Detective Zane Malik (Don Hany) is a tough, smart, and sometimes difficult detective working in the elite Major Crime Squad on the police force of Sydney, Australia. He’s also a Muslim living in the racially divided country in a post-9/11 world. Like all detectives, he must live with the daily grind of dealing with some of the worst, most hardened criminals around. Drug dealers, gangsters, murderers are all faced down, fought, and captured on a regular basis. There is also the balance of family to contend with in a schedule that isn’t exactly 9-5. But unlike most cops, Malik must also deal with belonging to a religion that is not only the minority in Australia, but also seen as openly hostile, if not utterly terroristic, to many of his countrymen.
East West 101 weaves its tales between the westernized culture of Australia and the eastern immigrants that are steadily entering the country (its title also comes from the fact that many Australian cities, including Sydney, are divided along those geographical lines between rich natives and the poor immigrants.) For the most part, it works and is a well-conceived show that successfully blends drama, action, and a social consciousness together seamlessly.
The other characters consist of Malik’s Major Crime Squad teammates - the boss Patricia Wright (Susie Porter), his partner Sonny Koa (Aaron Fa’aoso), and Detectives Callas (Daniela Farinacci), Lim (Renee Lim), and Travis (Matthew Nable, who only appears in Season 3.) Then there is his wife Amina (Tasneem Roc), father (Taffy Hany), and son Amir (George Fayad).
Each season deals with one major crime that is slowly solved over the course of the season and smaller crimes, sometimes related to the major one, which are usually solved by the end of the episode. It is a well-made, well-plotted, well-acted show that is both thrilling and dramatic. It is action packed but gives enough moments to flesh out most of the major characters so that we are interested in them and learn to care.
The social message grows thin at times, often feeling more tacked on than integral to the plot of any one particular story. Malik is a good Muslim, following the tennants of the religion, but he also cares about non-believers, being a great cop, and a good family man. Throughout the show, he has to fight racism on and off the force. Yet time and time again, the villains on the show are Muslim. The show takes pains to demonstrate they are extremist, but it's a thin line between working a social message into your show and perpetuating prejudices. For the most part, they do a good job of dealing with those difficult themes while still creating compelling television, but at times it feels as if the writers play more lip service to them while trying to make a typical cop drama.
Season Two deals with the aftermath of a car bomb that killed two men and brought down the NSO looking for Muslim terrorists. Season Three's major crime is a armored-bank-transport robbery, which results in the death of several citizens and one gangster. I found Season Three to be much more compelling as it also deals with a tragic personal loss for Malik, giving the story much more weight than the second season.
Extras on the disks are minimal with both seasons having but a few short features.
East West 101: Seasons Two and Three offer an entertaining crime drama that integrates a social message into its storyline. It's compelling stuff that's both fun thrilling and meaningful.