No Award watches stuff: Cleverman

Last week saw the premiere of Cleverman, an Indigenous SF/superhero series airing on the ABC. We at No Award have been very excited for this show; here are some links and feelpinions!


(As this is an embedded tweet, there’s no image description! It’s a picture of Iain Glen as the @ClevermanUS header.)

There’s an interesting discussion to be had about White People As Trojan Horse, ie, make it look like a series is about a white person to get people watching or reading, but SURPRISE, it’s (also or actually) about People of Colour. See for example Orange is the New Black, in which Piper is increasingly less prominent and heroic with every season.

On the other hand, there’s also the straight-up racism of taking a show with a majority-PoC cast and advertising it with a white guy. But, not knowing what the rest of Sundance’s advertising looks like, I can’t make any meaningful comment.

([Liz: Also, the US screening begins with three cards explaining the Dreaming. Which is not a criticism, I approve of giving cultural context, it’s just interesting.])


This is a great article: Zones of Exclusion in ‘Cleverman’ 

The Zone is all at once an exclusion area, a prison, a refugee camp, a refuge, a camp, and a ghetto. How often these words are used interchangeably in a variety of real contexts – these multi-purposed imagined places are too familiar.

It’s so clear what’s happening in Cleverman – the Zone is literally within Redfern; it’s not subtle, and we LOVE IT. It’s a message about missions and exclusion and the Stolen Generation, wrapped up in an analogy.

[Liz: I loved the Tumblr post going, “THE ZONE IS CARRIAGEWORKS! EVERYONE KNOWS CARRIAGEWORKS!” Whoa there, Sydneycentricity, I had no idea, and I had to google Carriageworks.

(It’s a combination markets/creative space in an old railyard. STEPHANIE, WE NEED TO GO TO THERE!)]

{imagine Steph making fun of Liz for not knowing about Carriageworks here}

[Liz: Look, as far as I’m aware, Sydney is just a vast wasteland situated between important cities like Brisbane and Melbourne.]


Cleverman – The First Aboriginal Superhero? – A look at Indigenous superheroes. That there’s so few is not a surprise.

An interview with Deborah Mailman, who wasn’t in the first ep of Cleverman who was briefly in the first episode but we await continued presence most desperately and love her with our whole hearts: Deborah Mailman: ‘Cleverman’ Is Australian TV At Its Best And Australian Politics At Its Worst

The Cleverman comes up in numerous Indigenous stories in different ways [often a conduit between the Dreaming and this world], which were combined in the series. Were you familiar with the story of the Cleverman?

Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. Same as the Hairies. It was like, growing up — and I’m not saying this is everyone’s experience — but the Hairyman is almost a bogeyman. People would say, “Do that and the Hairyman will get you”. And there are different Hairymen depending on what country and what the responsibility is. That’s why we say it’s “inspired by”; because we’ve created our own Cleverman, it’s not the Cleverman.

Stepping into this world then, there’s already lots for you to connect with.

Yeah, although a lot of the show is to do with the Namorrodor (from the Northern Territory) which I didn’t know about. The Namorrodor hunts the young and the sick. And this is what’s really wonderful, that you get to know another mob, to hear and learn about other stories. Depending on country, it’s all very different. Some are very significant to an area and don’t play anywhere else.

For example, the Hairy Men are speaking Gumbaynggirr, which is from the east coast of NSW. People hearing can go, “What is that? Oh, it’s this.” That’s putting that language out there, allowing people to know and understand… When you look at how Aboriginal culture is passed down orally — through song, through dance, through music, all of that — so much has been lost. For some time now, there’s really been a push to reclaim and try to document.


And some recaps of the first episode, along with some feelings:

‘Cleverman’ Recap: This Is The Show Australia Has Been Waiting For (Including a chat about Australia as Dystopia and how delightfully Aussie it all is)

Cleverman recap, season one episode one: supernatural and political (This review by Jack Latimore, Goori from the Birpai nation in New South Wales)


No Award’s feelpinions!


At the last minute — not helped by the AV Club’s lukewarm and spoilery-for-the-whole-season review — I became a bit scared that I wouldn’t enjoy Cleverman. I’ve gone off superheroes lately, and Tomorrow, When The Yellow Peril began was just so bad that it really soured my belief that Australia can produce good, Indigenous-driven speculative fiction for television.

Luckily, I was wrong. Cleverman isn’t perfect — there’s a quick list of problems we hope to see fixed below — but it was Quite Good, and I look forward to seeing more. Most of the performances were strong, the script was … look, it had your standard Australian TV clunkers (“What’s that he gave you?” where a simple “What’s that?” would suffice), but I’ve realised that’s a product of just how few local scripts get filmed — our TV writers just don’t have a lot of experience in actually having their work filmed, and the filming process is so rapid that there’s no opportunity to revise a script on the go.

I’m curious about the plot, eager to see more of the characters, and I am fully into rude gestures as symbols of survival.


I can’t believe we’ve actually been able to witness a show where ‘flat white’ becomes a racist term. Flat white is my preferred coffee, what am I supposed to do now?! It’s the most excellently Aussie subversion ever. Maybe I’ll have to start drinking cappuccinos.

I know it’s hard to believe, but I’m actually the more optimistic member of No Award, so I was SUPER PUMPED and expecting great things. Aside from the flaws Liz has described above and we’ve listed below, I’m really happy with this first episode. Sad we only got Jack Charles for a little while, loved the world-building, loved how it feels like now but also our near-future dystopia, “loved” the white MP who I was imagining was a cross between Dutton and Turnbull. Not sure if I care about Frances Conner yet, which is the saddest sentence I’ve probably ever written.

But also: THE DREAMING. My everything. My heart. What a delight, how happy I am to see Aboriginal Australian Dreaming normalised on our tv screens. May we all know whose land we live on and respect and know their stories.

The flaws:

  • What exactly was Iain Glenn’s accent for his first few scenes? The Game of Thrones set does something terrible to accents, apparently.
  • So many dudes, so few ladies.
  • No, Naked Lady Corpse doesn’t count as a female character. (Until she wakes up, of course, then, hopefully, she’ll be a character)
  • How low are standards these days? Liz was just glad that Naked Lady Corpse had pubic hair for once.
  • So much female nudity, though.
  • Um, we need more Miranda Tapsell, stat. (Preferably fully clothed.)
  • Obviously Steph would like some of those white actors to actually be Azn-Australian actors, but when doesn’t she.
  • Was that Marcus Graham in shot at Border ForceContainment Authority?



2 thoughts on “No Award watches stuff: Cleverman

  1. I enjoyed Cleverman to an extent, but really the script felt deeply on the nose and undercooked. I feel the first episode at least has been given a bit of a free ride due to its cultural significance and tremendous intentions – I also don’t know whether or not that’s a bad thing.

  2. nonelvis

    I enjoyed the first episode even though it felt a bit rough to me — but honestly, I never expect pilots to get everything right. The important thing is that it left me wanting to learn more about the characters and the story.

    BTW, if you’re curious about the content of those three pre-credits screens airing in the US, someone has posted caps.

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