The trouble with Harry

Last updated 09:16 13/06/2013

The first season of the New Zealand drama Harry ended last night - a good series, but it has one major flaw. I have a few specific thoughts, right after the standard spoiler warning ...

(Warning: spoilers from the first season of Harry follow.)

There was plenty to like, maybe even love, about Harry. I think the authenticity of the show was great, unlike anything that's been produced in this country before. By observing correct police procedure - as I mentioned in my review of the premiere, consultant (and former cop) Neil Grimstone ran instructional boot camps and advised on most elements of the show - Harry managed to convey a sense of realism.

20130613The writing was great. I think Steven O'Meagher put together a good tale for television and managed to execute it well. If anything, I wonder whether six episodes just wasn't enough time. My few frustrations with the writing stemmed from the fact that the show may have taken itself too seriously and didn't go deep enough with its main characters, both of which are problems that might have been avoided if O'Meagher had eight or 10 episodes to fill.

The supporting cast was great too. I've been saying for years that Erroll Shand is a rare talent; his turn as Chocka Fahey, the evil bikie, was probably the most memorable performance in the show - though credit is due for Matthias Luafutu, who was outstanding as low-level crim Afa Sorrenson earlier in the season.

I even enjoyed Sam Neill's performance here, which amounted to little more than a scene or two every week - and even though I felt he should have ended every seen by sighing "I'm getting too old for this s**t" under his breath whenever one of his underlings exited his office. He didn't get much to do until last night's finale. When he did, as in his confrontation with the cop investigating Harry's behaviour, he shone.

I thought Harry enjoyed a good first season - and I'd definitely tune in for a second (if the TV production gods are good enough to grant one). But we do have to talk about the elephant in the room.

Harry had one major problem: Harry.

Look, I think Oscar Kightley is awesome. His work with the Naked Samoans was hilarious. Bro'town is one of the most culturally important shows this country has produced. And he exceeded my expectations on Sione's Wedding; I thought he capably carried that film for long stretches.

But Kightley was wrong for this show. I appreciate that he did a lot of work, physically, to get himself ready for the part. And I think he was great in several scenes - he summoned the right level of anger when informed that the kid hanged himself in jail back in Episode 2, for example. Like Neill, he also saved his best work for last night. The final few acts, as he chased around his missing on-screen daughter Mele (Hunter Kamuhemu) and dealt with the investigation into his own behaviour, made up Kightley's best work of the season.

But he just didn't hit that mark very often. There were times during the series where it felt more as though Kightley was reading off cue cards than trying to summon any kind of raw emotion. All of the scenes with his therapist played as though the actors were doing a read-through around a conference table. Even the scenes between Harry and Mele played too woodenly, and Harry ended up looking heartless.

If the show does return with Kightley in the lead, then there needs to be a bit of work done around his character. Take the focus off Harry's private life, or lighten up the script. Shows like Harry can survive with a lead like Kightley; there just needs be something done to offset his performance.

Aside from that, I enjoyed the show. Despite its flaws, I think Harry was a success, at least on a creative level, and a welcome addition to local programming.

Did you watch the first season of Harry? What did you think? Do you agree with my take on it?

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