As traditional television continues to dissolve, it's increasingly obvious how weird it was that everything used to be made to fit minimum half-hour programming parcels that defined and constrained the creativity of the people responsible for filling them.

Sure, there were shows that, within the half-hour limits, offered opportunities to do different things - sketch comedy for example - but those things generally ended up conforming to a certain set of norms anyway.

To make new things, we need to break the old things, and as television schedules are increasingly destroyed and replaced by streaming services and online video platforms, suddenly and seemingly everywhere on those services and platforms is Tom Sainsbury.

After making his name with astonishingly large amounts of funny, weird theatre, Sainsbury has quickly become equally prodigious on the various screens that together now comprise what we used to call television.


His entree into traditional television was co-writing the sketch comedy series Super City with Madeleine Sami, but his real breakthrough has been as a maker of all kinds of weird stuff on assorted video platforms: funny snapchat impersonation videos, web series, short films and plenty of other things that can't be easily defined, such as the three comedy items he recently performed for a live audience of Paula Bennett on a nine-minute TVNZ OnDemand special.

Freed from the constraints of the traditional commercial broadcasting model, the mind of Tom Sainsbury, a place nobody would call normal, has been unleashed and we are all the beneficiaries.

TVNZ OnDemand is about to make available the third season of a series called Stake Out, which he co-wrote with co-star Chris Parker. The shortest episodes of Stake Out are about two minutes and the longest is just a bit over nine minutes. Each episode features Sainsbury and Parker in a car on a stakeout where almost nothing happens. We mostly have no idea even who they're staking out.

There is little in the way of drama, character development, narrative arcs, any of that. There's inane chat and occasionally weird and unexpected stuff happens, usually to little effect.

This sort of folly would never have made it to air in a broadcast format, except as a network commissioner's career-ending mistake. There's no mass audience for this type of thing, but at its best it's very funny and at its worst you know it's about to be very funny.

In one scene, where they're being held, terrified, at gunpoint by a woman they had been staking out, Sainsbury says:

"She'll drive us to a desert and then she'll shoot us and then we'll have to bury ourselves. I've seen it before."

"In the movies?" Parker asks.


"No," Sainsbury says, "On television predominantly."

He's become famous for his snapchat impersonations of Bennett and, increasingly, Simon Bridges, but his talent is too diverse to be constrained by the requirements of a single format.

In the formlessness of the new media landscape, Tom Sainsbury has found his true home.