13 October 2013 | nom_de_plume-815-464998
Visually appealing, but lifeless.
I know virtually nothing about postwar Singapore, so I find the story and setting of ABC/HBO Asias 'Serangoon Road' quite convincing. As a noir drama in a steamy tropical locale at a turbulent point in history, it's appealing viewing and beautifully shot. Serangoon Road itself is vividly recreated, and the trappings of British colonialism juxtaposed with Singaporean culture make for lavish sets.
The detective agency is the catalyst for some compelling stories that play off the political tumult of the era and the mounting racial tensions. Joan Chen is as beautiful, elegant and interesting as usual and Pamelyn Chee is a quaint, witty and clever as detective Su Ling. Her carefully cultivated accent is lyrical, and she lends the script some light moments as she fends off the advances of the persistent (but gentlemanly) CIA agent Conrad Harrison. I kind of adore her, I think she's a really fun character, and it's nice to have sympathetic and intelligent female leads in a period drama.
Don Hany really carries the show as the protagonist, Australian ex-pat Sam Callaghan. His rugged good looks and complicated past (in Changi and later the military) make him an engaging character, and Hany has the acting chops to pull this off. He's appropriately brooding and intense and, let's be honest, kind of gorgeous. Alaric Tay is great as his hapless colleague Kang, too.
Sadly Maeve Dermody, playing Callaghan's married love interest, isn't very good, and her lacklustre performance undermines the show. She seems too young and inexperienced to be convincing, and delivers most of her lines in a flat monotone without subtlety. It's difficult to understand what Callaghan sees in her. She's pretty, but awkward and hesitant. I think she's punching above her weight with this production. It's a shame they couldn't find someone with the skills to make her scenes with Hany really shine. Jeremy Lindsay Taylor is similarly unimpressive as her husband, but they haven't given him much to work with.
I enjoy this show chiefly for it's visual beauty and the period details (regardless of their historical authenticity) and for the performances of Joan Chen and Don Hany. If you're looking for something more than this, you may be disappointed, but it's worth watching.