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I can't help wondering what Billy T. James would make of tonight's TV One biopic of his life, Billy. I'm not sure that he would like it much. He might have hoped a TV show about his life would be a bit less over-egged and earnest and maybe even, you know, funny.

And I have a sneaking suspicion he wasn't a cat who liked being lectured all that much.

"I'm just a comedian," Billy T says in answer to accusations he is a traitor to his Maori culture. Unlike Billy, which lays its message on with a trowel. Hey, people. Racism. It's bad.

The real Billy, being a kindly sort of cove, might be pleased his widow Lynn liked this rendition of his story, which is screening the same week as the big screen doco Billy T: Te Movie opens.

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The producers of Billy have boasted that Lynn - who sounds like a bit of a tough nut - approved this version of events, which focuses on the romantic tale of the comedian and his childhood sweetheart. That is, her. Big mistake.

As a love story, Billy is a bomb. The whole enterprise, made with more than $2 million of taxpayers' money, has more than a whiff of a vanity project about it.

The luminous Morgana O'Reilly portrays Lynn as a saintly nurturing muse to Billy, like a cross between Oprah Winfrey and Gwyneth Paltrow, who says feeble things like "You must follow your dream, Billy".

It's hard to believe that a complex individual like Billy T would have had such an insipid marriage. Punches appear to have been pulled.

Needless to say there is a hot, heavy, passionate love story here, but it is between the public and Billy. We dug him, big time.

But we adored the "Where'd you get your bag? I nicked it, of course!" persona on stage and screen, not the shy, troubled, complicated, tragically weak loner who woke up the day after with a hangover.

But in Billy, the intriguing psyche of the comedian is not handled with much sophistication, either.

The publicity material says, moronically, that it was a paradox that the comedian Billy T. James was, in private, quite a shy person.

"He was at ease on stage and in front of the camera but shied away from the limelight."

Oh, get real! This is a surprise?

Comedian doesn't crack gags over breakfast shock!

You don't have to be a shrink to know that practically every funny dude, from Peter Sellers to Benny Hill, develops a public persona, using humour to deal with their personal pain.

Big news: a lot of comedians are actually rather boring people in their private lives.

That might have been part of the problem for Tainui Tukiwaho, who plays Billy and, for much of the story, seems a bit awkward and morose.

This may be an accurate portrayal of how Billy T really was, but it doesn't seem real because we are used to the giggling persona with the yellow towel around his neck.

It's not admirable but it makes the besotted public miffed to see their hero off his pedestal.

But Tukiwaho really does nail Billy T's famous stand-up routines, a stunning and frankly surprising accomplishment.

I think if the real Billy were here to watch him, even he would have had a giggle.