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Netflix’s Tidelands was tailor-made for a nudity-based drinking game

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The supernatural soap opera launches in America on December 14th

Jasin Boland/Netflix

The best media-based drinking games have simple rules, but will keep players consistently buzzed. Drinking every time someone says “Hansel,” “Gretel,” or “Witch” during Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters, or watching Highlander and drinking for every flashback, a decapitation, or instance of, “There can be only one” works perfectly. Likewise, if you take a sip whenever anyone removes an article of clothing or has sex in Netflix’s new Australian series Tidelands, you’ll be drinking early and often — and you’ll probably enjoy the show more than if you’re watching sober.

The eight-episode first season, which arrives on Netflix on December 14th, follows Cal McTeer (Charlotte Best) and all the trouble she stirs up when she gets out of prison and goes home to the small coastal town of Orphelin Bay. Cal was locked up for arson and manslaughter at age 10, but was apparently totally innocent when it came to the shady dealings her family is involved in. Her brother Augie (Aaron Jakubenko) ostensibly runs a fishing collective, but is actually a drug smuggler in league with the titular Tidelanders, the generations-removed progeny of sirens trysting with human men.

Tidelands is cut from the supernatural-soap-opera mold that has become a CW signature, but because it’s Netflix, it can include nudity. So there’s a lot of it. There are shots of Tidelanders picking up barrels of drugs from the ocean floor, while wearing only bikini bottoms. There’s Cal, wondering if she might be a Tidelander, stripping down to test her water-breathing in the tub. For equal-opportunity eye candy, there’s also a scene where Augie removes his sleeveless shirt and the camera zooms in on his muscles, right before he dons another sleeveless shirt.

And then there’s the sex, which creator Stephen M. Irwin sometimes uses like Game of Thrones’ notorious sexposition, though sometimes it’s just a throwaway transition between scenes. There’s Tidelander queen Adrielle Cuthbert (Elsa Pataky) showing her control over Augie by locking his penis in the Kegel grip of doom, or demonstrating her authority over her lieutenant, Dylan (Marco Pigossi), by dismissing the girl straddling him, and sending him on a mission. There’s Dylan and Cal having sex on the beach right after Dylan confesses to ripping out a young boy’s eye. There’s Dylan walking down the beach and hooking up with Adrielle, who doesn’t mind that he still apparently tastes like Cal. Then there’s the seemingly nightly orgies in the shantytown where the Tidelanders live.

Granted, there’s more to Tidelands than the visual appeal of its attractive cast. Netflix may have released this show in December for reasons other than luring in the Aquaman crowd. With most of the Northern hemisphere gripped by winter, Tidelands’ gorgeous shots of pristine beaches take on an almost-pornographic quality. The scenery is luscious, with long sequences where characters drive around or walk along the shore, as melancholy female-vocalist-driven music plays to show that they’re having deep thoughts about a given episode’s central conflict. Costume designer Tess Schofield does a particularly good job of clothing the Tidelanders in a style that could be described as “sexy vampires, but with a lot of shells, shark teeth, and pearls.” Adrielle looks especially regal in her wardrobe of silk dresses, which she wears with no regard for what sea water does to the fabric.

Photo: Jasin Boland/Netflix

But besides sex and style, Tidelands doesn’t have much going for it. The drug-running plot can be summed up as “Sons of Anarchy if all the gang members besides Jax Teller were interchangeable longshoremen.” In one scene, Augie spends a drive to a shootout talking about how much he admires his best friend and lieutenant, and it becomes painfully clear that it’s because something bad is about to happen to that character, and the writers abruptly realized they never gave the audience any reason to care. A different lieutenant is ensnared in a blackmail plot after sleeping with Augie’s girlfriend, but given how much casual partner-swapping goes on in the show, it strains credulity that Augie would even care.

The Tidelanders’ stories are similarly half-baked, centering around a brewing coup against Adrielle by the scheming Violca (Madeleine Madden), who never offers any reason why she’d make a better queen, apart from bribing her fellows with a bigger cut of the drug money. The Tidelanders are extremely long-lived, super-strong, can compel men to answer their questions, and are able to manipulate water and, by extension, blood, letting them both kill people dramatically and — in a twist sure to spur some new Avatar: The Last Airbender fan fiction — trigger sexual arousal.

Jasin Boland/Netflix

Also, some of them can see the future, but this ability seems limited to little girls and old women, just to keep it creepy. In spite of all this power, they live in isolation because they fear exposure. And yet for some reason, they also act like serial killers, constantly gouging out their enemies’ eyes, then staging their corpses in public places. Also, there’s a miracle baby, because every supernatural soap opera needs one.

Tidelands has some novel plot points that a better version of this show would spend more time developing. Male Tidelanders have weaker supernatural abilities than their female counterparts, so they’re largely relegated to attaching themselves to more powerful women. It’s a fascinating inversion of the ways gender dynamics typically work in intrigue-heavy fantasy stories. Meanwhile, a group of widows of men lost at sea band together to question the Tidelanders’ influence in the town, which was once devoted to legitimate fishing, until that industry stopped being profitable. The plot could certainly become a lens to examine the kind of bargains people are willing to make when economic shifts threaten their way of life.

But then someone takes off their clothes, and instead, it’s time to drink again. Tidelands is trash TV, but it’s the type of entertaining trash that’s sure to find an audience who will love it for exactly what it is. It’s the sunny television equivalent of a beach read, a perfect escapist fantasy for getting through the worst of winter.