Serangoon Road DVD Review: It Might Be HBO but It Plays Like Broadcast TV

HBO Asia's first foray into original programming brings forth an entertaining, but ultimately disappointing crime drama.
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HBO has been making must-see TV for a couple of decades now.  Its original programming is consistently not only the best in its time-slot but often the best that’s ever aired in the history of television.  A brief glance at the shows its created - from The Larry Sanders Show to The Sopranos, from Curb Your Enthusiasm to Band of Brothers - and you wind up with a handful of the best TV the world has ever produced.  It's not just a marketing gimmick to say that’s it's not just TV, it's HBO, for the cable channel really has pushed TV into the land of cinema and great art.  

HBO Asia has been around since the early '90s, bringing HBO programming to Thailand, the Philippines, Indonesia, China, and pretty much every other Southeast Asian country around.  Until recently, they relied heavily on the original American programming, plus a large selection of both American and Asian films.  Interestingly, a lot of their original shows have to be severely edited for the various Asian countries they broadcast in.

Starting in 2013, HBO Asia in conjunction with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation created their first original show for the Asian market.  Serangoon Road is a detective drama set in Singapore in the mid-1960s.  It stars Don Hany as Sam Callaghan, an importer/exporter who sometimes helps out Patrcia Cheng, (Joan Chen) a private detective, on her more difficult cases.  That’s a nice set-up, and with HBO behind it, I was all set to love the series.  Unfortunately, it feels a lot less like HBO and more like a traditional broadcast network crime drama.

Each episode finds Cheng asking Sam for help on one tough case or another.  He does all the difficult leg work while she sits around using her native expertise to point him in the right directions.  The seasonal arc involves her trying to discover who killed her husband before the series began.  It's not a bad series, but with the HBO brand behind it I was expecting so much more.

I very much liked Don Hany in East West 101.  There he was a tough cop with a good heart and an anti-prejudice message.  Here, he’s just another detective asking questions and busting heads.  He’s still a joy to watch, but I wish his character had a little more to him.  Likewise, Joan Chen is fine in her role, but it never moves beyond classic television characterization.

I’m being  little too hard on it.  It's a well-made, entertaining show.  The Asian and historical settings add an interesting layer making it rise above your standard crime-drama fare.  But coming from HBO, I expect more than that. I want it to go deeper. I want the quality to be a notch higher.  Maybe that’s not fair.  Had this been a new NBC drama, I’d probably give it higher praise, but as it is, I can recommend it for crime fans with a bent towards historical dramas, but I won’t shout it from the mountaintops.

This set contains the entire first season of Serangoon Road, consisting of 10 one-hour episodes.  It is scheduled for release by Acorn Media on February 24. There are no special features.  As of this writing, a second season has not been ordered nor does it appear one is forthcoming.

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