines of species, rather than race, this time. The Hairy people, or ‘Hairies’ as they are sometimes referred to in a derogatory fashion, humanoid-like folk who seemed to have merged with animal characteristics and gone back to a harmony with nature and spiritualism rarely seen these days, are persecuted for being far less than human. Hairies live a lot longer than humans, have extra strength and a metaphysical awareness of The Dreaming, some even have their own Cleverman. But for all their interesting characteristics, Hairies simply don’t share the same DNA as humans any more, and that makes them different, which, to a good deal of humanity, means, “Destroy it before it destroys us!”

In this brave new world, the Zone has been set up, in theory, as a place for Hairies to exist (not live, that’s not living, not really) in peace and prosperity, if they can. Some humans choose to live there, or are forced to live there due to financial straits, and get nothing but flak for it. Some Hairies try to escape the Zone, for their families’ sake if nothing else, and this is how they encounter all sorts of shady coyote border-runner types, where we meet Koen West (Hunter Page-Lochard).

Koen seems, at the outset, to be the worst kind of coyote as, with one hand, he helps a Hairy refugee family sneak outside the Zone and into an illegal apartment, and with the other hand, he crushes any hope of kindness by reporting the refugees to the Authorities for the reward money not a few hours later. Then there’s this giant confrontation when the Authorities come to haul the Hairies off to God-knows-what-kind of jail, a beat-down ensues right in front of news cameras, and the youngest Hairy girl is gunned down in very cold blood.

It turns out, while all this is going on, that Koen’s uncle Jimmy is the Cleverman for his tribe, and has been involved in unnamed naughty escapades for which he feels the need to atone. Uncle Jimmy delivers to Koen a warrior’s club, a waddy, which he reluctantly accepts before Uncle Jimmy disappears to try and set other shenanigans right, before getting himself taken out. Uncle Jimmy passes on the power of the Cleverman to his chosen Koen rather than his older brother who assumed he was next in the succession line, and oh, does that make waves. At least Koen gets granted power right when he needs a torn-finger restoration.

How these things – the Cleverman succession line, the war between humans and Hairies, even The Dreaming creatures you just know are coming – all relate to each other inside the series, we will have to wait to see because, right now, it’s kind of a slow burn. Trying to keep the futuristic dystopian vibe while still having things like magic, shapeshifters, and fairies involved isn’t impossible, but it’s a tall order for only six episodes of the first season. After a very positive opening night, Cleverman gained an order for a second season, much to fan delight. The makeup for the show is brought to you by Jake Nash, production designer for Australia’s leading Aboriginal dance company Bangarra, and by the good folks at Weta Workshop, who brought us Lord of the Rings and Avatar, among many other astounding visuals.

Cleverman can be howled at on Wednesdays, on SundanceTV @ 10:00 p.m./9:00 p.m., Central!

About the author: Alicia Glass

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