Chris Philpott 's Opinion

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

Chris Philpott: Step Dave doesn't quite hit the mark

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TV2's new show Step Dave is under pressure to perform. Chris Philpott evaluates its debut.
Sia Trokenheim and Jono Kenyon star in 'Step Dave'.
Sia Trokenheim and Jono Kenyon star in 'Step Dave'.

It's no secret that Step Dave - the brand new Kiwi show created by Go Girls/Nothing Trivial scribe Kate McDermott, which follows a 24 year old Dave as he falls for 39 year old Cara, played by newcomers Jono Kenyon and Sia Trokenheim respectively - is under an immense amount of pressure to perform.

Local television production is in something of a slump right now.

Well, slump might be the wrong word - a sports team would call it a "rebuilding phase".

Either way, our stocks of original content are low following the cancellation of long-time dramas Go Girls, The Almighty Johnsons and Nothing Trivial, and a string of failed new shows.

As an ardent fan of local scripted television, I found myself going into the first episode of Step Dave, not with high expectations, but with high hopes.

I desperately wanted the show to be brilliant, to write about the genius of the writing and cast, because I know the flow on effect that its success can have on the local industry.

As I watched the premiere of Step Dave, the word that jumped out at me most often was "potential". It is impossible to judge a show on a single hour of television, especially the first hour of a new show.

There is simply too much to be done in the premiere of a show - background information on the character, setting up the key relationships and, especially on Step Dave, easing into the premise, and what will be the tone, of the show as it moves forward.

While I'd love to write about the brilliance of Step Dave, the first episode didn't strike me as a great piece of television.

The tone of the show was uneven, a jumbling mash-up of family comedy, love story and serious drama. The characters mostly seemed flat, like the most basic versions of those characters might appear. The writing itself seemed more straight-forward than I was expecting, making use of predictable tropes (like Dave singing and dancing in a hospital waiting room, to the disdain of a typically grumpy charge nurse) and some fairly clichéd dialogue.

But my critical brain knows that it is a first episode. The tone is uneven because the writers are introducing the character and story dynamics that will form the basis of the story as we move forward. The characters are flat because we're being introduced to their most basic elements and haven't really met them yet. The writing makes use of familiar tropes as a shortcut to making us understand what motivates the characters and how they relate to each other.

Sure, the first episode of Step Dave wasn't a great piece of television - but I thought it was entertaining and, really, that's the most important thing a new show needs to be in its first hour.

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As I say, there is potential here, too. I loved how organically the characters of Dave and Cara came together - their chance meeting behind the bar didn't feel forced in any way, and stars Kenyon and Trokenheim sold it with really understated and subtle performances in those early scenes.

Their introduction paired nicely with the waiting room montage - Dave's over-the-top rendition of Margaret Urlich's awful song Escaping excepted - as proof positive that writer Kate McDermott is well on the way to doing some great work with the show, even if the premiere doesn't quite hit it consistently.

I also thought leads Jono Kenyon and Sia Trokenheim did a great job. The pair featured in all but three or four scenes in this first episode, and did a great job with such a high workload. They're likeable, they have instant chemistry on screen, and I think the characters will only get more compelling as the show goes on.

There are some great names and faces in the supporting cast too. Aidee Walker always impressed on Outrageous Fortune, while Tania Nolan was a stand out in This Is Not My Life. Tainui Tukiwaho is also a welcome addition to the cast; I thought he was great in TV movie Billy, and am hoping he gets plenty of screen time here.

Step Dave didn't hit the quality mark I was looking for in its first episode.

However, it was a really entertaining hour of television, benefitting from some strong performances among the main cast, that is sure to improve over the coming weeks. I enjoyed it and I'll be back for more next week.

* Did you watch the premiere of Step Dave? What did you think?

Chris Philpott

Chris Philpott is nzherald.co.nz's resident TV expert.

In a strange way, Chris Philpott has grown up with television: his first big addiction was The X Files, which he watched as a teenager, enthralled by what was possible with the form. Chris’ love of TV grew over the years, parallel to the popularity and quality of serial dramas like The Sopranos, Lost, Mad Men and Breaking Bad. He began writing about TV professionally in 2010, before joining the NZ Herald in late 2013, and considers writing about TV more than a passing interest or hobby: he genuinely loves sharing new series and discussing the big shows with readers. Chris is based in Whangarei, and lives with his wife and daughter. When he isn’t watching television … just kidding, he’s always watching television.

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