Monday, May 07, 2007

TV Review: Durham County

Durham County, a new original series from The Movie Network (eastern Canada) and Movie Central (western Canada), is creepy, eerie, disturbing, dark. And I mean all that as a compliment. There is a definite style and sense of place in Durham County, though it's not any place I recognize or am eager to visit.

The six-episode series is set in sinister suburbia, where power lines dominate the grey, occasionally surreal landscape.

Hugh Dillon, former lead singer of The Headstones and Hard Core Logo star, brings an understated intensity to the role of Mike Sweeney, a big city cop who's recently moved his family to the suburbs to start over, after his partner is killed on the job and wife Audrey (Helene Joy) is recovering from breast cancer.

But the beautiful new house hides an interior in perpetual mid-renovation, and their cozy neighbourhood includes Mike's old nemesis Ray Prager (Justin Louis), whose new hobby is copycat serial killing. Everyone and everything in Durham County hides something to mar the seemingly smooth surface.

There's no central mystery at the heart of Durham County. The point is not to unravel who the bad guy is; it is, in a sense, to unravel who the good guy really is. You want to root for Mike, and you do, but Durham County doesn't make it easy for you to side with him over the serial killer.

The revelations build steadily, inevitably, and characters are entangled in unexpected ways, to the point where I can't reveal much at all without revealing too much.

There's a grim humour and eerie whimsicality to the series that doesn't so much alleviate as enhance the tone of ubiquitous menace. The youngest daughter (who barely exists as a character) wears a manga-like mask that is creepier than a puppet head really should be. Older daughter Sadie makes clay figurines and places them in her dollhouse in crime scene poses, a hobby that creeps her mother out probably just as much as she should be.

Laurence LeBeouf, who plays Sadie, has a slight Lauren Ambrose vibe in the pivotal role of the disaffected teen daughter, and Six Feet Under is probably the show closest in tone to Durham County that I've seen.

The acting in Durham County is uniformly terrific, from the fragile yet steely Helene Joy as Audrey to the but menacing but attentive Justin Louis as Ray, but above all, the fierce drive of Hugh Dillon as Mike, nearly as flawed a character as the killers he hunts.

Watch Durham County beginning May 7, 9 p.m. Eastern or 8 p.m. Pacific.