Netflix wades into Australian waters with epic supernatural mystery Tidelands

Timing can be everything. Producers Tracey Robertson and Nathan Mayfield, founders of the Brisbane-based Hoodlum Entertainment, had been nursing the possibility of Tidelands for years. And they were thinking big.

Writer Stephen M. Irwin, with whom they'd previously worked on Secrets and Lies and Harrow, had an idea about an Australian coastal village rife with ominous and mysterious activity. It involved illegal trading and the fate of a troubled family, and it had supernatural overtones, to do with sirens and mythology. In order to do it justice, the producers imagined a large-scale production – multiple locations, a sizeable cast, special effects – and they didn't think that the budgets typically allowed for local dramas would be sufficient. But they had faith in the concept, so they pondered international options and they waited.

Else Pataky and Madeleine Madden in the supernatural mystery Tidelands.Credit:Jasin Boland/Netflix

The company had previously been involved in two productions with the US ABC network, the American adaptation of their murder mystery, Secrets and Lies, and the crime drama, Harrow. They had a good working relationship with ABC executive, Kelly Luegenbiehl, and, when she moved to Netflix, she invited them to submit a proposal for the production that would become the company's first Australian original production.

Tidelands' time had come. "Netflix liked that it was big," recalls Mayfield. "It didn't feel like it was a relationship drama. It was big enough that Kelly knew it could travel, but it wasn't afraid to be Australian either." So, after six years in development, it became a 10-part supernatural mystery driven by two female leads and showcasing Queensland in all its striking coastal and inland glory.

The series is set in the fictional town of Orphelin Bay, which is created from five different locations, including Stradbroke Island. When Cal McTeer (Charlotte Best) is released from juvenile detention, she returns to her hometown, struggling with issues from her past that need resolution and seeking her inheritance. "She's fiery," says former Home and Away star Best, who landed her first lead role on the series. "She's very emotional, she's on a mission and it's a story of discovery. Cal she wants answers so that she can move on with her life, but that proves to be very difficult."

Cal finds her fisherman brother, Augie (Aaron Jakubenko), up to his neck in trouble, trying to keep the family business afloat but making most of his money from the drug trade. His activities are being facilitated by the Tidelanders, who live nearby in a closed community called L'Attente.

Elsa Pataky (right) as the ethereal Adrielle, “queen” of the cult-like Tidelanders. Credit:Jasin Boland/Netflix

Mayfield describes the Tidelanders as "the bastard children of sirens and humans", and, given the fabled seductive powers of the sirens, it's fair to say that they're a good-looking bunch. He explains that the series is "supernatural, but it's not in the monster world. In some ways, it's an adoption story, it's about identity. It's about a girl who grew up thinking that she knew her world and all of that turns upside-down by the end of the first episode".

Mayfield says that the production had a "no tails, no scales" policy. "This wasn't going to be Splash or The Little Mermaid. It was about a small town that was trying to find ways to survive. We looked at the shows that we loved, like True Blood, at how we could be risky, how we could introduce that supernatural feeling without going too over-the-top. The Tidelanders have found ways to buy anonymity and privacy for centuries, whether the trade was rum, or spices, or tobacco."

Cal McTeer (Charlotte Best) stumbles into trouble when she returns to her hometown after a stint in prison.Credit:Jasin Boland/Netflix

Ruling over them with ruthlessness, a steely eye and her own secrets is their queen, Adrielle (Elsa Pataky). Working on her first Australian production, conveniently close to her home in Byron Bay, Pataky describes the slinky Adrielle as "a very strong leader who will do whatever it takes to achieve her goals. She needs to protect her people from the human race because she knows how much hate, cruelty and destruction humans can create".

Between the Tidelanders' agenda, Augie's activities, the heavies from the south eyeing his operation, the local police and a tragic incident involving the McTeer family, there's a lot going on in Orphelin Bay. Packed with plot, the series also sets up Cal's strained relationship with her mother, Bellarosa (Caroline Brazier), her attraction to Corey (Mattias Inwood), the childhood pal who's become a police constable, and her desire to get to the bottom of the incident that resulted in her father's death. Then there are the stirrings of rebellion and a concealed secret at L'Attente. "I think that was something else that appealed to Netflix," recalls Mayfield. "We weren't ashamed to burn through story."

Madeleine Madden in Tidelands, Netflix’s first Australian commission.

"This wasn't going to be Splash or The Little Mermaid. It was about a small town that was trying to find ways to survive."

Describing the process of working with Netflix as "a lot of fun", he says, "We have had a great relationship with ABC and we've got a great relationship with Netflix. I don't think they're that different in the way that they work. Netflix challenged us. When we gave them the edit, they'd say, 'It's a good start'. They want you to be bold and, creatively, they're collaborators with a light touch. I think the biggest learning experience with Netflix is that you're dealing with people who'll agree that the best idea wins, and that's cool."

Robertson recalls that "when we pitched the show, we'd been working on it for a long time and we had four seasons laid out. Now we easily have six or seven seasons".

TIDELANDS TidelandsCredit:Jasin Boland/Netflix

It was a long wait, but Robertson and Mayfield's patience and faith in Tidelands paid off. Now, Mayfield says happily, "Nothing's ever dead, that's our motto."

Tidelands premieres on December 14 on Netlix.

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