Out of the com­fort zone

TVNZ’S re­turn­ing dra­mas hook their au­di­ences in very dif­fer­ent ways – but both re­volve around char­ac­ter, writes Steve Kil­gal­lon.

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It seemed to have per­fected the slump on the sofa, dis­en­gage the brain model of tele­vi­sion. The TVNZ drama 800 Words spent its first sea­son and a half work­ing off the premise that ab­so­lutely noth­ing ever hap­pened.

It’s the tale of heart­bro­ken wid­ower Ge­orge (prime­time favourite Erik Thom­son), who leaves Syd­ney with his two teenage kids to re­turn to the beach­side Kiwi town of his child­hood hol­i­days and some­how earns a liv­ing from bang­ing out a pi­ous, deadly-dull news­pa­per col­umn each week.

It found its groove quickly. Ge­orge mooned around, mak­ing eyes at the un­ac­count­ably large pop­u­la­tion of at­trac­tive sin­gle women, slowly fit­ted into the quirky lo­cal so­ci­ety, and life pro­gressed, can­vass­ing such vi­tal events as an an­nual grudge cricket match with the neigh­bour­ing town and Ge­orge be­ing ap­pointed ed­i­tor of the lo­cal news­pa­per.

But mid­way through sea­son two, there was a sud­den change of heart. Ge­orge be­gan to put it about a bit, and his old mate Jan found her­self preg­nant with twins and with three pos­si­ble fa­thers (Ge­orge be­ing one, lo­cal lothario Zac an­other, and Syd­ney blow-in Steve the third). Ge­orge had a bit­ter, town-di­vid­ing stink with his long lost brother, and sea­son two ended with Zac, his son Ike and Steve lost at sea in a storm.

The new sea­son, which starts on Wed­nes­day, picks up im­me­di­ately. The good peo­ple of Weld gather to search for the miss­ing trio. It’s a good episode, even if it be­comes so en­am­oured of the deep ten­sion at play that it suc­cumbs to one par­tic­u­larly laugh­able slow­mo­tion tight-fo­cus shot of a kid rid­ing a push­bike through a small pud­dle.

What’s prob­a­bly key is that while 800 Words has changed ap­proach, it still does char­ac­ter well. They’ve amassed a de­cent cast, and clev­erly re­cruited co­me­di­ans Jonny Brugh, Jesse Grif­fin and Jackie van der Beek in straight roles. That makes the viewer in­vest, and care whether Zak, Ike and Steve make it back to shore. Ge­orge’s col­umns are still crap though.

TVNZ’S other re­turn­ing drama, Doc­tor Foster (start­ing Mon­day night) also does char­ac­ter, if a lit­tle dif­fer­ently. Su­ranne Jones’ doc­tor, who in sea­son one ex­posed her hus­band as a cheat­ing, thiev­ing scum­bag (and who in the de­noue­ment, as­saulted her and fled with his younger girl­friend), is a flawed char­ac­ter – she’s para­noid, a lit­tle odd, quite self-cen­tred. But again, you’re cheer­ing for her all the way. Sea­son one had an ad­dic­tive qual­ity, en­hanced by TVNZ’S de­ci­sion to play the whole thing across a sin­gle week.

This time it will play across a more tra­di­tional weekly sched­ule, and it opens with hus­band Si­mon (Ber­tie Carvel) declar­ing his re­turn home with younger girl­friend, baby and in­ten­tions to fi­na­gle him­self back into so­ci­ety.

In be­tween sea­sons, Carvel played a smug PR weasel in the bril­liant Baby­lon; he’s got shorter hair and a beard here, but Si­mon re­mains a smug prop­erty de­vel­op­ing weasel. How long will he keep his cool this time?

Un­like 800 Words, Doc­tor Foster makes for un­com­fort­able, quite painful view­ing. Jones’ pain re­mains right at the sur­face, and she doesn’t shy from awk­ward con­ver­sa­tions: it’s a push-pull for the viewer – keep­ing us watch­ing from be­tween our fin­gers is the chal­lenge for the re­main­der of the run. Writer Mike Bartlett copped some crit­i­cism for not pro­duc­ing a cat­a­clysmic fi­nale to sea­son one, but that seems un­avoid­able this time around.

Ho­telss. otels. I stay in a lot of them, for both work and plea­sure, and th that isn’t a boast. Mosst Most of the time I get to ar­rive, drop a bag, iron a shirt (if I’ve re­meem re­mem­bered to bring one), shower and head out to work; then ge get back late that night, fall asleep and hope I’ve man­aged too to set the alarm clock cor­rectly.

Hol­i­days a aren’t much dif­fer­ent. The ho­tel room it­self, if it’s a de­cent hool hol­i­day, isn’t much more than a place to sleep and store the far­far-too-much stuff you packed while you ex­plore the out­side wor­rld world. But re­gard­less of how of­ten, or for what rea­son you use hotte ho­tels, I have a cou­ple of pet peeves I’d like to get off my chesst. chest.

Let’s startt start w with the rooms them­selves. Great, they have a mini­bar, Skyy Sky TV, and a heated towel rail. I’ll prob­a­bly use them.

What I will def­i­nitely use is toi­let pa­per. So maybe have a spare roll soom some­where I can find it, not hid­den at the back of a drawer in th the wardrobe.

Speak­ing o of wardrobes, do you re­ally need those coathang­errs coathang­ers that are ring-bound onto the rail? Are peo­ple steal­ing thaat that many of them? If so, I’m sorry to hear it, and I blame themm them for the fact that I crush my shirts more by try­ing to hang them u up than I would if I just left them in my suit­case.

While we’re on the sub­ject of over-com­pli­cat­ing things, if you in­sist on in­stalling a heat­ing sys­tem that re­quires a de­gree in com­puter pro­gram­ming to op­er­ate, maybe an in­struc­tion book­let wouldn’t be too much to ask? Or, and this might sound crazy, how about win­dows that ac­tu­ally open, al­low­ing me to reg­u­late the air tem­per­a­ture with­out having to nav­i­gate a re­mote con­trol that might as well launch mis­siles for all the sense it makes to me.

Next: I hate to break it to you, hote­liers, but it’s 2017 and we know how much un­lim­ited broad­band in­ter­net costs. The same goes for the mini­bar. I shouldn’t have to check my credit score to find out if I can send an email AND eat a mini-tube of Pringles.

And fi­nally, my ab­so­lute No.1 point of con­tention with the ho­tel in­dus­try; check-out time. What is so damned spe­cial about 10am that you need me out by then? Is there some rit­u­al­is­tic sac­ri­fice you have to make to the Gods of Hos­pi­tal­ity so they con­tinue to bless you with cus­tomers?

I am aware that these are very First World prob­lems. Af­ter all, I get to stay in ho­tels, not live in them.

But I would re­ally like to stay un­til 11am, if that’s not too much trou­ble. in a drawer.) The bath­room light switch! (Ei­ther in­side or out­side the bath­room, wher­ever you search last.) Hairdryer! (An­other drawer, pos­si­bly bath­room, maybe wardrobe, be­side the bed or un­der the TV.) Soap is easy to find but – they think of ev­ery­thing – hard to open. Use a corkscrew. (An­other drawer!) The les­son is pa­tience. Re­main calm and you will lo­cate ev­ery­thing you need by vi­bra­tion.

I play Room Ser­vice Roulette, and the house al­ways wins. Or­der and leap in the shower, or or­der and wait till it is dan­ger­ously close to when­hen you need to leave for the gig and then leap inn the shower? Ei­ther way, your or­der will ar­rive just as you put the sham­poo in your hair. How do theyey know? It is ei­ther a su­per­power, or an in-roomm cam­era. Both ideas scare me.

It’s not just them, it’s me. I pack a suit­case close to 50 times a year and ev­ery time I for­get some­thing. Mas­cara is no big deal. Socks and d knick­ers are man­age­able – that’s what the tinyy bot­tles of sham­poo and the hairdryer are for. Shoes are a prob­lem if it’s evening dress and you’ve trav­elled in sneak­ers. For­get­ting your whole makeup bag is a dis­as­ter. I rec­om­mendd ex­plain­ing to peo­ple that you look like this be­cause you are worn out from play­ing “Ho­tel” el” and los­ing. Fel­low trav­ellers will un­der­stand.

800 Words, 8.30pm Wed­nes­days; Doc­tor Foster, 8.30pm Mon­days, both on TVNZ.

Erik Thom­son feels the ten­sion in the first episode of the new sea­son of 800 Words.

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