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Series / Cleverman

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Dream on.

The Aboriginal people of Australia are the longest surviving culture on earth with over 60,000 years of stories known as The Dreaming.

The Dreaming is a spiritual realm that binds the past, present and future together. It is inhabited by incredible creatures and spirits.

At the head of this realm is the Cleverman, a powerful man who is the conduit between The Dreaming and the real world.
Opening title cards (in the US broadcast only)

Cleverman is an Australian TV series co-produced with New Zealand and the United States, starring Hunter Page-Lochard, Deborah Mailman, Frances O'Connor and Iain Glen. The show was created by Ryan Griffen, who wanted to create an Aboriginal superhero for his son, and draws heavily from the mythology of the Indigenous Australians. Cleverman is broadcast simultaneously on the ABC in Australia and Sundance in the United States.

In a dystopic alternate version of Australia, "Hairypeople" — strong, long-lived humanoid creatures with a connection to the Dreaming — are rounded up by the government and forced to live in squalor in an area called "the Zone" alongside the poorest and neediest humans. Koen West, an amoral bar owner in the Zone who has turned his back on his culture, is anointed the new Cleverman after the death of his Uncle Jimmy. With new supernatural abilities and the help of his brother Waruu, a community leader who expected to be the new Cleverman, Koen must face threats to his people and the political forces encroaching on the Zone.


  • Ambiguously Evil:
    • It's anyone's guess whether Waruu is a Well-Intentioned Extremist or a Not-So-Well-Intentioned Extremist, complicated by his horrible treatment of Koen, his Freudian Excuse, his violent and jealous tendencies, and his genuine desire to save the Zone. At the end of Season One, he sides with Slade and furiously rants at the people of the Zone when they don't accept him as their leader, but also tries to fight the Namorrodor and has a very ambiguous expression when Koen finally steps up and kills it. At the final scene of the season when they face down the CA, he's nowhere to be seen.
    • In Season Two this gets more complicated, where on one hand we see him using his new position to try to find Nerida and Alinta as well as even preparing his luxurious new home for their return; but he also breaks an innocent man's nose to weasel out of a blood test. Later on he pours Koen a drink and tells him that they're brothers no matter what happens, right before attacking him with a knife.
  • Ambiguously Human: The young woman that Koen rescues. He sees her as a much older woman at times and she seems to have powers of her own. Later clarified as her being an ancestral spirit.
  • Amplifier Artifact: Possibly the aged Nula Nula (traditional hunting club) Uncle Jimmy gave to Koen.
    Uncle Jimmy: That is not a toy.
  • Anyone Can Die: Season Two kicks off with Djukara pulling off a Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Artistic License Biology: In season 2, Slade experiments on Koen's blood to learn more about the Cleverman's abilities. Cancer is presented as a pathogen that infects and destroys cells, when it's actually the result of abnormal cell growth.
  • The Atoner: Blair eventually joins the Hairies and is on the front lines when it's time to fight back as a way of atoning for what happened to the family he sold out.
  • Awful Truth:
    • Charlotte eventually learns that Jarrod has been experimenting on her and that their child has Hairy DNA.
    • Auntie Linda was directly responsible for the crash that killed Koen's mother and Koen and Waruu's father; and may have done so deliberately.
  • Back from the Dead:
    • A young woman is revived from the dead by Uncle Jimmy. It is his last act as the Cleverman before he gives it to Koen.
    • Koen does this himself during the Season Two premiere.
  • Barred from the Afterlife: A variation, where a spirit is simply unaware of where they need to go. Might also be Unfinished Business, as it's the Hairy girl killed in the first episode, and Koen has to apologize to her and guide her on her way.
  • Bequeathed Power: Played with. Uncle Jimmy chose Koen —the black sheep of the family— as the new Cleverman, and then chose to go to his death.
  • Big Brother Bully: In case his completely uncaring reaction to Koen having his finger torn off didn't confirm Waruu as this, a flashback reveals that he used to bully Koen over having a white mother.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: In this dystopian society, security drones and cameras are everywhere.
  • Black Comedy: "I'm Blair." *holds up tin can containing the ashes of his girlfriend* "This is Ash."
  • Cain and Abel: Waruu and Koen, respectively. Although they both have their moral pitfalls, Waruu is antagonistic and malevolent toward Koen.
  • Cessation of Existence: Anybody who is struck by the Cleverman's Energy Ball is stripped of their essence, and will simply cease to exist when they eventually die. Gives way to Fridge Horror, as we learn this after Koen inadvertently hit Auntie Linda with it while fighting off Mungo's attackers.
  • Children Are Innocent: The Bindawu are Properly Paranoid of any human, but make an exception for Charlotte who is carrying a Hairy child.
  • The Chosen One: Koen is chosen by Uncle Jimmy to succeed him as the Zone's Cleverman.
  • The Chosen Wannabe: Waruu, a respected community leader who was close with Uncle Jimmy, fully expected to be chosen as the next Cleverman. He's not happy that it went to his screwup brother instead.
  • The Chooser of the One: Uncle Jimmy identified Koen as the Cleverman.
  • Cliffhanger: The season ends on one, with Koen rallying the people of the Zone to face down the CA coming to wipe them out. The episode cuts off moments after a scout runs in, announcing their arrival.
  • Cool Old Lady:
    • The old woman who shelters Latani and then forges a fake ID and special contact lenses to help her escape the authorities.
    • Aunty Linda, who's knowledgeable, kind, and sharp-tongued when she needs to be.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Jarod. Unabashedly so.
  • Crapsack World: The government is gleefully oppressive to Hairypeople and any humans who help them.
  • Death of a Child: A small child member of the Hairy people is killed by the authorities because her older brother was fighting back, and a 12-year old human boy is killed by the Namorrodor.
  • Despair Event Horizon: After Ash's death, Koen wanders around the Zone and barely blinks when Djukara puts a gun to his neck. When the man hesitates, Koen pulls the trigger himself. He survives it, but it's pretty clear he wouldn't have cared if he didn't.
  • Diegetic Switch: At the end of the teaser of the final episode, the theme song is briefly played as diegetic music with a "cheap radio" audio effect, before the credit sequence proper starts.
  • "Do It Yourself" Theme Tune: Australian rapper Briggs both performs the theme song and plays a recurring role as Maliyan.
  • Dystopia: The government has free reign to do whatever it wants with the Hairypeople, lower-class people are only marginally better off, the population is heavily monitored, and the government is completely corrupt.
  • Establishing Character Moment: See Opportunistic Bastard below.
  • Eye Scream: Uncle Jimmy's bleeding eye, mirrored by Koen's bleeding eye as the power transfers from his uncle to him.
  • Facial Markings: Common among the Hairypeople. When Koen becomes a vigilante, he dons it himself.
  • Fainting: Koen's quickie sex with his best friend's girlfriend is interrupted by this as the Cleverman power enters him.
  • Fantastic Ghetto: The Zone, where the Hairypeople are kept along with the poorest people. Any help has to come from charity as the government has more or less abandoned it.
  • Fantastic Racism: Against the Hairypeople, obviously, who have it especially bad since even the regular public sees them as subhuman.
  • Fantastic Slurs: There are a handful of derogatory terms regular humans use for the Hairypeople: Hairies, subbies, subhumans, monkeys, shavers, rugs, and the like.
  • Flipping the Bird: Koen shows up at Uncle Jimmy's funeral and does this to his brother to show that the finger torn off the night before has healed.
  • Fingore: When Waruu finds out that Koen made the call that got a family of hairies separated and their youngest child killed, he shows up at his brother's bar with a Hairy. Koen, all bravado, gives the Hairy the finger; the Hairy responds by tearing it off at the lowest knuckle and dropping it on the floor.
  • Gaslighting: Jerrod tries to make Charlotte thinks she's simply imagining things as a result of being hormonal while pregnant after she realizes her pregnancy's abnormal. He secretly gave their child Hairypeople DNA to experiment without Charlotte's knowledge or consent.
  • Gory Discretion Shot: We never see what killed Uncle Jimmy or how it was done, but the results are pretty gory: whatever it was that killed him went into his chest below the ribs, cracked them open and took his heart.
  • Guinea Pig Family: Charlotte Slade has had trouble conceiving. Her husband is a bit of a Mad Scientist and he impregnates her with a Hairy-mutated embryo under the guise of a fertility clinic.
  • Healing Factor: One of the first powers we see that comes with the Cleverman title.
  • Heel Realization: Two-for-one in "A Man of Vision", when Waruu's wife confronts him about killing a sadistic Containment Authority guard in cold blood and he finds he has no excuse for it; and when Koen breaks down crying when he remembers the Hairy girl that was killed because he sold her family out.
  • Holy Is Not Safe: Slade tries to gain control of the Dreaming. The Dreaming isn't malevolent, but it doesn't take well to being toyed with, either.
  • How Do I Shot Web?: Beyond the instinctive sensing and healing, Koen doesn't have the first idea of how to be a Cleverman.
  • Hugh Mann: The Hairyman who acts as Waruu's right hand is called Harry. Played with in that, otherwise, his human disguise is completely convincing.
  • If It Bleeds, It Leads: Jarrod Slade defies the government's media embargo to broadcast footage of the Hairy raid in the first episode, which ended with a child being shot by police.
  • Imperiled in Pregnancy: Charlotte goes through quite a lot while carrying her child.
  • Improvised Weapon: In episode 6, when preparing to face down the CA coming to clear the Zone, Nerida and Koen are among the few with actual weapons. The others make molotov cocktails, set up traps using oil drums, and the rest are carrying whatever bludgeons they could make.
  • I Will Punish Your Friend for Your Failure: The sadistic prison guard gets Djukara to cooperate by electrocuting his father in front of him until he breaks.
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: Koen is pretty quickly established as this. Character Development turns him into a Jerk with a Heart of Gold.
  • Killed Offscreen: Blair and Koen are killed during the confrontation with the Containment Authority, right after Season One ends. Koen eventually gets better.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Slade's wife is having trouble conceiving.
  • LEGO Genetics: Slade funds and runs research into Hairypeople DNA and ways to synthesize it into an enhancing serum for humans. Soon afterwards he figures out how to inject the Hairy genome into a human egg cell, as well as creating a procedure that de-powers Hairypeople.
  • Lost Tribe: The Bindawu in season 2 are one of the few Hairypeople tribes that have managed to stay hidden from humanity in the modern age. For obvious reasons, they are very frightened about humans discovering them.
  • Magic Versus Science: Averted thus far; the supernatural experiences of the Cleverman are very separate from the experiments of Slade, although he does seek Koen as a test subject to further his Hairypeople research. Some of his research is dipping into the supernatural; as shown by the classified pathogen as well as the experiments on the nula-nula.
  • Mama Bear: Araluen plays a quiet Sex Slave for the chance to escape and look for her family, but when she realizes her daughter is in danger, she kills her captors in full Tranquil Fury mode.
  • Mark of the Supernatural: The unnaturally blue left eye that marks a Cleverman.
  • Mugging the Monster: The Cold Open of the first episode, in which four hoons sexually harass a young woman on a bus who turns out to be Hairy, and get more than they expected.
  • Must Make Amends: After Koen's Heel Realization, Aunty Linda invokes this trope to convince him to help a boy who's been haunted.
    Aunty Linda: We don't always get a chance to do good. If I was you, I'd grab this one with both hands.
  • A Mythology Is True: Aboriginal mythology, called the Dreaming, turns out to be true. Waruu is versed in the Dreaming, enough that he recognizes important story related events around him.
    • He identifies the creature that killed Uncle Jimmy by its work and its reason for showing up: "when things are out of balance".
    • He also recognizes the story from Uncle Jimmy as an indication said uncle made his choice of who will succeed him as Cleverman.
    • A story contained in Uncle Jimmy's journal tips Waruu off that sap from a particular tree can counter the Cleverman's Healing Factor.
  • No-Sell: The girl who was brought back to life blocks Koen's attempt to sense her Dreaming.
  • The Nothing After Death: Slade is seen disappearing into a black void after his death.
  • Opportunistic Bastard: Koen makes himself out as a kindly human wanting to help the poor, downtrodden Hairies get out of the slum that is the Zone and into a nicer, newer home in the city. But he is really setting them up. He calls the authorities to report "a sighting" of them so he can get the reward for turning them in. He sneers at his friends when they balk up on realizing what the authorities do to Hairies who don't come quietly.
  • Pass Fail: In the opening of the first episode, the Hairy on the bus is discovered pretty quickly.
  • Police Brutality: Being a dystopian future, this is common against Hairies and the people of the Zone.
  • Reality Has No Subtitles: Cora's dialogue goes unsubtitled, as she's mostly around Koen and Blair who can't understand her. She only gains subtitles around Aunty Linda and Koen in "Terra Nullius".
  • Redemption Equals Death: Blair dies defending the Zone and the Hairypeople.
  • Redheads Are Uncool: Subverted. Blair's girlfriend Ash is a redhead. She's very sweet, very caring, and was very disgusted when she learned what Koen's double cross of the Hairies resulted in.
  • Resurrective Immortality: As the Cleverman, Koen recovers from things like torn-off fingers and bullets in the head. This has limits, as shown with Uncle Jimmy's demise.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Maliyan, one of the Hot-Blooded leaders in the Zone and a supporting character is killed by Waruu at the season's end to show how far he's fallen.
  • Self-Mutilation Demonstration: Koen is apparently Genre Savvy enough to realize he has a Healing Factor after the finger that got torn off heals in a matter of minutes. To prove it to his friends — and to himself — he takes a sharp knife and slits his wrist vertically, only to watch it heal in seconds.
  • Slave Brand: Played with. The Hairies are branded by the authorities once they have been apprehended, though they are not officially slaves. A branded Hairy is easier for the Authorities to recognize. They know where to look on the back of the neck for the burn mark. This doesn't stop some Hairies, like Araluen, from actually being enslaved, though.
  • Spirit Advisor: Uncle Jimmy, acting as a guide and mentor to Koen after he's accepted his role as Cleverman.
  • Sugar-and-Ice Personality: Kora, it turns out. She's cold to people who are rude to her but is kind to her friends.
  • Super-Strength: The Hairies are easily an order of magnitude stronger than the humans.
  • Telepathy: Cora first contacts Koen using this. As a mark of him growing as the Cleverman, he's able to communicate with her at the end before he sends her back.
  • The Reveal: At the abandoned caravan Koen is guided to:
    Uncle Jimmy: Close your mouth, boy. You look like you've seen a ghost.
  • Time Skip: Six months pass between seasons 1 and 2.
  • Too Dumb to Live: Matthews shows Araluen footage of her people dying in the Zone, tells her she'll soon be the last of her kind, and assumes that because she's his Sex Slave she's too broken to do anything. She strangles him, electrocutes her handler, and escapes.
  • Took a Level in Badass: After the Time Skip, Koen is able to access more of his powers and has grown into a leader.
  • Traumatic Haircut: Djukara, one of the main Hairies in prison, gets publicly shaved to shame him after he beats a couple prison guards.
  • Transhuman Treachery: Slade derives a solution from his Hairy experiment subjects that will add on 100 years of life. Waruu takes it and starts exhibiting Slade's Social Darwinist views and a Lack of Empathy, referring to a Hairy he killed as a "cancer" and making grand speeches about leading the community into a new era. In this case, it's ambiguous how much of this is their base personalities being let loose and how much is the experiment changing them.
  • Vagueness Is Coming: The emergence of the Hairypeople, and later the Namorrodor, indicate that something is very wrong and Slade's remark about building an ark seems to indicate a catastrophic event is coming, but it's not known exactly what's coming. Justified as the only people who could clarify are either dead or untrustworthy, and Koen doesn't know enough of his own powers to interpret the signs.
  • Vengeance Feels Empty: Djukara notes that shooting Koen didn't change anything, and later turns down the opportunity to shoot Blair for the same reason.
  • Vigilante Man: As of season 2, Koen has become this.
  • Wall Bang Her: Koen has sex with Ash up against the kitchen counter.
  • What the Hell, Hero?: Since the world is a Morality Kitchen Sink with few characters who are truly innocent, nearly every character gets called out at one point or another. Waruu and Koen are the most common recipients, but Uncle Jimmy, Aunty Linda, Djukara, and many others get turns at pulling this trope or having it pulled on them. Sometimes, they even do it to each other in the same conversation.
  • Would Hurt a Child:
    • The young Hairy girl Jyra dies five minutes into the first episode.
    • Mungo is brutally beaten to death by a pair of off-duty Containment Authority officers.
  • You Are Too Late: Koen and Auntie Linda return too late to save Mungo.