Set in Memphis in the 1970s, Quarry, the new crime drama running on Star World Premiere HD, is both reminiscent of recent successful crime shows, like Breaking Bad and Fargo, and significantly different from them. Like those shows, it sets up a suitably bloody premise early on which the series will untangle as it goes along, and derives its thrust not just from money matters but that other thing which makes the world go round: love. However, unlike those shows, Quarry has for backdrop a real-world tragedy that, due to its lingering effects, has provided a rich vein to writers.
Mac Conway (Logan Marshall-Green), the Quarry of the title, is a Vietnam War veteran who returns to his hometown on the back of unconfirmed reports that his regiment was responsible for a violent attack that killed many children in the Southeast Asian country (the series calls it Quan Thang which , does not sound nearly like My Lai). Together with his bunkmate and friend Arthur (Jamie Hector), Quarry is treated to boos and shoving as he gets out of the airport. He also suffers momentary but overpowering hallucinations.
Unable to land a job, Quarry is approached by a man known only as The Broker (Peter Mullan) to become a hitman, a proposal he immediately refuses. Quarry’s beautiful wife Joni (Jodi Balfour) is happy to keep the kitchen fires burning until he finds something. A gig as a swimming coach does not materialise due to that thing that happened in Vietnam, and for the same reason, he is forced to quit as car mechanic, a job he had finally landed. When he discovers that The Broker approached Arthur with a similar offer that Arthur accepted, Quarry changes his mind.
Expectedly, things go steadily downhill from there – and not just professionally. The show works because it brilliantly enmeshes the personal into the wider arc of Quarry’s growing criminality, an inescapable vortex that he is ill-equipped to navigate. But beyond this central storyline, the series ticks other enduring components of noir – faux-philosophy, betrayal, the pull of evil, and ultimately, the grim hopes for redemption.
Some of the best scenes involve secondary characters that are so well-imagined they take on a life of their own, including Arthur’s wife Ruth (Nikki Amuka-Bird), majestic as the woman who goes from dedicated wife to grieving widow in the span of two episodes, and Buddy (Damon Herriman), freelance killer and pop music aficionado whose slithery ruthlessness plays off against his groveling queerness.
Quarry benefits from the thirst for nostalgia occasioned by the success of shows like Stranger Things. Memphis in 1972 is gritty southern territory, a place where crime sits uneasily with a ravishing blues scene. The show’s creators, Michael Fuller and Graham Gordy, took inspiration from the Quarry novels of Max Allan Collins, but the detailing – detailing from the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder to the growing clamour for black rights – betrays an interest in going beyond mere atmospherics.