‘The Unusual Suspects’: Round them up!

When there is a crime committed, or even a mystery to be solved, how would you go about solving it? Which direction would you look? Who might be guilty? Would you “round up the usual suspects” as Captain Renault (Claude Rains) so famously and facetiously advised in Casablanca?

Australian writer Jessica Redenbach had a different idea. Why not look elsewhere, she thought, in creating Hulu’s new TV miniseries The Unusual Suspects. Her suspects may not be as violent or edgy. Not hardened career criminals or bloodthirsty psychopaths  But ordinary people with ordinary problems—and quite entertaining characters without the mean spirit that often fuels broad American comedies.

Sara (Miranda Otto) is a riot as the oh so self-consciously trendy personal development entrepreneur on the verge of a huge financial deal. Her friend Roxanne (Michelle Vergara Moore) runs the local high end salon. Their nannies, the straight-laced Evie (Aina Dumlao) and long-suffering, undocumented Amy (Lena Cruz), are strongly religious family people, servants from the Philippines, who would never be involved in crime—would they?

Sara and Roxanne’s husbands, much more likely suspects, are barely along for the ride. And Sara’s old flame and rekindled fling, failed artist Nick (Peter O’Brien) skates in and out of the mayhem looking more like a tired Mick Jagger doppelgänger than a serious romantic interest or even petty criminal.

Problems arise over money, of course, and relationship misunderstandings. Husbands act less than chivalrously. Their strained wives may bend a bit over the lines of law and prudence. But intentions are generally goodhearted if not always technically honorable. Redenbach’s upper-middle-class Vaucluse suburb of Sydney comes across as somewhere between a Feydeau farce and All’s Well That Ends Well.

Unusual Suspects is also notable for its clear-eyed observations on the class dynamics between servants, who often run these upper-middle-class households and the employers whose self-importance is often at wide variance with reality. Australian nannies are drawn heavily from the Philippine working class. The show’s writers and directors have discussed their efforts to draw on these perspectives. Like the series itself, they have succeeded with insight, poignancy, and humor. Who would’ve suspected?

The trailer can be viewed here.


Michael Berkowitz
Michael Berkowitz

Michael Berkowitz, a veteran of the civil rights and anti-war movements, has been Land Use Planning Consultant to the government of China for many years. He taught Chinese and American History at the college level, worked with Eastern Kentucky Welfare Rights Org. with miners, and was an officer of SEIU.