Comparisons are an incredibly lazy way to describe a TV show or film. This apple is like that chimp. This actor is like that red-haired stepchild of what's-her-name. Sitting through the movie was a bit like having a root canal, but performed by a vet, a Vietnam vet!
Comparisons are the lowest form of criticism, they are lazy. I like them.
"It's a bit Louis Theroux meets Anthony Bourdain, but without the food or booze."
That's how I summed up David Farrier's much-feted Netflix series Dark Tourist to someone recently and they nodded, perhaps in pity, it was hard to tell.
I heard someone compare Farrier to the late Dylan Taite on the radio the other day. Fair call. Both did time as the quirky entertainment reporter on TV3's Nightline.
Taite also seemed to do things his own way, and he played soccer with Bob Marley at a Parnell hotel in 1979. There was the potty late-period Taite when he often emerged from a TV3 lift ranting his own brand of rock poetry, or interviewing someone in a noisy cafe. Sometimes it seemed a wee bit unhinged but it was always authentic.
Dark Tourist marks the first NZ production to wear the Netflix Original brand, meaning it will be seen by millions.
But the story that sticks for both Taite and Farrier wasn't a music or entertainment one. For Dylan, it's the one about an obsession that swept the nation back in the early '80s. A theory had taken hold, spread by gossip, probably by fax too. If one were to fill up big plastic soda bottles with water and leave them around the lilies and herbaceous edges of one's garden, the snaggle-toothed dogs that used to roam our suburbs unmolested, those dogs — this amazing new theory posited — would be rendered incapable of shitting and pissing in the vicinity. They would raise their legs, begin the squat and nothing would flow.
Taite's report was a little piss ridden, in a gentle way, he knew the scheme was a scam but, the reason it stays with me is the line that he included comparing the battle for scat-free gardens to "the turd world war."
Not that Farrier's Dark Tourist goes in for such dad joking, which is not to say it's without humour. As for the Farrier news story that sticks, it's hard to go past that shirtless sauna interview with conservative loon Colin Craig.
Implying that Farrier shares DNA with other broadcasters is a fatuous exercise but if you insist, shall we include Marcus Lush? His various expeditions around the less obvious parts of NZ pulled in the viewers and charmed us into falling in love with even our unlovely bits.
His Off The Rails, South and North, became new benchmarks. Today his night-time talkback show on ZB is full of the joys of a certain part of the Kiwi life, a world of feijoa recipes, small town secrets, the wonders of everyday life and hot takes on world affairs from average Joes, all rendered with a touch of poetry.
We could also easily make connections to Guy Williams, Jeremy Wells and Te Radar. But could we say that Farrier is a bit like Gary McCormack? Seems insane, but Gary's documentary series Heartland has threads connecting all of the above, though to be fair, David is perhaps the most unlikely of all to get himself banned by Air New Zealand for causing a ruckus in the Koru Lounge. Finding female connections is a harder task and probably points to institutional and general all-purpose sexist exclusion from this sausage sizzle of guys who get to do these sorts of shows. Not easy is it?
Broadcaster and writer Elisabeth Easther is one exception I can rustle up.
She recently got to roam the islands of the Hauraki Gulf to see if they had changed much since her mother, Shirley Maddock, visited them to make a similar doco in 1964.
The answer was, sort of, and no. It's a great watch and Easther is the perfect guide. (Islands of the Gulf, TVNZ ondemand)
Operating in a slightly different arena there's Alice Snedden, another New Zealand original doing the business her own way with her own show. She's a comedian, columnist, and host of Alice Sneddon's Bad News which takes a look at New Zealand via the sideways glance.
The show is available via TVNZ's ondemand service, and her themed riffs on national issues from weed to tax evasion are fresh and funny and suggest an inquisitive drive that will be with us for some time.
Perhaps a Netflix series awaits in her future, if that is indeed an appealing thing down the track.
Some fear that the streaming service will do for TV productions what Uber has done for the taxi business. That may come to pass, but for now Dark Tourist marks the first NZ production to wear the Netflix Original brand, meaning it will be seen by millions. Most importantly, it's a great watch, and Farrier's much-loved schtick remains very much intact, helped no doubt by Carthew Neal and Mark McNeil, two of the sharpest producers we have in the Kiwi TV toolbox.
It's a slickly made 10-part magazine show taking in a smorgasbord of 'dark' tourist destinations; shithole countries, voodoo carry on, nuclear fallout. All the fun stuff. You could say it's a bit like Whicker's World for the woke generation. If you wanted to sound like an old fart.
Islands of the Gulf
, TVNZ Ondemand
Alice Sneddon's Bad News