Trackers looks like one of this year’s most original crime shows


A new show now streaming on Neon looks set to provide your crime show fix. Set in South Africa, Trackers showcases a faraway land while featuring  ruthless gangsters, scheming terrorists and edge-of-your-seat scenes of intensity, writes Daniel Rutledge.

One of the great things about how we’re virtually drowning in endless content these days is that it offers so much diversity. We’re not confined to a few British sitcoms made for mum and dad, a couple of unbelievably cheesy Aussie soaps and a handful of dumb American cop dramas on just a few channels—thanks to streaming services, we can easily and cheaply enjoy the finest film and TV from almost any country around the globe with a few clicks on the TV remote.

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* Everything coming to Neon in June

When was the last time you enjoyed a sweet as South African crime thriller show? I’m guessing not for a while, but you’re in luck. Coming to Neon soon is Trackers, which will likely be one of the most original crime shows you see this year. It has ruthless gangsters, scheming terrorists and edge-of-your-seat scenes of intensity as an under resourced law enforcement agency struggling to keep citizens safe—so if you need your crime show fix, this comfortably hits on all the tropes it needs to.

But what makes Trackers so different, for a Kiwi audience at least, is just how exotic it is as a completely South African show. The majority of its spoken word is in English, but there’s also a delightfully common use of other languages, including a lot of Afrikaans. This is fitting not only as the first language of many of the characters, but also due to it being an adaptation of the novels by Deon Meyer. Say what you will about South African accents, but the local languages are highly pleasant to listen to and it’s very rare we get to enjoy a whole lot of Afrikaans on our screens.

Of course, the appeal of international TV stretches far beyond just enjoying different languages. It’s a mainline into another culture and a way to virtually travel from your couch, showcasing much of a fascinating, faraway land. Beyond both rural and urban contemporary South Africa, we also pop across the border to Zimbabwe in Trackers, with plenty of luscious aerial shots to allow you to soak in the natural beauty. It’s pretty rare that transporting endangered rhinos is a central plot point in crime dramas, too, but amazing African wildlife is a key element here.

It’s also just a bloody good crime thriller. There’s a bit of a low budget feel to the Presidential Bureau of Intelligence (PBI) operation depicted that feels realistic, just as it did in the police operation depicted throughout The Wire. This is not an elite branch of the US military with billions to blow on whatever they want like experimental super soldier programmes. Sitting at a desk and connecting the dots of a case might not sound very glamorous, but that’s the sort of grunt work that actually gets the bad guys, and Trackers portrays that.

And we also don’t just follow the PBI. James Gracie plays Lemmer, the most badass character in the show and perhaps its most exciting element. This guy oozes former special forces with his performance, not just in how he handles bad guys when he has to but just in the way he carries himself—he has a real Zero Dark Thirty vibe, y’know. And when shit hits the fan and he does have to waste baddies, that’s when Trackers is firing on all cylinders. He inadvertently gets drawn into the show’s international terror plot and that forces him into a thrilling gunfight in the first episode, and then again in the third. Although he’s a very highly skilled operator, there’s a grounded realism to these scenes that makes them feel gritty and palpably perilous. And Lemmer works as a wonderful sort of wild element compliment to the more studious intelligence officers.

Of those officers, the one we follow the most closely is Milla, who joins the PBI in the first episode. She’s just left an abusive, controlling husband and their cold, resentful son and can’t quite believe she lands the job, having not worked for decades. Milla’s a great audience surrogate—as she learns about the PBI, so do we, and you’re naturally rooting for her more than any other character. That’s helped by actress Rolanda Marais, who endearingly injects the role with instinctual investigative nous and believable vulnerability.

As the show progresses, various threads are added in that include the CIA, some missing smuggled diamonds and a mysterious American tourist. The plot gets more complicated and the intrigue gets driven right up, making for an ideal binge-watch as the desire to know how it all ends is real. It’s all inevitably leading to an explosive conclusion, which hopefully includes Lemmer kicking loads more arse.