The second season of Step Dave, created by Nothing Trivial and Go Girls' Kate McDermott, premiered last night, stepping into the spotlight as a much-coveted and exceptionally rare difficult second season for a locally made production.
I once spoke to James Griffin, New Zealand television writing royalty, who told me he had never imagined that Outrageous Fortune would be renewed for another season, let alone six. So has Step Dave stepped up?
The premiere of season two opens with Dave and Cara's eight-month anniversary. It's the first of many reminders of their gaping age chasm - this is the longest relationship young Davey boy has ever had. Cara looks on at him like he's a puppy who has just learnt to do "paw" for the first time. He's so cute! So naive! But at least he's learning. These reminders come thick and fast, perhaps because on-screen the much alluded to age gap is almost imperceptible.
Jono Kenyon as the titular Step Dave plays the boy-playing-a-man role particularly well, soothed and slowed by the calm charisma of Sia Trokenheim as Cara. They are a convincing couple, and I'm glad that there was a resistance to dressing Cara in Ezibuy tunics and dusting talcum powder in her hair to age her beyond her years. It gives the premise, which could easily slip into some awful Cougar Town caricature, the right amount of realism and respect it requires. "I always thought having a relationship was about having a regular shag," Dave muses, eyes wide, "but it's so much more than that".
Aidee Walker as Jen, Cara's business partner, is the well-meaning scatter-brain that absolutely everyone has in their friend group. Instead of relegating her to being ditzy and slipping on banana peels, Step Dave lends her idiocy to much more serious problems - like burning their business to the ground and forgetting to send away for insurance. Through gritted teeth, I recognised. Cara and Jen's relationship and interactions are some of the strongest on the show - that tumultuous territory between the binding obligations of female friendship and the cut-throat decisions of business and independence.
Where their relationship felt exceptionally close to the bone, others trample right on into the world of parody. Particularly Xander, Hugo's latest Tinder date-cum-hired home help. This Ponsonby Rd meets Zooey Deschanel character was sharply played by Delaney Tabron, but sadly seemed out of place by comparison to Cara and Jen's. Additions like these jumble the tone, and you never quite know if Step Dave is in the real world or not - let alone New Zealand. A hot button story thread that interestingly weaved, frayed, and tied itself up, was Azza and Betty's decision-making around the termination of her accidental pregnancy. It's a still-controversial topic, and one that requires much exposure and debate as to how we represent the issue in fiction. I'm not sure if a man leaning over a sleeping woman and cancelling her alarms for the termination the next day is the best conversation about the issue I've ever seen, but it's a start.
Step Dave is a show built around dysfunction - in family life, business life and romantic life - but the drama is tempered slightly by the elephant in the room: that the main characters are white middle-class people who will probably always be okay. Cara has a live-in grandmother, Dave has wealthy parents on the other end of the telephone. One business burns down? Just buy another. For an episode packed with earth-shattering events (pregnancies, heart attacks, house fires), the uneven shifts between sitcom hijinks, family drama and romance made it difficult to gauge whether anything was actually at stake.
During one of the many crises in Step Dave's return, Cara tells Dave, "Do what I do - turn a disaster into an opportunity." The show has been given a rare opportunity for a local production. It's still unclear what Step Dave plans to do with it.