Duncan Greive is the editor and founder of New Zealand pop culture-obsessed website The Spinoff and columnist for the NZ Herald.

Duncan Greive: Funny Girls is great, but it could be even better

Funny Girls sparkles with promise and frequently delivers piercing insight and always a wild charisma and energy, but it also has issues, says Duncan Greive.

With so much of New Zealand prime time television feeling like its made to fill a scheduling hole or an advertising demographic, it's nice to come across a project which feels truly creatively driven.

That's the case with Funny Girls, which recently returned to close TV3's Friday night comedy line-up, and despite being conceived of by the network now appears firmly in the grasp of the young comedy writers and performers who make it.

It's essentially a sketch show loosely tied together with a behind-the-scenes narrative in which Rose Matafeo is the Jim-and-Pam of the scene, a regular person trapped in a world full of idiots. As with the first season these scenes are the heart of the show and a genius conceit.

Read more: How Rose Matafeo and Laura Daniel became NZ's first ladies of LOL

They mean that even when the sketches don't work - and, in truth, it takes a while to find its feet - you retain an engagement with the show, rooting for Jackie van Beek's hapless producer in her quest for IT dept love, or feeling the dread guilt of recognition as man after man explains female concepts to Rose and co-star Laura Daniel.

Even more so than in season one Funny Girls concerns itself with an explicitly feminist agenda. While large parts of the first season were absurdist or high concept, this feels like a more streamlined vision.

The first episode is highlighted by a running series positing a 'man drought' as a disaster movie; all the world's men mysteriously vanish, like The Leftovers but with every single man on earth. Eventually it culminates in a Mad Max style dystopia, women scattered to burned out camps and ravenous for dick. The punchline is too good to give away, but well worth the circuitous route taken.

Laura Daniel (left) and Rose Matafeo star in the television series Funny Girls.
Laura Daniel (left) and Rose Matafeo star in the television series Funny Girls.

Some of the jokes can feel like great tweets made into good sketches: a female politician repeatedly asked about who she's wearing drags its feet; the board game Guess Who being a minefield of sexism and racism; a courtier saying "yas queen" to the actual queen. They're funny, but very one note.

Similarly, the fact that so many of the key voices are long-time collaborators can give it a narrowly millennial preoccupation at times - but given that the vast quantity of our cultural output seems made by and for Boomers, this is actually one of the more refreshing qualities of the production.

More than anything it's fun seeing such a range of new and young faces stretching themselves on television as a big unruly group. Natalie Medlock, Madeleine Sami, Perlina Lau, James Roque, Jamie Curry and Chris Parker all shine at various points, giving the show a freshness and diversity rarely glimpsed outside of Shortland Street.

Curry's 'Planet Becky' sketches are particularly great, showing a previously un-glimpsed capacity for pointed self-parody in the YouTuber's arsenal.

Where it has issues it is with consistency. The great US sketch shows have vast teams working on little else, and feel polished until they gleam as a result. This isn't just a function of talent - Funny Girls has a surfeit of that - but of time.

Funny Girls encompasses six episodes, dozens of performers and even more locations and never looks anything less than world class. Yet the whole season is made for around two thirds the cost of a single episode of Dirty Laundry, the big budget drama currently languishing unwatched (it had a solitary week in the top 20 ratings for 25-54) on TV2.

This is madness and nonsense. A production like this can't successfully be squeezed out in between Jono and Ben and 7 Days work. A core group need to own it year-round and work on little else. It speaks to a continuing and unjustifiable pop-cultural hierarchy within New Zealand that allows dramatic productions a grandeur and time which is never afforded to cheap entertainments like comedy. Yet the same ingredients are required to make either great.

Funny Girls sparkles with promise and frequently delivers piercing insight and always a wild charisma and energy. But it remains haunted by a ghost - of what it could be if its core compenents worked on it year round, instead of in their spare time.

* Season two of Funny Girls is now available to watch on TV3 On Demand.

- NZ Herald

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