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.

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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.

The Crys­tal Maze is on TVNZ 2, Sun­day, 7.30pm; The DNA De­tec­tives, TVNZ 1, Tues­day, 8.30pm.

Jacinda Ardern meets long lost rel­a­tives in The DNA De­tec­tives.

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