Leigh Hart makes TV comedy look like the easiest thing in the world.
From his first weird appearances as a drug-addled snail racer on the legendary Sports Cafe through to cult favourites like Moon TV and Late Night Big Breakfast, not much about his approach has changed. It has always seemed just a matter of showing up, chucking on a half-arsed costume (optional) and making sure the camera is rolling to capture the magic.
The reality is probably not quite that straightforward, but it's a formula that has worked for almost 20 years now. The less effort that seems to go in, the more haphazard and unpredictable a show is, the funnier the results are. Screaming Reels, which debuted on TVNZ's DUKE last night (repeated on TVNZ 1 tomorrow night), is one of the funniest things he has done yet.
Where Late Night Big Breakfast was a not so subtle parody of lifestyle programming like Kiwi Living and (the late, great) Good Morning, this is Hart and his Radio Hauraki drive time co-host Jason Hoyte's take on another classic genre of New Zealand television - the fishing show.
As the serious voiceover states at the top of the show, Hart and Hoyte are "two of New Zealand's most experienced - and extreme - fishermen", and Screaming Reels is "New Zealand's premiere high octane, action packed fishing show".
The first episode sees the pair aboard fishing charter the Manta Ray (skippered by the quietly disapproving boatsman Lance) as they go in pursuit of "big kingys" on the Hauraki Gulf. Their first stop is one of Leigh's top secret spots: Andy's Hole. "If you can't catch a fish at Andy's Hole you can't catch 'em anywhere," he claims in his trademark gravelly deadpan.
Soon enough Leigh's reel starts screaming. The master fishermen brace themselves for a monster kingy, but it's a false alarm. "It's just a seabird," says Leigh. "Ah, bugger," says Jase. "It's bad enough when a fish takes your bait," Leigh tells the camera with authority. "Let alone a ... duck-looking thing."
Their appropriation of fishing show host wisdom is spot on and consistently hilarious. The first episode covers everything from safety tips (call in a Mayday before you leave - you can always cancel it later) to advice on how to choose the right charter ("Whenever I go out on a boat I'll say 'has it got a ranch slider?' If they say yes, I'll book it.")
Like all of Hart's television pursuits, the show is made on the smell of an oily rag. Though, to be fair, this time he has stumped up for a drone (which can be seen hovering in the background of a handful of shots), chartered a boat and printed custom Screaming Reels T-shirts (a solid gold merchandise opportunity), which could be just about enough to make it Moon Television's most expensive production yet.
As good as the episode is - and it is one of the best things you will see on New Zealand television all year - you do have to wonder: can they really keep the joke up over a whole series? But if Leigh Hart and co's body of work to date has taught us anything, it's that a funny idea is a funny idea - no need to overthink it.
* Radio Hauraki is a radio station owned by NZME, publisher of the Herald.