One of the curses of living in a small country with a small population is that our TV has to compete with the best from the rest of the world. In that regard it's probably useful to think of our TV industry a little bit like the Black Caps. We have our moments but generally we are up against it. Other teams have more money and bigger populations to pick the eyes out of. Generally we think we suck, and generally we're right, but we are getting better at celebrating the wins.
There are other parallels too - there are heaps of drunks in the TV industry, and guys with hairpieces or 'weaves', (four currently in primetime, 15 in senior management) and like the Black Caps, there's also inflated egos, infighting, sexual misconduct and all the harebrained commentary from self appointed know alls that constantly spew from the broken sewer of talkback and twitter.
Have we had a golden era? Like the days when Richard Hadlee ruled the wicket? If we've ever punched above our weight it was fleeting.
I loved Under the Mountain when I was a kid. More recently I guess I'd name-check shows that featured Marcus Lush and trains, the occasional Country Calender, episodes of Brotown, the Jaquie Brown Diaries and of course Outrageous Fortune.
That show probably more than any other still stands as a high-water mark. Among other things, the ripples of Outrageous Fortune have propelled Anthony Starr to Hollywood - as star of the hyper stupid/hyper fun, comic-book caper, Banshee, which has just been confirmed for a second series.
Closer to home, the band who made OF has got back together for the crime series The Blue Rose. On first glance the show has a lot going for it. Firstly Antonia Prebble loves the camera and the camera loves her. The camera is also unlikely to kick co-star Siobhan Marshall out of bed. Together the pair are on a mission to solve a murder, her name is Rose. As far as I can tell The Blue Rose thing has something to do with Morrissey, of The Smiths. Rose is a big fan of Morrissey (in Ep 1 they discover one of her computer passwords is his birth date). Also, all the episode titles are taken from The Smiths song lyrics (Ep 1 is There Is A Light That Never Goes Out and Ep 2 is What Difference Does It Make?).
This blog explains a bit more about the whole Blue Rose/Morrissey thing that's been going on for the past few years.
The show looks great too, like a proper overseas one. Previous local dramas have sometimes been lacking in this department; low budgets often mean shitty sets, bad lighting, crap music. Have we also suffered from overcooked costumes and undercooked scripts? Totes.
But the first episode of The Blue Rose seems to have avoided a bunch of these pitfalls. Not too surprising given the steady hands of the writers, James Griffin and Rachel Lang, and the talents of a crew that includes cinematographer, Rewa Harre and director, Mark Beesley. Great music fills the show too, a cracking theme by The Unfaithful Ways, with the rest of the score coming from Karl Steven, once of Supergroove and more recently the Drab Doo-Riffs. (He's also the host of one of the best radio show's in the free world. Dr Karl's Midnight Hour, 95bFM Friday 11pm)
Ok, so it's no Twin Peaks or even The Bridge - although a bridge does feature prominently in the opening episode. But New Zealand dramas are never going to be as cerebral as our foreign favourites. The nature of funding and the 'realities' of advertising mean they have to appeal to a 'broad' audience. So we're not trying to make Breaking Bad or Girls. We're on the road to Packed to The Rafters.
Meanwhile on TV1's new comedy, Agent Anna, Outrageous Fortune strikes again. Here, tough as nails Cheryl West has become Anna, a bumbling struggling solo mum who is having her own financial crisis.
This is an unashamedly middle-aged comedy, complete with slapstick sex scenes and gags about school zones. It's hard to imagine anyone pulling this off as well as Robyn Malcolm and she fair nails the hapless Anna, the woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Co-star Adam Gardiner is also pitch perfect as her slimy colleague. (He also pops up on Sunny Skies, with a beard.) And the show also features a great local track as its theme, thanks to Ben King (Grand Rapids) under the name of Dulciana.
The Outrageous ripple also sees Munter starring in a new sitcom, Sunny Skies. (TV3) Tammy Davis and Oliver Driver play Deano and Oscar, half bros who first meet at the reading of the will in which their dad has left them with joint ownership of a classic kiwi campground.
Echoing the film Boy, Deano, says "egg" in the first 10 seconds. He drives a cool classic Holden, while co-star Oliver Driver (Oscar) drives a bright blue Mazda MX5 and wears the sunglasses of a wanker.
It's all so over-egged that when Oscar declares, "This bodes shit" before the titles, you're tempted to agree with him. Luckily the first episode bodes otherwise, thanks in no small part to a solid cast helmed by Driver and Davis and featuring a promising pair of "good old fashioned kiwi homos" played by Ian Mune and Mick Innes (Hounds).
Some of the lines are cracking, "This room smells of divorce, and ducks." But some of the gags are what could be kindly described as 'dad jokes': "This is your father's legacy." "A Subaru legacy?" Popular local band Six60 provide the theme.
It's too early to say if I'll stick with all the shows till the end, but it feels like something of a step forward has been made. It's not a leap by any stretch. All of the above are formulaic, but if the formula is designed to reach a 'broad' audience they can probably all be considered successes.
Sadly the other new comedy that debuted last week, The Radio, doesn't feature any former members of the Outrageous Fortune cast. Instead 7 Days favourites Paul Ego and Jeremy Corbett horse around in a set that looks as cheap as the canned laughter they were serving up.
This may all indeed be an intentional shot at some sort of kitsch, but one viewing would indicate that talented as they are, there is a more fitting place for what they've made here, and that's on the radio. As expected there's clever verbal jousting from the pair but visually it's a bit of a dry hump. The best moment involved co-star Urzila Carslon, guest star Jon Toogood, and a door. Still, the thing is just so flippin' odd I will have tune in again just to try to figure it out exactly what it is.
More disappointment. I went to Eden Park on Saturday night to watch the Black Caps lose to the poms at 20/20. Behind me a seasoned fan/loudmouth sounded off about the team's failings. He pissed me off at first because I judged him a moaner, like all the Seven Sharp bashers that went to town last week. Later I recognised that his bile actually came from a place of love rather than hate. The moaning blowhard actually cares.
The Blue Rose (TV3 Monday 8.30pm)
Agent Anna (TV1, Thursday, 8.30pm)
Sunny Skies (TV3, Friday 8pm)
The Radio (TV3, Friday 10pm)