High School (TVNZ On Demand)
When students at The New Zealand Skydive School do their first jump, it's with a parachute they've packed themselves strapped to their back. So I guess you could say the first couple of weeks of classes are fairly important.
These first jumps don't happen until the third episode of new TVNZ On Demand documentary series High School, which follows a dozen students on the intensive 32-week course. But if you think a series about skydiving where nobody jumps out of a plane for two full episodes sounds a bit boring, just wait until you meet their course director.
Paul Jeune is incredible television talent. A classic British hardman of unspecified origin (you assume ex-SAS - but who knows?), he's cut from the same cloth as a Bear Grylls or Ross Kemp – with a tiny pinch of David Brent for good measure.
"People say 'what do you do for a job?'" the skydiving instructor says near the start of the first episode. "I say I run a study in human nature."
What he means is that he spends every minute of his working day putting his students under the pump to see if they've got the physical and mental fortitude required to be a professional skydiver.
His methods are not always subtle. "Don't worry if you can't get through this, it's all good," he reassures 19-year-old Lucy, one of the few women on the course, during a parachute-folding exercise in week one. "You've got a good excuse: you're a chick."
Lucy stands up and delivers an important PSA (circa 1997): "Chicks can do anything."
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"Teaching the way I'm teaching," Paul reflects, "you run the risk of losing the class."
Later in the first episode, he hauls Lucy and her mate Paige into his office for a bollocking after finding out they got rat-arsed drunk the night before. He concludes his talk by telling the pair to "put some leggings on", because "you've got child boys round there swarming around yous, like flies round shit".
The line between "testing mental fortitude" and simply "being a dick" can be a blurry one sometimes. Maybe the line between "incredible TV talent" and "actually a bit unhinged" is a blurry one here too. Paul is a complex character.
So too are the dozen students the series is following – none of whom quite fit the classic adrenalin junkie archetype quite the way you expect. R.J. has come from China to prove to her parents she can be something other than an accountant. "I'm terrified of skydiving," admits Maddie, who's come from Canada to face down her biggest fear. Caspar is a home-schooled 18-year-old robotics genius from South Auckland looking to upskill for a career as a stuntman.
"I've been in this game long enough to witness a few fatalities," Paul tells them all during a typically chilled-out classroom session in week one. "It's never good."
By the end of episode one, High School's drama and personalities have already been firmly established. Imagine how good it's going to get by the time they start actually jumping out of planes.