Fair Go returned for its 40th year on New Zealand TV a couple of weeks ago, but there wasn't a hard-hitting expose of dodgy dealing or a ballbusting doorstop interview with a cowboy tradie in sight.
Instead, the show felt a bit like a collection of primary school science projects. TVNZ's free-range reporter Brodie Kane investigated the effectiveness of household fly sprays, while host Pippa Wetzell stuck a bunch of takeaway hamburgers in a camping pantry to find out, "Is the burger that lasts forever just an urban myth?"
Had our ancient consumer watchdog finally lost its bite? It has certainly lost its studio - friendly Pippa and her stern co-host Gordon Harcourt now present the show from the middle of the TVNZ office, stood near the bottom of the stairs in what seems to be a main thoroughfare for anyone needing to use the printer or go to the toilet.
Brodie's fly spray yarn saw her release 15 flies in the TVNZ boardroom before nuking them with Mortein and collecting them in containers. Of the 11 she captured, 9 were up and flying around again within hours. Shocking, but she didn't manage to land a hit on the fly spray manufacturers - they all weaseled out of it by claiming her experiment was "scientifically unsound".
A deeply dissatisfying show for fans of consumer justice, but thankfully any fears that Fair Go had gone soft on us were soothed last week. The show was back to its tenacious best, as reporter Garth Bray headed to the Waikato to put the wind up the district council over a "modern day land war".
He was there on behalf of landowners Neil and Deb, who had returned from Australia to find the council had made a mess of their rural property to install some pipes. At the heart of the grievance seemed to be the fact that the council had gained consent from Neil and Deb's neighbour, then argued that he was acting on their behalf. Fighting fire with fire, Garth hired a portaloo and gained the consent of a guy on the street - acting on the council's behalf - to park it in the council car park.
The elected officials fled like mice at the sight of this vigilante reporter wearing an ominous grey baseball cap. Eventually the mayor fronted with some fluffy excuses. He promised to have the mess sorted out the next day. A week later it was still there. "Sort this out, Waikato District Council," chastised Gordon back at the stairs. Finally! A classic Fair Go telling off.
This week Gordon took on the unreliable world of online restaurant reviews with a nifty experiment described by one TripAdvisor representative as "pretty meaningless". In a reckless waste of company resources, he had a TVNZ designer mock up a fake menu and website for a restaurant near Victoria Park called "The Outhouse" and submitted it to TripAdvisor. The Outhouse being, in fact ... a public toilet.
Gordon then used a website called Fiverr to buy positive reviews from users like "Ray from Scotland".
The Outhouse shot to #978 of 1429 Auckland restaurants on TripAdvisor. Gordon then paid an American man dressed like Jesus $20 for a glowing video testimonial.
Its strike rate may be way down on previous years, but Fair Go remains a national treasure. It's the last remaining TVNZ show where you'll find a good old-fashioned doorstop interview, but even those are growing scarcer.
This week the hosts had moved, from next to the stairs to in front of the lift. Hopefully they're not being slowly edged out of the building altogether.