Safe, but watchable
We’re a nation that lacks revolutionary fervour, writes James Belfield – what better way to serve the demographic than with shows about fishing and mowing the lawn?
Once every three years, a General Election campaign forces Kiwis to look at what it means to be... well, Kiwis.
Regardless of whether the outcome is red, blue, green, or any other shade of political persuasion, this simple triennial act of national introspection helps colour how we see our country and those who live here.
And so, even on the basis not of the result but of the choice of parties and candidates, it seems we’re a pretty conservative bunch, happier meddling over the middle ground and ordering up homespun practical predictability as opposed to risking any chance of revolutionary fervour. Even as our nation becomes more ethnically and socially diverse, more divided between rising numbers of millennials and pensioners, more varied along lines of gender, sexuality, wealth and beliefs, we seem to want to portray ourselves as a placid, perfunctory country that’s quietly ticking off its to-do list of housing, health and road woes while focusing more readily on minor celebrities, sports and whatever ground-breaking entertainment is being prepared by our more daring fellow humans overseas.
For an example of this national identity, look no further than next week’s new Sunday and Monday offerings from Prime: a second season of the genial Judy Bailey-voiced, home-video history Decades in Colour and a Matt Watson fishing-celeb interview mashup called Hook Me Up!
Even the latter’s attempt to scream its arrival by insisting on its own exclamation mark fails to mask just how gentle and safe a format this is – in cricketing terms, these shows are the equivalent of knocking a delivery quietly out to a fielder on the boundary and then leisurely jogging a single.
That’s not to say, however, each isn’t thoroughly watchable.
Decades in Colour, especially, manages to balance nostalgia with evocative storytelling to create a beautifully made collage of Kiwi lives from the 40s to the 80s.
Whereas last year’s first series forged a chronological path from the 50s to the 70s, this time around the producers have decided to dedicate each of the hour-long shows to “home”, “work” and “play” and then bounce the donated footage between decades.
This emerges as a far more versatile structure as the themes are vague enough to allow for plenty of breadth in the narrative – “Home” includes watching fellas going off to fight in the war and Dun Mihaka’s “one-bum salute” during a royal visit to Queen St as well as the more expected clips of early South Auckland subdivisions, Hamilton hangis and what seems to be a national obsession with mowing the lawn.
And among the expected grins to be found in the short-shorts, home-built house trucks, proud-man-posing-nextto-new-letterbox and “that time mum got to go to the ball after we towed her Jeep through a rising river”, there’s still time for a bit of poignancy, such as Dev telling how it was to grow up Indian in 1980s Hamilton (“We’ve become Māoris, really”), Farry’s uncle’s recollections of fighting at Monte Cassino (“Some sort of adventure, wasn’t it?), and how Jeanette’s mum waited five years for her beau to signal he was back from war by leaving a cigarette packet on the stone wall at the end of her driveway (“So, happy ever after: five children”).
Matt Watson has never really done poignancy, and Hook Me Up! is no different as he quips and hollers in continual larrikin mode through a new series of fishing adventures – this time accompanied by homegrown celebs such as boxer Joseph Parker, golfer (and son-of-grant) Ryan Fox, and Waikato whitebaiter Stephen Donald.
And it’s a style that works. Sure, we’re not going to get in-depth profiles of these familiar faces, but Watson’s constant chippiness mixed with the fun-and-games of catching fish does see them lower their media-trained guard and show some real emotion. It’s the sort of the format that, just maybe, could be used instead of the leaders’ debates in three years’ time.
So, yes, as Kiwis we’re not flamboyant. But there’s a certain beauty in how we carry off our dull, brown plumage and programmes such as Decades in Colour and Hook Me Up! show us exactly how we want to be seen: normal folk doing normal things like getting excited at landing a large blue-nose cod, or – of course – the eternal pastime of mowing lawns.
You know how we all agreed that 2016 was A Bad Year? “What the hell is going on?” we said, as vast numbers of our heroes and icons left the planet. The shared grief might have gifted us a sense of community and camaraderie – except Brexit, Trump and Syria made us wonder who our neighbours were.
Crap year, 2016. My 2017 has been worse. Which I would keep to myself except that I’m hearing the same thing from a remarkable number of other people. Continued global crapness, but also an awareness that a lot of people are dealing with multiple personal challenges. Big sweeping things like poverty, racism and misogyny; and also intimate things like diagnoses, break-ups, anxiety, and loss. The hits keep coming, and they are personal.
So this week, all I want to do is share my hot tips on how I’ve survived the last nine months and the tools I’ll be using to make it to Christmas. They are guilty pleasures – in the sense that you’re supposed to feel guilty about them, but I don’t. Heads up: if you adopt even half of my recommendations you are going to have to do what I did last week and buy a bigger pair of pants.
Chicken nibbles with sweetcorn, liquorice stuffed with chocolate, homemade laksa, coconut yoghurt, spare ribs, caramel cheesecake, those gummy watches they make for kids, and chilli. All of these should be served in big, individualal bowls – not a soup-sized bowl; take the ones that you serve the family salad in when it’s summer, and fill them right up.
Youtube makeup and hair tutorials. Search “messy buns” and “eyeshadow + over 50”. I am yet to try the batwing eyes s with sticky-tape, but all the ladies seem nice and the chatter is soothing. Also, how have I lived this long and not known youu could use concealer as eyeshadow primer? Or understood that you need an eyeshadow primer? It’s like there is a wholee way to be a woman I didn’t know about and it is as simple ass backcombing and something called “contouring”. The comments beneath them are variations on: “Thank you!” and: “Changed my life!” It is a gentle space.
Midsomer Murders. Series link it and you should get two episodes of both incarnations of Inspector Barnaby per week.k. One hundred minutes of middle-class white people killing each other over money and sex. There was an episode where,e, in the opening scene, a woman was found dead, face down in a pond. Barnaby asked the local plod if her family had been notified. “It seems she lived alone in a cottage near the Causton library.” Ah, how lovely, I thought. That sounds peaceful. And what a way to go. I bet she had a cat.