Given that HBO Asia‘s first ever original scripted drama Serangoon Road is set in the sixties publicity phlegm have shown considerable restraint in not saying that it doesn’t want to think of itself as the Asian Mad Men. It doesn’t, isn’t and never could be of course, but it’s refreshing not to see that standard denial robotically issued in this case. Specifically, we’re in 1964 Singapore. It’s a turbulent time for the island state. The British are pulling out like a nervous Roman Catholic and a new country is being ushered in as if surrounded by security with a sack over its head. Sam Callaghan (Don Hany), former military, observes the mayhem. He imports and exports a little, does a bit of detective work, a lot of opium and bangs lonely businessman’s wife Claire Simpson (Maeve Dermody) on the side. Life could be a whole lot worse.
The British are pulling out like a nervous Roman Catholic and a new country is being ushered in, surrounded by security with a sack over its head.
And Bugis Street is the place to be. I’m assuming that you like the Motown tracks blaring, the white rum flowing and the trans hookers flaming because that’s what you’ll get there. Sailor Daniel Mihailobitch was all about that action and was having the time of his life right before he was fatally knifed in the guts. His best friend Nate Crosby, seen arguing with Mihailobitch before the incident, was found crouched over his corpse with his fingerprints on the weapon and was dipping up the block like Biggie in Gimme the Loot the moment people saw him. So obviously it’s not him but the CIA nonetheless bring in The Cheng Detective Agency who put Sam on the case of apprehending the fugitive.
And Bugis Street is the place to be. I’m assuming that you want Motown tracks blaring and sexual harassment from trans hookers because that’s what you’ll get there.
So they should because Sam’s the best there is. In just a matter of days he brilliantly tracks down the 250 lb black man in a sailor suit in Singapore. It transpires that it was actually a Navy SEAL who killed Daniel after taking umbrage at being tricked into fondling a tranny’s balls. Cis privilege, arentchasickofit? Now Sam must dick around Singapore to save Crosby from the inevitable lynching from the SEALs and also to get his next opium fix to help forget about the time he killed his best friend as a kid in a PoW camp (some bullshit flashback no doubt explained fully in a later episode I won’t be watching).
Sam’s the best there is. In just a matter of days he brilliantly tracks down the 250 lbs black man in a sailor suit in Singapore.
I wouldn’t get too excited about this. It’s pretty on the nose, lacks any real urgency and is not the sophisticated HBO fare we’ve become accustomed to. Every indication is that it’s a detective agency procedural and that alone isn’t enough to make it the classy noir it would clearly like to be. Noir is a state of mind as much as it is an aggregate of conventions and this is just way too nicey-nice to be counted as such.
Get back in your box, Sam – this life ain’t for you.
The verdict: It’s not HBO – it’s television.
Marks out of 10: 5