We need more New Zealand music biopics.

This has got to be the main takeaway from Why Does Love?, the latest TVNZ 1 Sunday Theatre charting the rise and fall and rise again of Christchurch rock legends The (Dance) Exponents.

A fun and unselfconscious tour through the turbulent 1980s (ending on a hopeful note around 1992), it defied initial scepticism to be one of the most enjoyable local television dramas in ages.

Directed by Danny Mulheron (who was also behind the camera for last year's epic Hillary miniseries and Stephen Donald superhero movie The Kick), the Exponents story begins in Christchurch in 1981 with a 19-year old Jordan Luck (Jordan Mooney) and his fellow Timaru bandmates penning a "Drummer wanted" ad.

Advertisement

They put it up at CJ's music store, where the walls are festooned with posters for acts like The Clean and The Bats - Flying Nun tragics may note that the latter didn't actually form until the next year.

Some of the props mightn't always square up with history, but the performances of the (extraordinarily well-cast) band members more than make up for it.

Mooney captures the electric energy of his namesake, talking a hundred miles an hour and striding around the Christchurch CBD in a kilt and red leather jacket.

"He looks like a half-arse Rod Stewart," remarks future bassist Dave Gent (Matariki Whatarua) outside the store.

After their first practice he changes his tune: "He's a genius," he tells new drummer Harry (Simon Mead), "but don't tell him I said so."

The unlikely friendship which endures between Luck and Gent provides the film with heart when at times it threatens to turn into a join-the-dots dramatisation of the band's Wikipedia page.

The number of cameos and winking references in the script also helps in that respect.

Blink and you might miss Ed Hillary (Andrew Munro) as the band's first manager Jim Wilson, or Buzz Moller from indie heroes Voom as a washed-up rock star delivering a portent of doom to the band at Sweetwaters.

Advertisement
The cast of Why Does Love?
The cast of Why Does Love?

At the end even Mulheron himself appears as the director of the iconic Why Does Love Do This To Me? music video, which he then recreates shot-for-shot. And why not?

The biggest star is the music, after all, and barely a scene goes by without one of the band's songs featuring prominently.

Outside of the context they usually appear in these days - blaring out of the speakers at rugby stadiums and on Air New Zealand ads - it's like hearing them anew for the first time.

The inclusion of deeper cuts is welcome too - Perfect Romance at Sweetwaters is a highlight.

The script walks a high wire between clever and clumsy when it comes to shoehorning in the songs' origin stories.

Victoria, famously written about Luck's landlady, hits home.

Later attempts to plot the inspiration behind songs like Whatever Happened to Tracey or Who Loves Who the Most aren't quite as convincing.

Why Does Love? doesn't completely gloss over the less-than-positive parts of the story - Luck is rarely seen without a beer in his hand, for example, and this is the clear catalyst for blown auditions and ruined gigs.

But even as the band self-destructs in the second act the tone remains fairly upbeat. It maintains a broad crowd-pleasing appeal - a bit like the band itself.

Knocked into a tidy three acts, the Dance Exponents' story is particularly well-suited to the screen. But what about the Herbs story? The Toy Love story? The True Bliss story?

Let's get it written into the TVNZ charter - from now until the end of time (or the end of Sunday Theatre, whichever comes first), at least one new local music biopic every year.