Two episodes were provided for review purposes prior to broadcast.
Maori myth is at the heart of Tatau, BBC America’s curiously trippy new drama about two British tourists who become embroiled in a maze of hallucinatory visions, murder plots and local secrets while vacationing in the Cook Islands. It’s an intriguing and unusual subject for the channel to tackle, and the resultant oddness of the show as a whole is what immediately sets it apart from the network’s previous supernatural dramas In the Flesh and Being Human (though Tatau, with its photogenic cast and fast-paced plot, is certainly geared toward the same teenage demographic).
Whether the show’s peculiarity will make it something truly worth watching down the road, though, is a question unanswered after the uneven first two episodes. The pilot is really an extended intro for leads Kyle (Joe Layton) and Budgie (Theo Barklem-Biggs), twentysomething backpackers escaping debt and responsibility back in the U.K. (as well as some serious demons, at least in Kyle’s case) in search of booze-and-babe-fueled adventures abroad.
There’s an easy camaraderie between the two longtime buddies, both of whom ogle the local girls and stick out like sore thumbs in the island culture. Their bond is challenged, though, when Kyle, whose just-for-giggles arm tattoo evokes strange trepidation in the locals from day one, drinks a traditional Maori hallucinogen and experiences a vivid vision of a beautiful island girl’s corpse. Kyle knows, instinctively, that the girl is in trouble – and that he may hold the key to her salvation. Though Budgie would rather just get on with their gap-year bender, Kyle becomes increasingly determined that something is amiss on the island, and he sets out to uncover the secrets of his tattoo and a mysterious girl he believes to be in mortal danger, even as the locals grow more hostile.
The second episode more effectively communicates what Tatau will look like as a series, but what’s on offer is far from a totally winning proposition. Layton and Barklem-Biggs play their characters well, admittedly. However, there’s no escaping that the pair are real lugs, gawking tourists who rub extremely agreeable locals the wrong way by sticking their noses in everyone’s business, hitting on anything with cleavage and bringing suspicious-cum-xenophobic attitudes into every interaction with an islander (after sitting through a relatively normal church ceremony, Budgie snarks, “You ever seen The Wicker Man? I think this is the sequel”). That kind of close-mindedness in their characterization sinks the show down a little bit, and unless the hints that there’s more to their pasts than meets the eye yield some answers soon, neither Kyle nor Budgie are exactly leads you want to follow.