Forget appointment viewing - Hannah Marshall, David de Lautour and Gareth Williams want you to watch TV a little differently. They talk to Chris Schulz.

Wide, sweeping shots of gloomy forests and rivers. A dimly lit interrogation room. A body in a bathtub. In the background, spooky music plays.

With scenes like that, you'd be forgiven for thinking you're watching an acclaimed Danish crime show like Forbrydelsen (The Killing), or a gritty American drama in the style of True Detective.

But you're not: they're all scenes from Alibi, a dark Kiwi-made whodunnit shot in the style of some of the biggest and best television shows to emerge overseas in the past 10 years.

Gareth Williams, Hannah Marshall and David de Lautour. Photo / Dean O'Gorman
Gareth Williams, Hannah Marshall and David de Lautour. Photo / Dean O'Gorman

That, says Alibi's creators, is exactly the point.

"Denmark is making this really gritty noir stuff and they've got the same sized population. Their content translates to an international audience," says Hannah Marshall, one-third of Plus6four, the production team behind Alibi.

David de Lautour, Marshall's husband, and second member of Plus6four, agrees: "The stuff we're watching overseas ... we want to try and replicate here."

With fellow actor Gareth Williams on board, the three decided if no one else was going to try, they'd attempt to do it themselves. So they teamed up to make Alibi, their ambitious first attempt at making a New Zealand TV show with international appeal.

Joel Tobeck in TVNZ's new online series Alibi.
Joel Tobeck in TVNZ's new online series Alibi.

Set in the fictional town of Awatahi, Alibi examines the death of local schoolgirl Jodie Hunter, whose parents are members of a strict religious sect. Each of the six 15-minute episodes is told from the point of view of a suspect in her murder: her boyfriend, her best friend, her teacher, a gang boss, a tradesman and a church leader.

But this isn't a straight linear watch: Alibi's been designed for viewers to see each 15-minute episode randomly, with their experience dictated by the order they choose. On top of that, an online world has been built up around it, containing clues to Jodie's killer.

That idea came from seeing the growing popularity of online streaming and binge-viewing, says de Lautour, and wanting to expand on that.

Xavier Horan in TVNZ's new online series Alibi.
Xavier Horan in TVNZ's new online series Alibi.

"If you have all the episodes at once, why do they have to be in order?" he asks. "We give the audience a lot of credit. From the first episode it's like, 'What is going on?' We don't spell it out - we just put it there and people will figure it out."


So far, it seems to be working. TVNZ quickly hopped on board, the show secured funding from NZ on Air, and the trio used their industry connections to secure big-name actors who deliver stand out performances, including Tandi Wright as the lead investigator, Xavier Horan as an aggressive gang boss called "X", and Joel Tobeck playing church leader Father Sebastian with unblinking intensity.

All six episodes went online on Thursday night. A reveal episode, told from the perspective of the investigator, lands in two weeks.

The obvious question on Weekend's mind is, whodunnit? Marshall, de Lautour and Williams aren't telling - but that hasn't stopped many trying.

Lindsay Daniels in TVNZ's new online series Alibi.
Lindsay Daniels in TVNZ's new online series Alibi.

Nothing, so far, has worked.

"No way," laughs Marshall. "We didn't tell anybody. We've been bribed, people have tried to get us drunk to tell them. TVNZ had to force us to tell them. We didn't tell the actors ... so no one knew."

Marshall says the three discussed taking things even further. "We toyed with the idea of not ever telling you. That's true to life," she says. "You don't know."

She laughs, then admits: "That wouldn't have been satisfying at all."

What is satisfying is how quickly the show came together. "It's been one of those projects where we've been waiting for that thing where it goes, 'Nah, it doesn't work,' or, 'That's not cool.' But at the moment it feels like everything's flowed and we've gone along with it. In the writing, it worked. In the shooting, it worked. Now people are starting to watch it we're like, 'Is it still working?'"

Madeline Adams stars in Alibi.
Madeline Adams stars in Alibi.

It's still working. Alibi's an easy evening binge, one that quickly wraps you up in its gloomy world. It looks like a million bucks, despite its budget that fell far short of that. And early reviews have raved about it, calling it "more-ish" and "easily devoured".

It's still working for the team of three behind it. "This has gone better than we could have imagined," says Marshall. In fact, it's working so well the trio have already started work on a second season of Alibi, hopefully with longer episodes this time around.

That's not all: they've just secured funding for their first feature film - and, like Alibi, this one's a little different too.

"It felt like a long shot putting it in," says de Lautour. "Instead of those beautiful vistas and green hills that New Zealand is known for, we said, 'Let's get into the dark alleys and the gritty cityscapes and show that off.
"We're really passionate about telling New Zealand stories, but in a different way."

TV shows that do things differently


Steven Soderbergh's HBO murder mystery could be watched one of two ways: through the cable network's TV channel, or via an app. Those using the app opened up another world, choosing whose perspective the story was told from, as well as becoming sleuths of their own, opening emails, reading documents and listening to voice mails. Soderbergh reportedly has two more projects coming made the same way.

Puss in Book: Trapped in an Epic Tale: Netflix has three choose-your-own-adventure-style kids shows, including Buddy Thunderstruck and Stretch Armstrong, but Puss in Book seems to be the favourite, thanks to its use of the cuddly cult character from the Shrek films. Industry boffins believe it's an indication the streaming giant is testing the waters for interactive fare aimed at adults.

Sharp Objects: HBO's twisted whodunnit, which finished its run on SoHo this week, was a masterclass in editing. Its shocking story about a serial killer was full of subtle clues, from ghostly figures in mirrors, to quick-cut flashbacks and dream-like sequences. But it's the finale that really stood out, with producers not fully revealing who the show's killer was until a short post-credits end scene that many viewers missed. Gah.

Alibi is available to stream now on TVNZ OnDemand. A reveal episode will air from September 13.