When Neighbours at War wrapped up last year after eight seasons it left an unexpectedly big gap in the local television landscape. Where else on telly were we going to find the real, unfiltered version of New Zealand the show's bitter, surreal, funny neighbourly disputes reliably provided?
An answer of sorts arrived on Thursday night, in the form of Gutsful, a new show from the makers of Neighbours at War. Its biggest point of difference is that it has removed the 'neighbours' criteria and opened the floor to anyone with a grievance to air about anything.
The resulting topics are a lot more universal, things most New Zealanders can relate to and have probably even had a gutsful of themselves. The show deals to these annoyances - freedom campers and traffic snarl-ups, charity shop dumpers and stupid council bylaws - like a kind of haphazard, colloquial alternative to Fair Go.
Gutsful shares with its predecessor the unmistakable wry narration of Bill Kerton, who also directs this series. While slightly more restrained, the show still exhibits the same eagle eye for a funny visual detail or perfectly-timed sound effect which consistently elevated Neighbours at War above the usual mire of factual TV.
In the first episode all it took was for Kerton to intone "uh-oh... freedom campers" over a shot of a clapped-out van with cheap lightning crash SFX to know we were back in business. The story took us to the small South Taranaki town of Warea to meet a surfer called Chris who had had a gutsful of van-dwelling tourists fouling up his surf spot. "I come down here to surf, not step in faeces," he argued.
Chris showed Gutsful the car park where the freedom campers allegedly converge and the solitary public toilet they allegedly overwhelm with their ablutions. None was in evidence on the day, though at one stage it had been so bad that Chris had brought his boat chain and padlocked the toilet doors shut. The chain was removed and confiscated by the council.
Chris' concerns were backed up by local marae leaders, who installed a chain of their own in an attempt to protect a site of historical importance adjacent to the car park. "Turanga-why-why-why can't anyone do anything about the desecration of this turangawaewae?" asked Kerton during one inspired voiceover.
Later, a traveller called Paul spoke of the faecal horrors of freedom camping across Europe. He was described as a "wandering albatross [who] has flown home to be a kiwi canary in a coalmine of cack."
But Gutsful isn't just a procession of rarked up locals and brilliant voiceover work - its primary goal is to help out. In the third act, the show went "straight to the top" (the South Taranaki District Council) and spoke to a bloke on what happened to be the last day of his 50-year career in local government. It was ominously teased before the ads as "the interview that will end a man's career."
The councillor explained how when the freedom camping bylaw was introduced it covered 74 different spots and for some, like the car park Chris was concerned about, the bylaw might not be suitable. He said the council would have a look, talk to the local marae and work something out. And Chris could have his boat chain returned.
The simmering outrage, the easy conciliation, the many different synonyms for human bodily waste.
It's great to see the real New Zealand back on TV.