TV Review Diana Wichtel
The holy grail of a successful local sitcom is within viewers’ grasp.
The sitcom: it’s one of those things, like public transport and sophisticated media discourse, we’re inexplicably crap at. There have been noble exceptions – Gliding On, Bro’Town,
The Jaquie Brown Diaries, Wellington Paranormal… There were also Melody Rules and, God help us, Porters. Flight of the Conchords wasn’t funny enough for us.
With this track record, we should at least have been able to make a good sitcom about a bunch of people making a bad sitcom. Now MediaWorks, with NZ On Air, has grasped the nettle with both bloodied hands. Comedy Pilot Week offered five pilots screened over four nights on Three and on demand. Viewers can have a say on social media on which pilot becomes a series. It’s not a terrible idea. Australia’s ABC and Channel 10 have tried it. Transparent began as part of an Amazon pilot season. We should be so lucky. Still, I can report that I made it through the week without retiring behind the sofa cushions to whimper in despair.
Here’s my ranking of the five pilots, from best to yeah, nah. 1. Mean Mums. Mothers patrol the grounds of a primary school policing each other’s parenting credentials. Who hasn’t been there? Morgana O’Reilly is the star of the week as harried single parent Jess, who leaves her small son on his first day at Kate Sheppard Primary with an encouraging, “The internet assures me that you are going to be fine!” Anna Julienne, match fit after fighting off a gang of unfeasibly attractive competitors for the affections of Erik Thomson on 800 Words, is equal to the role of meanest mum, Heather. Her daughter, Cinnamon, is on a hybrid paleo-keto diet, poor lamb. Heather homes in on Jess’ inadequacies like a heat-seeking missile. The principal’s name is Mr Coxhead (shades of The Jaquie Brown Diaries, in which the John Campbell-like broadcaster was called the rude-sounding McHuntly). So, nothing subtle here, but it’s a slick half hour with humour and, more importantly, heart. Would watch again. 2. Golden Boy. Local Crawdon boy ascends to heaven in a golden chariot. Well, he becomes an All Black (James Rolleston, literally phoning it in as Tama). His sister, Mitch (Hayley Sproull), is home from the Big Smoke to represent the decline of print journalism by working for the Crawdon Chronicle. The locals are assorted weirdos and conspiracy theorists. It almost counts as social realism.
3. The Lonely Hearts Motel. No one would ever call their hostelry The Lonely Hearts Motel. Never mind. Millen Baird, as Roy, and the wonderful Ginette McDonald, thoroughly enjoying herself as his mother, are busy running the family motel into the ground. Michael – “the other brother” – to the rescue. There’s a long-term Winz resident with bung eyes who wanders through the action like an escapee from Waiting for Godot. Best Pilot Week cameo?
The dead rat. “Sad to be leaving,” notes Roy, “but thoroughly enjoyed his stay.” This falls somewhere between Psycho and Welcome to Paradise, Geoff Murphy’s bonkers 2009 sitcom about a backpackers’ hostel. It’s set in Palmerston North. For some reason, I quite liked it.
4. Sidelines. There’s a South African Christian football mum who advises her tot to “wipe the floor and annihilate the other children”. In further poor-role-model news, there’s lot of dispiriting sex among the largely unlikeable parents, plus rating of sex like an Uber ride: “Three stars. Left me short of my destination.” Nick Rado, as hopeless dad and worse coach Steve, is funny but, overall, Sidelines left me short of my destination.
5. Mangere Vice. This police comedy runs on the assumption that you can never have too many fart jokes and kicks to the nuts. You can. A pity because Cohen Holloway, Iaheto Ah Hi, the always-magnificent Rachel House and Ana Scotney are terrific.
COMEDY PILOT WEEK, ThreeNow.
Morgana O’Reilly stars in Mean Mums.