TV review: Robyn Malcolm as Agent Anna

By Nick Grant

18 comments
Robyn Malcolm, Roy Billing, left, and Adam Gardiner, promise to be good value. Photo / Supplied
Robyn Malcolm, Roy Billing, left, and Adam Gardiner, promise to be good value. Photo / Supplied

TV One's new local comedy Agent Anna finds Robyn Malcolm's title character treading a trajectory not altogether dissimilar to that of Outrageous Fortune's Cheryl West. In the absence of an errant husband and his attendant income, a middle-aged mother finds herself plunged into an unfamiliar employment environment.

In Cheryl's case she resolved to look for honest work, and Anna is reduced to selling real estate, so that's one major difference right there.

Another is the personalities of the two characters. Where Cheryl was bold and brassy, Anna is meek and mild. Indeed, Anna almost appears to have been consciously developed to be Cheryl's diametric opposite.

If so, that's completely understandable. Malcolm surely welcomes the chance to demonstrate her acting range - something she does extremely effectively - and the programme's makers would presumably prefer to avoid constant comparisons along the lines of this column's opening paragraph.

It remains to be seen whether conceiving Anna as the anti-Cheryl will especially endear her to audiences, though. In the first episode she's little more than a hapless doormat, which at best is more likely to attract a somewhat impatient sympathy than outright affection.

But given the show almost certainly intends to map Anna's journey to independent assertiveness, it really is required to present her at her lowest ebb at the beginning and demonstrate at least a glimmer of some much-needed moxie by the end. She's a fixer-upper with potential for flipping, in other words.

The same can be said for Agent Anna as a whole. It suffers from the usual opening episode issue of needing to dump a lot of exposition on the audience and introduce the cast of characters. Some of the writing is strictly by-the-numbers, but there are also some sharp lines that promise better things to come.

My favourite bit of dialogue - although how this will translate to audiences outside Auckland is anybody's guess - is delivered by real estate agent Leon: "First rule of marketing," he advises Anna, "No one appreciates a Grammar school education like a Chinese mother."

Leon's played by Adam Gardiner who, Malcolm aside, is the cast member who registers most strongly in episode one. That's both down to his character being a clearly delineated douchebag with a knack for dispensing barbed putdowns and Gardiner's finely tuned comedic instinct.

He's likely to get a run for his money from his cast-mates in future instalments. Agent Anna boasts an exceptionally strong array of actors - including Theresa Healey, Ian Mune, Sally Stockwell, and Micheala Rooney - who barely get a look in during the opening episode. And the excellent Roy Billing (The Dish, Underbelly: A Tale of Two Cities), who plays Anna's new boss, Clint, doesn't even put in an appearance.

The show could be a hot property, then; it's just a question of whether it gets the opportunity to realise that potential. As a half-hour, six-episode series, it doesn't have much time to prove its value and qualify for a second season. Although episode one wasn't enough to entirely sell me, Agent Anna remains a bright spot in the listings and, as a motivated buyer when it comes to Kiwi comedy, I'll definitely be back for a second inspection.

* Robyn Malcolm stars as Agent Anna on TV One, Thursdays at 8.30pm.

- Herald on Sunday

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