This may be the age of “Peak TV,” but there’s been a negative consequence to the proliferation of binge-watchable shows: It’s convinced many showrunners that individual episodes need not be tightly crafted and consistently exciting, because audiences are apt to consume entire seasons in one giant gulp. Thus, it’s refreshing to report that Netflix’s latest “original” serial, the six-episode Glitch, never suffers from that affliction—and, in fact, is a rare series that leaves so many questions unanswered and threads hanging, it would have been better served by a longer initial run.
Glitch is new only to American audiences, as it originally premiered on Australian television in July 2015—although as was recently announced, Netflix has already signed on to not only be its exclusive global home, but to co-produce its (greenlit) second season. Those future installments will be eagerly anticipated by Netflix subscribers who commit to the show’s first six episodes, which debuted on the streaming platform on Friday, and which manage the not-inconsiderable feat of expertly teasing supernatural mysteries while maintaining a strict focus on its characters—both those who are naturally alive, and those who, for unknown reasons, have risen from the dead.
In the small Australian town of Yoorana, six deceased locals—hailing from various time periods—all decide to crawl out of their cemetery graves one night, much to the astonishment of police sergeant James Hayes (Patrick Brammall), who’s even more shocked to see that one of those zombies is his late wife Kate (Emma Booth), who succumbed to breast cancer a couple of years earlier. This turn of events severely freaks James out, and he’s further flummoxed by his discovery that none of these revitalized individuals (subsequently dubbed “the Risen”) can actually leave Yoorana; trying to cross town lines results in bleeding from their eyes, followed by literal disintegration.
In an attempt to come to grips with this phenomenon, and also to keep it secret lest they’re immediately snatched up and taken away for slicing-and-dicing medical experimentation, James teams up with local doctor Elishia McKellar (Genevieve O’Reilly). Even with her help, however, he finds it increasingly difficult to manage these reanimated people, who despite their blank memories and confusion—as well as filthy nakedness—don’t look like rotting corpses but, instead, like the people they were before they were ravaged by disease and/or death.
If this premise sounds eerily similar to that of ABC’s short-lived Resurrection or A&E’s equally brief The Returned (itself a remake of the French series Les Revenants), that’s because it is, although Glitch—which is also co-produced by ABC—shares its strongest links with two other recent, divisive paranormal programs: Lost and The Leftovers. Like the former, it features a diverse cast of strangers who’ve been brought together by apparently otherworldly circumstances, and whose backstories are revealed—to audiences, and themselves—in stand-alone episodes. And like the latter, its story’s foundation is an inexplicable, potentially biblical incident that serves as the backdrop for a more intimate, character-based drama about loss, loyalty, revenge, forgiveness, and redemption.
Those issues come to the fore through the unique circumstances of Glitch’s Risen, which include Yoorana’s first mayor (and wealthy 19th-century wild man) Paddy Fitzgerald (Ned Dennehy), ’80s teenage sexpot Kristie Darrow (Hannah Monson), young WWI hero Charlie Thompson (Sean Keenan), violent and angry cipher John Doe (Rodger Corser), and wife and mother Maria Massola (Daniela Farinacci). All of them are consumed with remembering who they were, and how they died, as a means of unearthing some explanation for why they’ve returned from the great beyond, and that question looms large over the first few episodes, especially given that James and Elishia are incapable of providing anything close to a convincing theory.
To its detriment, Glitch’s recurring, oblique references to nearby Noreguard Pharmaceuticals—with which Elishia has some sort of hidden professional ties—somewhat undercut the show’s central what-could-have-caused-this guessing game. Creators Tony Ayres and Louise Fox, though, shrewdly steer clear of giant bombshells, instead opting to layer their material with additional head-scratching elements. The biggest of those concerns James’s colleague Vic Eastley (Andrew McFarlane), who after finally learning about Yoorana’s reborn, gets into a car accident and, upon pulling himself out of the wreckage, suddenly sets about on a malevolent mission to find Kate, Charlie, and the rest of their undead cohorts.
More gripping than Vic’s unnerving enterprise is the predicament of James and Kate, whose ostensibly happy reunion is complicated by the fact that, during the past two years, James got remarried to Kate’s good friend Sarah (Emily Barclay). Oh, and she’s also on the verge of delivering their first child (this, after Kate was incapable of having a kid during her own life). That uniquely screwy love-triangle dynamic is the focus of the fifth (and best) episode, which deftly balances the competing positions of its three characters—all of whom are stuck in an untenable position—as well as provides sturdy opportunities for its capable and compelling lead actors (none of whom are known stateside) to root the crazy action in relatable, thorny emotional terrain.
Directed by Emma Freeman with confidence if little aesthetic flair, the show conveys its off-the-beaten-path milieu’s sleepy atmosphere, and its dialogue is peppered with a number of Australian phrases (“on the piss,” for example) that clearly mark it as an import. So too does a running subplot involving Paddy’s lineage, though that’s also Glitch’s weakest element, primarily because it feels driven less by credible character behavior than by a 21st-century desire to make retroactive amends for past historical injustices. Even Dennehy’s colorful turn as the giant knife-wielding Paddy (and his rapport with Aaron McGrath’s young kid) can’t quite mitigate the sense that his character (who claims to be after “redress and restitution”) is more of a mouthpiece for modern ideas than a coherently drawn character.
Nonetheless, Glitch refuses to trap itself in any inextricable corners, and its finale arrives so soon—replete with a raft of stakes-raising cliffhangers—that it’s almost cruel in its refusal to definitively address (much less resolve) its myriad concerns. In this era of drawn-out-to-the-point-of-emaciation streaming efforts like Bloodline and Luke Cage, however, it’s hard to complain about a tantalizing series that leaves one wanting more.