Romper Stomper review: It's risky, but for most part it works

It's an unusual feat for a television drama to be both utterly real and completely over the top at the same time, but Romper Stomper (Stan, from January 1) pulls it off. There are moments in this six-part series so anchored in our present political reality you'd swear they were dramatic re-enactments within a documentary about the resurgence of extremist politics in modern-day Australia.

But there are also moments that take such a leap from that solid ground you'd swear you were watching a political Grand Guignol, in which things are taken to such extremes that they teeter on the very edge of absurdity. Thankfully, they never quite topple off that precipice.

It doesn't have anything like the same flashy glamour or high-end production values, but in that odd mix of real and unreal, the show Romper Stomper most closely resembles is early House of Cards. There are a couple of scenes, which I won't spoil, that carry the same exquisite sting of that moment in season 2 when Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) pushed the young reporter Zoe Barnes (Kate Mara) in front of a moving train, that exhilarating sense of "surely they didn't?" immediately followed by "bloody hell, they did". It's risky stuff, and for the most part it works.

We're thrown into the heart of adrenaline-pumping darkness from the opening moments of the first episode, written and directed by Geoffrey Wright, creator of the 1992 film that's the point of origin for this story. We're at a Halal festival, and the far-right nationalists Patriot Blue have set up megaphone and flags to bleat on about the coming of sharia law, while the far-left antifascist group (here called Antifash) set about them with fists and rocks. In a confusingly effective flurry, we meet in a matter of minutes most of the characters at the heart of the story.

There's Lawson-spouting Patriot leader Blake Farron (Lachy Hulme), pumped up on testosterone and notions of racial purity, and his soon-to-be acolyte, former Army boy Kane (Toby Wallace), whose close-cropped hairstyle seems coincidental until evidence mounts that he may in fact be the son of Hando (Russell Crowe) from the film, and the inheritor of his evil mantle.

There's Petra (Lily Sullivan), a black-clad lefty who may have Marx and morality on her side but whose methods lead her away from the high ground. There's Zoe (Sophie Lowe), the fundamentalist Christian and former meth-head who hooked up with Blake because he offered a glimpse of salvation, and maybe a path to Revelations too. And there's Laila (Nicole Chamoun), a nice, well-educated girl from a liberal Muslim family, who inadvertently becomes a pawn of both sides.

It rapidly spreads out from there, with David Wenham creepily excellent as the right-wing TV talkshow host Jago Zoric, whose admission that he feeds on new blood as he eyes Kane seems far more than metaphorical. There's Dan Wyllie and John Brumpton as a couple of the old crew, the former now a seemingly respectable businessman who rather pointedly runs a "white goods" business, the latter holed up in the bush with a cache of weapons that seems both museum and stockpile for the apocalypse.

And there's Jacqueline McKenzie as Gabe, lover of both Hando and his best mate Davey (Daniel Pollock) from the film, now a successful businesswoman with nothing but regrets about her Nazi past, but deeply damaged and conflicted in other ways too.

Oh, it's heady stuff. There's politics, passion and perversity aplenty in this ambitious, fast-moving drama. It's muscular, confronting and timely, and even if not everything in it quite works it is still one of the most invigorating pieces of television you will see all year.

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This story Romper Stomper review: It's risky, but for most part it works first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.