Overshadowed by other seismic shifts in our TV landscape, Maori TV recently debuted local Friday-night comedies Brown Eye and Find Me a Maori Bride. Going head-to-head with comedy juggernauts Jono and Ben and 7 Days, both shows are adding some much-needed fresh perspectives to New Zealand television comedy.
Brown Eye is a satirical Maori take on the week's news, presented by Nathan Rarere, the low-fi John Oliver with a 1970s set.
Rarere runs through the news bulletin with minimal flashy graphics, soundtrack or audience interaction. It has shades of Eating Media Lunch " revelling in the pauses, soaking in the dryness. A river of milk runs brown, as Rarere talks of the dairy industry defecating in its own pants. It's unabashedly scatological in its humour, and I have never felt more engaged with the goings-on of the dairy industry.
Taika Waititi has a brief but absurd foray into sports reporting ("New Zealand. Unbeatable. The champions. The sevens ... the twelves ... "), ripping the inanity of the half-hour sports slot to shreds. A discussion panel with Mike King and Tau Henare explores the Budget and the housing crisis in a way that is relatable and relaxed - if not a little old-fashioned in their viewpoints.
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Bringing in one of their younger team members could do wonders for the debate, and no doubt future weeks will see panel shake-ups. Perhaps Pax Assadi and Jamaine Ross, the roaming comedians who engage and at times enthral with their community reports. Their vox pops squeeze more from their everyday subjects than the typical 6 o'clock "yeah" or "nah".
Find Me a Maori Bride is the second new comedy kid on the block, a fantastic mockumentary following two culturally-estranged cousins forced to marry a Maori woman in order to return to tradition - and secure a $47 million inheritance. It's the perfect blend of comedy, culture and chaotic camerawork - shambolically following the characters on their equally shaky journeys to love.
We meet George and Tama as they begin dating and desperately trying to claw back their cultural roots to win over the wahine. Stereotypes are brought to the fore and treated playfully; a comedic exploration of what it means to be Maori in modern New Zealand. "I'm allergic to seafood, I've never owned a Bob Marley CD in my life," George laments. Te reo is peppered throughout the script, and subsequently misused by Amanda Billing's character Crystal. Subtitles reveal the English names for her children (one is called Don't Go Chasing Waterfalls.)
No group is left behind as FMAMB targets everyone in the modern melting pot. Asians. Sandasians (Tama's understanding of Aborigines). Maori. Pakeha. Aucklanders.
Unsurprisingly from the team behind Auckland Daze, there are some incredibly subtle nods to the nuances of Auckland culture. A bit-part character is randomly called Al Brown, letting his namesake just hang in the air like a bagel-making spectre.
Jennifer Ward-Lealand's unwaveringly sincere narration gives weight to the absurd premise of the show, as do the fish-out-of-water performances from Cohen Holloway and Matariki Whatarau. They perfectly capture the anxiety of rejecting tradition, yet desperately trying to please older generations. It's not only a hotbed for humour, but takes a universal feeling and gives it a New Zealand context.
The differences between the Friday night comedy battlers couldn't be more stark. At the end of Brown Eye, Nathan Rarere thanks the three cameramen and shows himself off the immediately-darkened set with his iPhone torch. Flick over and the 7 Days crew are clapping like seals under bright lights with their adoring studio audience. These low-fi comedy Davids won't conquer Jeremy Corbett's Goliath in the ratings, but the voice they are injecting into local TV comedy is unbeatable.