Jacinda turns DNA Detective
Richard O’brien helps the PM find her geneology, while Richard Ayoade takes on O’brien’s old signature show, writes Steve Kilgallon.
Richard O’brien returns to our television screens this week, and yet not as the host of the rather bizarre game show that many (British ex-pats at least) will remember him for. Four days before TVNZ air the reboot of the oddball Crystal Maze, O’brien will instead gently guide the Prime Minister around the globe in search of the more obscure branches of her family tree in The DNA Detectives.
In many ways, the new Crystal Maze stays loyal to the old, 1990-1995 version: the same format, same theme tune, same set, same mad scramble in the crystal dome at the end. New host Richard Ayoade has even adopted some of O’brien’s old mannerisms, in particular the manic sprinting between the hokey sets.
But where O’brien injected the whole thing with a bit of gravity via his mystic, rather serious tone, Ayoade adopts a knowing archness. It begins with Ayoade, in a fuchsia suit, pointing out the dome, and “for reasons which have never been adequately explained” that final scramble for gold tickets that translate into a prize “which we have been too embarrassed to mention”.
The punters are the Watson family. Ayoade surveys them, and says: “How do you know one another?”
In the Aztec Zone, he notes that a challenge involving a totem pole is culturally misplaced. “But we couldn’t have a Native American zone without being racially insensitive,” he says.
His happiness to mock the concept, the punters and the flimsy nature of the set could be either annoying or endearing – depending on your view of Ayoade, who first charmed his way to promonennce as the oddball Moss in Graham Linehan’s sitcom The IT Crowd.
It’s understandable: it’s a pretty weird, rickety format in these more knowing times and without O’brien, we television reviewers would only mock the whole thing, so the new host had better get in first.
Over at DNA Detectives, O’brien evokes his old Crystal Maze attire in a chunky silver necklace, a black smoking jacket and what appears to be a plunging black singlet. Around him, a curious book-lined set, and on his desk, a big red buzzer which he thumps to bring up the biological profiles of his curious celebrity visitors.
In episode one, he has Jacinda Ardern – the segment was filmed before she was even the Labour leader – and Stan Walker. Each is given a breakdown of their ethnic origins, and sent off to meet various distant relatives.
It’s a rather odd set up, but O’brien has such a gentle, affable style of delivery that it works. Ardern is revealed to have a mix of British, Irish, Northern European, French, German, Scandinavian and Eastern European blood and is duly despatched to Athens, the US and Montreal. Walker heads to Las Vegas and then to Rapanui – Easter Island – to meet a set of distant but uncannily similarlooking relatives.
Ardern could probably have narrated her episode herself: she’s assured, conversational and self-reflective as she discovers the gravestone of a long-lost relative in a Greek war cemetery and meets a scientist cousin called Whitefeather in a Canadian laboratory.
Walker, as is his wont, is relentlessly enthusiastic about the whole affair and bounces around smiling broadly. “It’s a revelation that there is more out there,” he concludes.
I was just pleased to see O’brien, now 75, back on our TV screens.
Last weekend weekend, two very different yet somewhat similar events took place th that made me ruminate on the nature of fitting in. One was the Classic Comedy Club in Auckland celebrating its 20th anniversary anniversary, and the other was the New Zealand National Spelling Bee in We Wellington.
For me, The Clas Classic has been a personal and professional stalwart since the beginnin beginning. It’s more than just a venue – there are plenty of pubs, theatres a and other spaces that I have performed at that fill that need – it’s a p place where I can go and know that there will be a group of other peo people who either do what I do or are familiar enough with the co concept of what I do that they don’t feel the need to ask stupid quest questions about it. Believe me, that’s a rare thing.
Although I have never taken part in a spelling bee, I’m reasonably sure that the partic participants there would feel something similar. Spelling, like come comedy, is not the kind of thing that lends itself to a wide social circle. B Both are individual pursuits, and both run the risk of having people w who have no experience of them looking at you a little strangely whe when you tell them that’s what you’re into.
So to have a spa space, or an event, where you can share a few hours with like-minded o others, is something very special. It’s the same reason people play social sports, or join book clubs, or take part in marathons – having a chance to do something as part of a group that you would ordinarily only do by yourself is a way of justifying yourself as more than just an individual.
The more niche your hobby or passion is, the more important this becomes. Anyone who has held an interest in something outside of the mainstream will know the level of disdain or outright hostility this can engender in others, particularly when you’re young.
I’ve always been a bit of an outsider, mainly due to my moving around a lot in my early years. My accent never quite fit, I didn’t have the same cultural milestones, and I wasn’t into the right sports. So for me, music and theatre became my safe places, where I could connect with others who shared a similarly disparate view of the world. I was lucky in that these same fellow outsiders became my colleagues later in life, but for those who live and work in the so-called “real” world, having an escape can be at least a blessing, and often a literal lifeline.
So, to the spellers, the gamers, the bookworms and the rest, I hope you have a place or a time to be yourself, surrounded by others who understand you. realised I wasn’t actually choosing between work and family, just deciding what I most wanted to do for me.
The contractions subsided sufficiently on Sunday afternoon n for Holly to be allowed home. This was supposed to be Baby y Shower day. I called friends, and whanau came over. At the supermarket, my granddaughter helped me race around and d shouted: “Let’s do this!” at regular intervals, followed by: “We’re doing it, Michy!” Which was almost true except I forgot the mince on the first trip and we had to go back.
Meanwhile, at home, each person did the thing they do best. Party decorations appeared, along with a fabulous cake e in the shape of a stretch-and-grow with blue frosting. (It’s a boy, plus blue food is hilarious – it makes your tongue look like a giraffe’s.)
Each person played to their strengths: dry witticisms, warm banter, general enthusiasm, children’s entertainment, improvisation with a vegetable peeler when no-one could find a cheese grater, inspired posing for group selfies, kitchen en clean-up, helpful ante-natal advice and a robust round of charades. Everyone, I noticed (while slurping up my blue prosecco) was totally brilliant at something – including Holly, , who managed to preside over all the festivities while also keeping very, very still.