Hulu’s Australian series “The Artful Dodger” is an energetic, fast paced period piece – it’s not going to knock your socks off, but it’s entertaining enough.
Now streaming and based on the Charles Dickens character from “Oliver Twist,” the show follows the adult life of Charles Dickens’ famous thief, Jack Dawkins, aka The Artful Dodger (played by Thomas Brodie-Sangster, “Game of Thrones”).
In “Oliver Twist,” the Artful Dodger character is the pickpocket leader of a gang of child criminals, overseen by the sinister Fagin.
Set in 1850s Australia in the colony of Port Victory, the seris was created by David Maher, David Taylor and James McNamara. It picks up 15 years after the events of “Oliver Twist” and is not a direct adaptation of any Dickens novel – rather, similar to the upcoming movie “Wonka,” it dives into the story of a colorful side character from the original.
As a young adult, Dodger has now reinvented himself as a surgeon who performs his surgeries in front of cheering crowds of men — and competes with his fellow doctors on how fast they can perform amputations.
The show isn’t a good watch if you’re squeamish, as it has one too many ghoulish close-ups and spurting blood that don’t feel quite necessary.
In a side plot that dovetails with Dodger’s, Lady Belle Fox (Maia Mitchell), is the Governor’s daughter, who wants to become the first female surgeon in the colony.
Dodger’s new life becomes complicated when Fagin (David Thewlis) returns, to lure Dodger back to a life of crime — employing the age-old trope: “Former criminal gets pulled back in for ‘one last job.’”
Of course, it’s never just one last job.
Australian character actors such as Tim Minchhin and Damon Herriman round out the cast (Minchin plays the sinister Darious Cracksworth, who wants to use violent methods to collect Dodger’s gambling debts; Herriman plays the somewhat oblivious detective, Captain Gaines).
The dialogue is quippy and quirky. For example, as two women await a man’s arrival, one woman breathlessly asks, “What do you think he’ll be wearing?” and her friend replies, “Clothes, one hopes.”
And when Dodger tells Fagin that he’ll get a hand chopped off if he can’t pay off his gambling debt, Fagin asks “Which hand?” and when Dodger replies that he can chose which hand he’ll lose, Fagin cheerfully says, “Well, that’s something!”
The show’s fast-cut editing and contemporary rock soundtrack makes a statement that it aspires to be similar to hit period piece “Peaky Blinders.”
However, the show also has a literary bent, as it toys around with Dickens characters (but viewers don’t need to be familiar with his work, in order to follow it).
Its sometimes bloody scenes and focus on corruption and equality in the 1800s also gives it a tone like “The Alienist.”
But, it’s got a dash more romance and whimsey (although, it’s not quite as zany as its platform sibling, Hulu period drama “The Great”).
The combination of these disparate elements makes for a tone that feels inconsistent. For the most part, however, “The Artful Dodger” is as scrappy and mischievous as its titular character.
It’s filled with cons, surgeries, gambling, thieving and a whole hodge-podge of dubious behaviors – not to mention a lot of people strolling around in top hats and billowing long coats.
It’s not a sedate costume drama, but, then again, it’s not trying to be one.
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