TV preview: A Sexual History of New Zealand

By Nick Grant

A new local docudrama series has sex on the brain but why is it only screening when everyone's already gone to bed, wonders Nick Grant
The cast of locally made 'dramamentary' Passion in Paradise. It's on late, so probably best to record it.
The cast of locally made 'dramamentary' Passion in Paradise. It's on late, so probably best to record it.

When a new local series is dumped unceremoniously in the wee hours it's tantamount to it being stamped "viewer avoidance advised", so with morbid curiosity I watched the first episode of Passion in Paradise - A Sexual History of New Zealand, which TV One is screening at 12.15am for the next five Fridays (effectively very late on Thursday nights).

TVNZ commissioned it from documentary maker Bryan Bruce back when the Charter required the broadcaster to carry a mix of content, not just purely commercial fare. Then Bruce got caught up in the ongoing success of his series The Investigators and, by the time he was free to make Passion, the Charter was toast and TVNZ wasn't interested in the show.

So Bruce came up with a "dramamentary" structure, wrapping the original doco in an ongoing drama involving a uni lecturer (Erroll Shand), the students in his Sex and NZ Society 401 class, and the way the topic inflames the libidos of all concerned.

Episode one covers pre-colonial Maori sexual mores and the bicultural sexual contact that swiftly followed European first contact. The result is a bit silly in places (the recurring musical refrain is hilarious), and it's certainly eccentric, but it's also entertaining and interesting, and I recommend readers give it a go. No need to stay up past midnight -- you can record it or catch it via TVNZ Ondemand.

Much less troublingly original is Transporter, a TV knock-off of the action movie franchise starring Jason Statham as Frank Martin, the kind of courier you hire when getting the package to its destination involves car chases, gun battles and mixed-martial arts.

In this version, the role of Martin is played by Chris Vance, who sports the blandly anonymous good(ish) looks no doubt really handy when you need to blend into the background.

Still, it's obvious the makers don't consider Vance the series' star. That honour is reserved for the stunts, which are lavished with the loving attention the lazy script has clearly missed out on.

Requiring more concentration, but ultimately much more rewarding, is The Village. Not M Night Shyamalan's 2004 movie but a new BBC series that, on first viewing, is classic British period miserablism.

Thanks to an excellent cast (including Life on Mars' John Simm and Truly Madly Deeply's Juliet Stevenson) and ace creative team (writer Peter Moffat and director Antonia Bird), this drama's emotional impact quietly creeps up then smacks you one.

The first six-episode season is set in a "typical" English village between 1914 and 1920; the plan is for the completed 42-hour series to show us how life in that village changes (and remains the same) over a century to 2014. Based on the premiere, that's a trip I'm excited about taking.

Transporter, Tuesday, 8.30pm, on The Box; The Village, Wednesday, 8.30pm, Vibe; Passion in Paradise, Friday, 12.15am, TV One.

- Herald on Sunday

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