Hart’s brilliant new effort shows possibilities of TV thinking small, writes Duncan Greive.

Lately I've been watching a tonne of Moon TV, Leigh Hart's brilliant, now dormant comedy series, and trying to figure out why it isn't celebrated as a New Zealand icon on the same level as, say, Braindead or Sir Edmund Hillary.

For those crawling towards their graves unaware of this wonderful creation, Moon TV is a fictional TV channel, with short sections each pretending to be a different show.

Each one features some combination of Hart, Jason Hoyte and Matai Johnson, with a larger crew of less prominent characters. They create a schedule of nightly programming which loosely aligns with what we saw on our screens through the mid-'00s, when it was created.

There's Speedo Cops, a deliriously incompetent Police 10:7 - except in swimwear. Naan Doctors is Shortland Street set in a functioning Indian restaurant. The Hamsterman from Amsterdam takes a stupid rhyming pun and creates moments viciously funny and somehow achingly sad.


There is also Late Night Big Breakfast, a brilliantly crude and messy Good Morning, only set in a Dominion Rd furniture store during opening hours. It's a talkshow of blazing idiocy, and for some unfathomable reason John Key, then leader of the Opposition, appears in several episodes from season five, watching amiably as Hart and co blunder through their often profoundly offensive topics.

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It was expanded to become a full half-hour last year on TVNZ, a kinetic, chaotic comedy which was the best local production in a good while. TVNZ, naturally, cancelled it immediately. Fans mourned and seethed but TVNZ was unmoved. Moving, to be fair, is not a strength of the state broadcaster - but that's probably preferable to the self-immolation happening at the other network.

Now, though, Late Night Big Breakfast's coffin lid creaks open on WatchMe.co.nz, a new digital platform set up by Matt Heath and Jeremy Wells - who appeared on the TVNZ-era LNBB - and owned by NZME, the publishers of the Herald.

That blatant conflict being declared, let me describe the brilliance of its latest incarnation. The show is now shorter - the first episode is 15 minutes long - but retains much of what has always made Hart's output great.

Interestingly, where Late Night Big Breakfast once parodied morning light entertainment shows, it now explicitly targets Kiwi Living, the TVNZ lifestyle show which plays on Fridays in primetime. And where once the humour was mostly affectionate and surreal, now there's an edge of anger flashing through, likely driven by the fact TVNZ abandoned Late Night Big Breakfast to make shows like ... Kiwi Living.

It starts with Hart and Hoyte on a porch in a generic back yard, introducing the concept and saying "Kiwi living" about a thousand times: "and don't we love our living, us Kiwis". It's both shatteringly vacuous and very close to something you can imagine Michael Van de Elzen saying, flashing a big, warm, empty smile.

There are familiar, even slightly tired Hart/Hoyte tropes, such as an interview with a volcanologist who doesn't get a word in, or the revolting infomercials for a "rectal brush" and "anal mop". Each joke remains good, but less so than a decade ago.

The show starts to shine when it really attacks the corny DIY instructionals beloved of Kiwi Living: Hart's Fisher & Paykel oven-in-a-hangi-pit, which "could be deemed culturally insensitive". It absolutely could, but part of the show's brilliance is its willingness to stroll into problematic areas, not just for a laugh, but for a purpose.


This is nowhere more clear than the closing interview, with actress Jodie Rimmer. It's a truly brilliant scene, with Hoyte talking about his youth playing "racy, drug-taking, Casanova" types, versus the more "distinguished" roles he's offered now.

Rimmer, by contrast, is asked about the "matronly, elderly, witchy" parts which come her way as "the breasts tend to be heading south". A horrible interviewing theme which is also present in almost all interviews with actresses post 30.

In the past, women have largely been props on Hart's shows, objects for him to be a buffoon or a lech around. They allowed him to make a trenchant commentary of various ideals of New Zealand masculinity, but didn't really get to meaningfully participate in scenes themselves.

Suddenly, violently, that ceases. "I'm feeling really uncomfortable with this interview," Rimmer says. "It's actually outrageous that you're asking me these questions."

It's the start of an eruption, overdue and welcome, of a smart, fearless woman into this world peopled by bumbling clown men. It's also ferociously funny, seeing the familiar bemused and baffled expressions of the hosts generated from an unfamiliar source.

That goes for both the show and the platform, which represents an opportunity to break the commissioning stranglehold, whereby three people decide most of what gets made in this country - and in so doing give New Zealand on Air the opportunity to fund a bunch of interesting small things, rather than the grand, often quite flawed, event shows which have taken so much of our television budgets these past few years.

About bloody time.