If “Quirky” has become an Australian genre then ABC’s Bay of Fires it is definitely the last entry.
“Mystery Bay” Tasmania is where Anika Van Cleef (Marta Dusseldorp) finds herself with two children Otis (Imi Mbedla) and Iris (Ava Caryofyllis) after a whirlwind of Chechen hitmen, murders, pythons, car crashes and a brilliant salesman real estate.
How it ended with her is a bit confusing for Anika herself, as she had to flee for her life in less than two days.
But she struggles to keep her composure as she tries to adjust to her new and inexplicable circumstances when she arrives in the quirky, barely inhabited town on Tasmania’s west coast.
The mix of despair and crime created by writers Andrew Knight (SeaChange, Jack Irish) and Max Then (Mako mermaids, bed of roses, mortified) is purposefully vague, giving the impression of a sudden witness protection unraveling when two hitmen are inexplicably pursuing her as the new CEO of ProsperAus Finance (a role she inherited from her retired father, played by John Stanton).
But a mysterious woman Airini (Rachel House) takes her to Mystery Bay on a do-or-die plan under the new identity of ‘Stella Heikkinen.’
“It looks like two beers,” Anika replies.
“Today is the day you cut ties with everything and everyone you know,” warns Airini.
Mystery Bay is filled with quirky and shady characters including two truck drivers Jeremiah (Toby Leonard Moore), real estate salesman Francis (Stephen Curry), local innkeeper Jodie (Emily Taheny), menacing local Thaddeus (Matt Nable), the CWA president Frankie (Kerry Fox), blind resident Graham (Nicholas Bell), garage manager Connor (Bob Franklin), cop Jason (Andre de Vanny), and eccentric friends Magda (Pamela Rabe) and Heather (Roz Hammond) .
The billowing cast also includes Tony Barry, Yael Stone, Nikolai Nikolaeff, Rhys Muldoon, Ben Winspear and more.
Mystery Bay, aka Misery Bay, is also a character in its own right. Filmed largely in the historic town of Zeehan, there are parallels to the western genre with strangers entering a town where all the locals are keeping a secret. This leaves ‘Stella’ frustrated with a lot of closed doors, falsehoods and revelations while still dealing with her own topsy-turvy situation.
“Don’t trust anyone,” Airini warned her, perhaps borrowing a X files mantra.
But Stella also has two children uprooted from their lives without any information and making demands on their exhausted mother.
Marta Dusseldorp contrasts with her calm and heroic lead role in A place to call home and determined attorney in The Twelve for a role that sets the craze in Tasmania. This is a series that she co-created and co-produced, drawing on his years in the industry.
Emerging talents Imi Mbedla and Ava Caryofyllis are both outstanding as her children, while the quirky town is home to many Australian actors in vibrant supporting roles. Stephen Curry plays with his teeth, Kerry Fox is incredibly friendly, Rachel House is prickly in a duplicitous role, and the duo of Pamela Rabe and Roz Hammond (and their pig Truffles) look fresh out Gray Gardens. I just hope there is enough screen time for everyone.
It’s hard to figure out where Bay of Fires is direct – and the meaning of the 1983 scene with a government plan hatched in Canberra.
Scripted television has ignored Tasmania for far too long and we are now inundated with options, but the backdrop of a fading mining town high street and this colorful and quirky cast is reason enough to get some answers to its bewildering premise.
Bay of Fires airs Sunday, July 16 at 8:30pm on ABC.