I'll admit right now that the premise of TVNZ OnDemand's new local murder mystery, Alibi, left me feeling dubious before I'd even watched a single episode.
Created by the husband-and-wife team of Westside's David de Lautour and Hannah Marshall, as well as fellow actor Gareth Williams, the show is a mini-series uniquely set up with episodes that can be watched in any order.
Set in the fictional small town of Awatahi, the story centres on the murder of Jodie Hunter (Madeline Adams), a 17-year-old girl and rebellious member of a secretive religious sect.
With six suspects in her murder case, each of Alibi's episodes is dedicated to a single character, where they share their version of events leading up to Jodie's death.
Viewers get to decide the order in which they watch these episodes, as they try and figure out who the killer is. Think of it as being a bit like those 'Choose Your Own Adventure'-type books you read when you were a kid, but with more swearing, cults and murdered teenagers.
An admittedly bold arrangement for a TV show, it left me with some questions.
How would Alibi deliver an episode that works for someone just joining the series, as well as somebody who might be viewing it as their third chapter, for example?
How would they avoid repeating story set-up information every time, seeing as each of the six episodes could be a potential entry point for a viewer?
And how would my easily-bamboozled brain keep up with all of this?
As it turns out, I needn't have worried, because the makers of Alibi have produced six 15-minute episodes that all click into place neatly.
Being the square that I am, I started watching Alibi's episodes in the order they appeared on my screen. (But thinking I should probably play the game a little, I then watched the last couple of episodes on my list in reverse order. "This is living!" I told myself.)
The episodes all begin much the same way, opening with sweeping landscape shots and a song to set the tone for whichever character is going under the microscope. An unseen detective then begins her interrogation of the suspect about their alibi for the day of the murder.
As far as suspects go, there's Jodie's forbidden love interest Caleb (Dylan Poihipi), who she was planning to run away with, and Malika (Lindsay Daniels), Jodie's very confident (but potentially jealous) best friend.
Others under suspicion include a handful of adults, each with a scandal in their past that may nudge them towards murder: Jodie's teacher, Natalie (Melanie Vallejo); religious leader Father Sebastian (Joel Tobeck); tradesman Nigel (Fasitua Amosa), and 'X', Caleb's gang leader cousin, who's played with crackling, menacing energy by de Lautour's Westside colleague, Xavier Horan.
It all sounds quite tangled, but once you've seen more than one episode of Alibi, it's very easy to see how all the pieces of the narrative fit together.
Each of the six chapters cleverly complement each other, without much in the way of doubling up. Even when we do see the same scene twice, it's always through the eyes of another character, meaning the story is a little (or a lot) different, depending on what their version of the truth is.
Is it gimmicky? Of course it is, especially when you throw in some Instagram and Facebook accounts that have been set up for the show's characters, too.
But Alibi's non-linear framework is still a nice twist on what would otherwise be a well-worn murder mystery trope. It's interesting to ponder whether I might have felt differently about the characters if I'd watched the episodes in a different order and saw one version of the story before another.
But, most importantly, it's a moreish tale that can be easily devoured in the one sitting (which is exactly what I did).
All six episodes of Alibi go live on TVNZ OnDemand tomorrow, with a reveal episode being released two weeks later, where viewers get to see who the killer (or killers?) are.
Did I figure out who killed Jodie Hunter? Pfft, hardly. Sharp-minded sleuth, I am not. But I'm still looking forward to revisiting Awatahi in two weeks' time to find out who the culprit is.
Alibi is available via TVNZ OnDemand from tomorrow.