Talent breaks through from deep inside prisons - and from the distant past - in picks of latest TV offerings.

Occasionally, and against considerable odds, great little things still happen on New Zealand television. For instance, there's a series called Songs From the Inside, which started its second run on Maori TV on Friday night.

It's a remarkable show - emotional, confronting and heart-warming in almost equal servings, and with the considerable bonus of some great musical performances. It also contains some not-so-great musical performances but, like NZ's Got Talent, that's part of the show's deal.

We should, I suppose, be a little suspicious of what might be called adjusted-reality TV shows from inside prisons. They can have a tendency to hold out hope when maybe there's not really a lot and avoid saying too much about just what put the prisoners in prison in the first place.

Songs From the Inside is a bit like that, but it's a great deal more besides, thanks to the songs and the show's simple, intimate style.


As with the first series, Songs takes four famous Kiwi singers inside a couple of famous Kiwi prisons offering musical mentoring to a dozen aspiring inmates.

Singer/songwriter Anika Moa returns from series one, joined this time by Annie Crummer, Laughton Kora and Don McGlashan - powerful and talented personalities all.

The two women will be working with a hard half-dozen inside the women's prison in Manukau and the men with six blokes of various ethnicities, ages and sizes inside Paremoremo.

Inevitably, the camera makes much of the lonely cells, the razor wire and the slamming prison doors, but that's where the cliches stop - though strangely the comparisons with NZ's Got Talent don't quite.

Some of the performances are challenging - and several songs from the inmates in the introductory episode were certainly that. But one woman, in a too-short snippet, had an astonishing Joan Armatrading-sounding voice, while others, like an inmate called Elvis, hadn't quite found the courage to sing yet.

Thankfully Moa, McGlashan, Kora and Crummer had no such problem, taking things straight into tingle territory with an unplugged McGlashan-led performance of Bathe In the River and then Crummer wigging out wonderfully on her old hit See What Love Can Do.

I can't recommend Songs From the Inside highly enough. And I can't wait to hear Elvis sing - and maybe even leave the building.

In another world altogether, there's dear old Country Calendar (TV One, Saturday, 7pm), back with its umpteenth series of songs from the outside, celebrating a rural life in New Zealand that isn't half the size it was when the show launched, in the middle of last century.

Saturday's second episode of the new series found a hard-working Bay of Plenty family of fishers, the last of the drag netters.

Country Calendar's long-established combination of good pictures, easy pace and solid talent remains intact, along with the comforting grandfatherly styling of the voiceover, provided by the show's old retainer, Frank Torley.

Thankfully, Country Calendar has become invincible with age and long may it remain so alarmingly old-fashioned and reassuring, though it still doesn't make me want to be a fisher or a farmer.