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?

The Dominion Post - Your Weekend (Dominion Post) - - Weekend Puzzles -

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.

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