Three TV shows worth watching this week

Lawrence Makoare in The Dead Lands.
Lawrence Makoare in The Dead Lands.

Hautoa Ma

Maori TV kicks off its Waitangi Day efforts tomorrow night with Hautoa Ma, a documentary looking at the rise of Maori cinema.

It's a curtain-raiser for the channel's double feature on Saturday night, Mt Zion, starring Stan Walker as a Pukekohe spud picker with dreams of opening for Bob Marley (7.30pm) and The Dead Lands, the te reo action film set in pre-European times (9.15pm).

The making of The Dead Lands features heavily in Hautoa Ma. Behind-the-scenes material is interspersed with talking heads and vast archival footage collected by director Libby Hakaraia.

A scene from the movie, The Dead Lands.
A scene from the movie, The Dead Lands.

The Dead Lands co-producer Tainui Stephens is a prominent voice in the doco, of which he is also a producer. And if the emphasis on The Dead Lands makes for an uneven mix - while it lays a claim to it being a pivotal point in Maori film history, arguably it's still too soon to tell whether that's been the case - the doco provides an intriguing overview of what's gone before.

It also has a roll call of talent among the interviewees - directors Lee Tamahori, Taika Waititi, producers Ainsley Gardiner and Chelsea Winstanley, actors Cliff Curtis, Lawrence Makoare and his Dead Lands co-star James Rolleston all offer their thoughts on the progress and predominance of Maori-themed cinema in our popular culture. They don't quite explain why so many of our successful films are Maori stories, though Stephens theorises movies and Maori storytelling fit well together. "I see film as part of the whakapapa of Maori storytelling. We come from a tradition where legends and our mythological past are a normal part of the stories we hear on the marae."

It's better, though at telling stories of how pioneers like the late Don Selwyn, Merata Mita, and Barry Barclay, as well as industry veterans like Tamahori and Larry Parry inspired - and hired - subsequent generations into the local film industry. Waititi cites Tamahori's Once Were Warriors as a turning point. For a young Curtis and Makoare it was seeing Zac Wallace in Geoff Murphy's colonial western Utu. For Boy producer Gardiner, seeing The Makutu on Mrs Jones left a lasting effect as a kid while Mita's passing left her with the message that "you are riding on the backs of giants".

Hautoa Ma features footage from some 26 features and 17 short films - generating the thought: Is the success of Maori cinema because the venerable George Henare has been in just about all of them?

You might wonder if some of the films even qualify as Maori cinema. But that's up for discussion too. As Waititi says about hit vampire spoof What We Do in the Shadows: "A lot of our jokes are from our upbringing and our Maori sense of humour. So it's a Maori comedy where everybody happens to be vampires from Europe."

When: Friday, 8.30pm
Where: Maori TV

- Russell Baillie

Sitcoms ...

On the plus side, it stars livewire comic Ken Jeong who you probably remember as the best thing about The Hangover and its lame sequels. On the downside, the reviews.

"A family comedy has to have heart and humour, and Dr Ken has neither," wrote The Los Angeles Times. "There isn't a funny line in the entire first episode," - the San Francisco Chronicle. "A relentlessly mediocre, formulaic half-hour of family comedy that appears to have no aspirations to satire," - the New York Times. Ouch.

Dr. Ken stars Ken Jeong as Dr. Ken.
Dr. Ken stars Ken Jeong as Dr. Ken.

You can see for yourself when Dr Ken debuts here on Wednesday night, a precursor to new episodes of The Big Bang Theory on TV2. Jeong, a former MD, plays a doctor in the show, with the humour being wrung out of troubles at home, and at work, as well as some questionable riffs on his accent and struggles with his "poor communications skills". Jeong is a reliable comedian, but those reviews show Dr Ken's laugh track might be in short supply. With just a 26 per cent approval rating on Metacritic, and Slate calling it "dreadfully unfunny", you might want to look elsewhere for your next favourite sitcom.

Meanwhile, The Big Bang Theory remains, inexplicably, the most watched show on television, and tonight's return foruces on the team's mission to acquire tickets to the premiere of the new Star Wars film, and will answer the question about whether Sheldon and Amy will spend their first night together after five years of dating.

Following, that the third season of Mom - starring Anna Faris and Allison Janney - returns for the further clean and sober adventures of Christy and Bonnie.

What: Dr Ken
Where and when: Wednesday, 7.30pm, TV2
Also: The Big Bang Theory, 8.30pm, Mom, 9pm

The Secret Life of Babies

Unless there's another episode of Animals Make You Laugh Out Loud imminent, this show will probably contain the cutest wee creatures of the television week.

But not only will there be lots of adorable tots, the programme narrated by Martin Clunes tells some remarkable and heartbreaking stories.

Like the 6-month-old who survived being blown off a wharf in his pushchair and being trapped underwater for six minutes. Or the epileptic baby whose brain has rewired itself, despite half his brain having to be surgically isolated from his body when he was just a few months old.

Secret Life of Babies looks at the incredible developments we go through in our first two years of life.
Secret Life of Babies looks at the incredible developments we go through in our first two years of life.

This ITV doco also tries to explain what life is like from a baby's point of view - why they prefer sweet foods, why they have a natural ability to swim, and how they can understand three times more words than they can actually say.

And says the show, when it comes to language, it seems that babies are smarter than they look. It shows that though adults can identify the 45 or so sounds that make up their mother tongue, at 6 months babies can hear the difference between the 150 sounds that make up every language in the world.

So babies are born prepared for any language - they just learn the ones their parents teach them.

When: Tuesday, 8.30pm
Where: TV One

Also ...

• Superhero archery enthusiast Oliver Queen returns in the fourth season of Arrow tonight (TV2 9.30pm) and he's apparently finding that riding off into the sunset to start a new life at the end of season three isn't working out for him as planned.

• In case you missed it a few weeks ago - or wish to say goodbye to your favourite characters one more time - Prime is repeating the final ever episode of Downton Abbey (Sunday, 8.30pm).

Da Vinci's Demons, the show that tried to turn poor old polymath Leonardo into a renaissance fantasy hero is starting its third and final season (The Box, Tuesday, 9.30pm)

• Fans of hardy Aussie soap Home and Away will be pleased to know that the show, now its 28th year, returns to TV2 with a one-hour season premiere (Tuesday, 5.30pm) followed by week-night instalments in the same time slot, some of which will be devoted to answering last season's big question: Who shot Charlotte King?

- TimeOut

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