Oh boy, that’s a lot to unpack Wild RiverABC’s latest local drama offering.
It’s a slow-burning small-town mystery (isn’t it always right?) with an outstanding cast of accomplished actors.
It starts when Miki (Katherine Langford) comes home Wild Rivera secluded village nestled in a mountain valley where the local butcher shop is the largest employer.
Everyone tries to make ends meet here, from shopkeepers to factory workers and the local police. There’s even a council election in the wind.
But Miki’s return to live with her twin brother Terry (Cooper Van Grootel) and niece is not a welcome return, as she has just spent 10 years in prison for the manslaughter of her best friend. The parents of her dead friend Colleen and Hugh Lang (Jacqueline McKenzie, Andrew Gilbert) are particularly fighting for her return.
Her parole includes checking in regularly with local cop Bill (Robert Grubb) who tells her she’ll need to get a job fast.
“Tabula rasa as far as I’m concerned. It’s the rest of the city you have to worry about,” she notes.
One job comes in the form of a gruesome factory position at the meat factory run by tough boss Kevin (Daniel Henshall), who exploits a group of refugees who all live in a local shack. They include Iraqi refugees Salim (Osamah Sami) and his wife Jamila (Maia Abbas) who mourns her missing sister.
Miki also meets handsome Joel (Mark Coles Smith), a relationship that is nearly derailed by an awkward one night stand.
There are so many characters, many of whom are related to each other, that it would be easy to see this as a soap: Miki’s mom Lynne (Nadine Garner), Detective Kennedy (Virginia Gay), daughter Ivy (Hattie Hook ), Kevin’s daughter wife Chandra (Miranda Anwar), Colleen’s son Adam (Jack Kenny), Miki’s former teacher Simon (James Mackay), local mayor Max (Richard Piper) and opposing candidate Deborah ( Leah Vandenburg), local pharmacist Connor (Bernard Curry), factory worker Dale (Sally-Anne Upton) and more.
Navigating it all is director Jocelyn Moorhouse who does a great job given so many pieces to this puzzle.
All our heroine Miki wants is to resume a quiet life with her brother Terry, but there are too many secrets and personal agendas for that to proceed unhindered.
“That’s all I want. Just to be here with you two doing normal stuff,” she tells Terry.
She’ll need to draw on inner strength, the faith of those closest to her and possibly hunk Joel to stay the course, especially when she’s in the wrong place at the wrong time….
The bushland scenery, shot largely around Warburton, makes for an isolating tale, while remaining grounded in a working-class community. But it’s also very diverse, from First Nations to Middle Eastern and Asian Australia as well as LGTBQI+.
Kathering Langford, who made her Netflix drama debut Thirteen reasons why forms an ingrained asset to this ensemble. Mark Coles Smith shrugs Mystery Road: Origin for brooding Joel, and it’s always a pleasure to see Nadine Garner back on our screens.
With so many characters, interconnected by bloodlines and secrets and lies, I would think this was a soap opera proposition. But writer Giula Sandler and her team, plus some nice performances, but that idea went to bed pretty quickly.
Instead Wild River is a binge drama that you will visit with caution and intrigue.
Savage River airs Sunday, September 4 at 8:30 pm on ABC.