Watching people watch TV - what's that like? Calum Henderson turns on the Gogglebox to find out.
For a show with the tagline "unscripted, uncensored, unlike anything", the first episode of Gogglebox NZ a few weeks ago felt pretty unnatural. Nobody sits that close together on the couch these days, you know? And kids certainly aren't watching Naked Attraction with their parents. The chat all felt a bit forced and awkward – almost as if everybody had a camera pointing right at their face.
If you watched that first episode and decided to tap out, honestly, fair enough – but you're missing out on some absolute gold now that the show has started to hit its straps.
It's not just that the households have relaxed and become more comfortable with the cameras in the room. The editors, whose hellish job it is to sift through hundreds of hours of footage a week, have also quickly developed a keen eye for the kinds of tiny moments and individual quirks that always made the original UK version of show such a delight to watch. And it's probably also taken us, the viewers, an episode or two to fully warm to the concept.
It takes a while, but you grow to love all these weird Kiwis who decided it would be fine to allow themselves to be filmed watching hours and hours of telly every week. You start to notice the little things, like how George, the patriarch of the Miszey family, never says a word or changes facial expression, or how Ange of "Ange and Tinks" will sometimes sit there stroking a cushion likeness of her dog, even though the actual dog is right there next to her on the couch.
Unlikely heroes emerge, too. The show's king of one-liners might actually be 16-year-old Max, who sits at the opposite end of the couch to his permanently dressing gown-wearing dad, and who roasted Australian Bachelor Nick "Honey Badger" Cummins to a crisp by declaring he "looks more like a stoat". New Zealand TV hasn't had a surly teenager this good since Nick Harrison on Shortland Street.
If we're playing favourites, though, it's hard to go past the retirement village trio. Maureen, Myrtle and Sybil have a fascinating friendship dynamic, one where Sybil is always on at Maureen about something and it feels like things might kick off if it weren't for the serenely chilled-out presence of Myrtle in the middle of the couch. "It was absolutely brilliant going to Dressmart," Maureen remarked the other week. "Yeah but your mind is always on dresses and things," Sybil replied. "No," argued Maureen, "I bought cushions."
This is exactly the kind of brilliance we were promised when Gogglebox NZ was announced, and it's only going to get better as we spend more time with each household. The actual TV they all watch – usual suspects like Married at First Sight, the occasional Sunday night movie and a weird amount of a National Geographic show called Drain The Oceans – is barely important. We're just here to hang out with 16-year-old Max and 91-year-old Sybil, and all the banter in between.
• Gogglebox screens on Wednesdays, TV3, 8.30pm.