Agent Anna needs a good helping of subtlety to execute promising premise without the cringe factor.

Looking for a laugh last week, I found myself watching Agent Anna, the local comedy which kicked off its second series on TV One on Thursday night.

It turned out to be not so much a kick as a dropped ball. And the laughs weren't really laughs at all, but rather groans. Oh well, I told myself, a little like Anna, the lead character, it can only get better - perhaps because it couldn't get much worse.

That opening episode was quite dreadful, which was a pity because this is a show a lot of us really want to like. After all, it's supposed to be making merry with the piranha world of Auckland real estate.

Agent Anna was lead actor Robyn Malcolm's idea, and a good one - the story of a loveable, hopeless, previously privileged wife and mother, abandoned, reduced to living with her parents and trying to earn a living (with no previous work experience) selling houses.


Her wide-eyed innocence in a vile and cynical world is the point of the piece and with a light touch could have produced some sharp comedy.

But subtlety didn't make it to the party, for that opening episode at least. The hapless, hopeless, stumbling innocence of Agent Anna's star seemed more akin to simple-mindedness and everyone else's cynicism seemed simply appalling.

Still wearing beige, always late and shouting "I'm sorry" at every opportunity, Anna Kingston (Malcolm) continues trying to get with the groove at Eden Realty where everyone's selling houses except her.

She drove into a police car and took on Grant, the sleaziest client in the universe, in the first scene alone.

I felt sorry for Joel Tobeck having to play Grant, whose sleaziness was writ so large he kept calling Anna "Tits", before moving on to some dislocated humour involving housebreaking and a sex toy.

Back at the office, Clint the boss does seem faintly real as a bit of an old duffer in the hands of Roy Billing, who looks (and acts) like our own Bob Hoskins.

But elsewhere the character cliches are laid on pretty thick with uber-alpha star salesman Leon (Adam Gardiner) and ultra-cougar Sandi (Theresa Healey) stalking the scenes like the good actors they are, unfortunately in search of a good line.

I'm not sure Adam's advice to Anna on how to handle the boss was one of those. "Lick the royal sausage and he'll never fire you," he told her. I wrote that down under my list of awkward moments, which was pretty long by the end of it. Others included a ridiculous nightclub scene and some weird business in the back of a cab with Anna and Clint.

To be fair, there was one funny moment - when Anna was presented with her tiny office car, her face painted all over the side, with her eyes eye-catchingly missing where the windows met the doors.

Not laugh-out-loud exactly, but certainly funnier than all the mugging that went before.

Though, strangely, the promo shots for episode two looked livelier, as if something might rise from all this awkwardness. Here's hoping.

I do so much want to like disliking real estate agents.