Paul Casserly 's Opinion

Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

Paul Casserly: There goes the neighbourhood

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Winston Peters is back hitting headlines. Photo / File photo
Winston Peters is back hitting headlines. Photo / File photo

Bloody foreigners. They've not only taken over our suburbs - now they're taking over the TV as well, and thank God for that. After all, as we've known for years, God himself was probably black.

But before I get accused of peddling racist abuse in the pursuit of column inches, I'll cast some stones myself. Firstly at trusty old Winston Peters: Leopards, spots, Yellow Peril, etc.

While Winnie spent the week talking to mysterious Chinamen in opium dens, or wherever he found those dodgy statistics, I was keeping my eye on some other "bloody foreigners". Well, "neighbours" is probably a better word.

As Winston has no doubt noted, as did Paul Henry, it's getting harder to identify New Zealanders simply by how they look.

Two local shows featured some of these new "neighbours" this week. Naturally the ones on Neighbours at War (TV2, Monday, 8pm) were more entertaining than the ones on Neighbourhood (TV One, Sunday, 11am) - that is to say they are way crazier.

In Neighbours at War, the goal is to find a solution to a neighbourly dispute, but like football, it comes only after protracted periods of running about like a chook. The goals are more elusive.

Once you stop wondering why anyone in their right mind would appear on the show, you realise that the micro dramas that unfold each week are not only entertaining, they're educational too.

You learn about human nature. You learn about interior decoration. You learn about the law. The legal meaning of "more or less" was discussed at length this week, and it turns out it means "more or less".

Each week is also powerful lesson in history. You soon come to understand how civil wars and genocides can begin. All it takes is a boundary dispute, some missing pot plants, or cat faeces. Hell really is other people, especially when they live next door.

It should be depressing, but it isn't. Helping it all is the fact that the show has possibly the funniest script of any reality show in the English language today. Sure, Come Dine With Me, has it's moments, but Neighbours at War is both comedic and absurd.

A recent episode began with the words - "Neighbours! Why not put yours on TradeMe? One dollar reserve, pick-up only."

In recent weeks, recent immigrants have been adding some spice to the boarder skirmishes. Two weeks back, two sets of Indian neighbours were at war because one of them was allegedly stealing plants and flowers and then re-planting them just metres away in their own garden.

Former Waitakere Mayor Bob Harvey foolishly accepted the impossible task of making peace. It proved impossible.

This week, former Good Morning and Intrepid Journeys star Mary Lambie had better luck making peace in an Indian vs Pakeha stoush. She was introduced via some choice file footage and comedic commentary: "Here she is getting a pearl necklace from Jo Seager!"

The Pakeha neighbour Pat - who says things like: "Is that what you do in your own country? If you do then go back there" - had planted a garden in some disputed territory on a cross lease section. "The daughter was too mouthy, so I told her to shut it or I'd put my foot in there."

Pat is a wiry older Pakeha rooster; The neighbours, Ramila and Kishor, a middle-aged Indian couple.

At first it looked like Lambie wasn't getting anywhere - "He's just asking for a carport and a clothes line", she pleaded - but Pat wasn't budging, until, eventually, surprisingly, he did.

Mary seemed shocked when the final breakthrough came. Sitting in front a plate full of giant lamingtons she brokered an unlikely peace.

"Shake hands," she said, but Pat wasn't moving. "Put your hand out", he commanded Kishor. Pat withheld his hand until Kishor made the first move and with that the dispute was over.

We even got to see the progress months later, with the new carport and clothesline in place. War-torn Glenfield was quiet once more.

It may surprise you to learn that former All Black Josh Kronfeld is also a bit of a "bloody foreigner". His great, great granddad came from Germany via Samoa, where he married a Samoan, before settling in New Zealand. This meant that during World War I he was imprisoned on Somme's Island as were many other Germans and Italians.

Clearly Neighbourhood (TV One, Sunday, 11am) isn't as funny as Neighbours at War, but it is informative. Kronfeld was this week's guest host, showing us around his hometown of Hastings, where there are a lot of apples, and as it turns out, plenty of foreigners too.

The episode began with a meaty piece - a rather sad immigration dispute involving an Indian father who's looking down the barrel of deportation despite the kids being New Zealand citizens. We were left with the impression that this wasn't going to be happily sorted out over a plate of Lamingtons.

Elsewhere, Josh found a Zimbabwean woman with an obsession for collages made using a Zimbabwean version of the Koru. If you made it through that ordeal there was better to come: MC Genocide from Bosnia, who rapped, "I remember '92 when the warfare started - Only seven years old when the city was bombarded."

Then a South African family cooked a shed load of meat at a "braai", which is Afrikaans for a BBQ.

We also got to see Josh with his family in the old homestead - mum preserving some fruit, dad washing potatoes - all beautifully shot. It's a strange but satisfying brew, a mix of light and not so light.

The good news is that there's another 20 or so episodes to go, so it's surely coming to a neighbourhood near you.

While these shows remind us that New Zealand is changing, the TV news is helping remind us that it's also staying very much the same.

Winston is back using foreigners to scare his followers and recruit new ones. I'd missed those NZ First conferences - the news cameras searching for the oldest, most decrepit looking member of the audience for a close up shot, a sport known in TV circles as "corpse snapping".

Meanwhile, the Mayor of Auckland, reacting to a familiar moral panic, is filmed out on the town rubbing shoulders with the young drunks of the night - one of them even confusing him with the last guy we saw doing the very same thing.

"Hey, John Banks!" a sozzled street kid blurted, as Len Brown joined the other harmless zombies: Dead-eyed, bumbling, onward into the night.

* Follow Paul Casserly on Twitter.

Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

It began with Dr Who, in black and white, when it was actually scary. The addiction took hold with Chips, in colour. He made his mum knit a Starsky and Hutch cardigan. Later, Twin Peaks would blow what was left of his mind. He’s been working in radio and TV since the 1990s and has an award in his pool room for Eating Media Lunch.

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