When it arrived last year, TV One's
felt more like a special kind of Kiwi purgatory, demanding viewers follow its bourgeois trends in order to attain holiness. A strange facsimile of life, somehow much less than the sum of its parts, the Friday night lifestyle show could have easily been swept under the programming rug once its season was up.
Instead, they took to it like one of their interminable interior design projects, and with some subtle adjustments have managed to upcycle the old show into something which feels a bit more Kiwi, and much more closely resembles living. It returned on Friday night with some new presenters, a few new regular segments, and vitally, a new house.
The old Kiwi Living house, where all the presenters used to mill around as if awaiting the apocalypse, has been abandoned for a newer, trendier one. Host Miriama Kamo welcomed us in, and the presenters dropped by one after the other to briefly introduce their stories. Kamo is even allowed to leave the house this year, for a segment where she visits much nicer houses, like that of British expats Vanessa and Richard. "You nailed the quintessential Kiwi dream," she told them. "You got the villa!"
One of the other new sections this year looks at close-to-home family holiday options. Resident chef Mike Van de Elzen went (by himself) to Rarotonga to see if it was worth renting a luxury bach instead of staying at a resort. He arrived during the middle of a monsoon. "Look at it," he hooted, gesturing out over the sodden beachfront, "it's so private, I can't see anyone!"
It took all of two seconds to figure out that renting a bach is the way to go if you have kids, so he tuk-tukked down to a beachside fish restaurant to stick his nose in there. "I'll watch," he told a fisherman called Captain Moko as he prepared to fillet a fat tuna. "I need you to get out of my way," said Captain Moko.
Van de Elzen returned later in the show for his regular cooking segment. "Mmm," he savoured a spoonful of his roasted tomato soup, before noisily dropping the spoon on the bench. Easily New Zealand's most charismatic celebrity chef, he treads the line between this kind of endearing goofiness and a more irritating persona, one barely capable of completing a sentence without doing a funny voice, incessantly lapsing into weird, patronising baby talk.
Of the new presenters, the most instantly charming was Dr Stacey Tremain, a handsome vet who offered tips on how to tell if your dog has eaten rat poison ("I've got a little dog and I'm always worried she's going to take some rat poison," admitted Kamo). Former Warriors hardman Monty Betham, the show's new health reporter, took a pragmatic look at ways to get the kids active. "If the prospect of taking the whole family on a bushwalk fills ya with dread, listen up!" he shouted.
Garden guru Tony Murrell, one of last year's surviving presenters, topped off the show by returning to his number one obsession: lawn care. "I say a lawn is a lawn is a lawn," opined Miriama 'Gertrude Stein' Kamo, "but Tony says otherwise." His crash course in grass alternatives - selliera, thyme, and pratia - was oddly engrossing, weirdly relaxing television.
Sometimes that's all you want at the end of a long week. While the other channels all seem hell bent on bringing the party home with raucous Friday night schedules full of street magic and sketch comedy, the new improved Kiwi Living is like a warm, soothing bath.