Down a nondescript road in Auckland's Newmarket, the interior of a warehouse has been transformed into a country pub. Drunken revellers are milling about and swaying to non-existent music, while rugby trophies and shields adorn the walls. A woozy Hayley Sproull leans back and falls off her chair. She gets back up. She falls off again.
There's a party tonight in Crawdon, the fictional town in which Three's brand-new sitcom, Golden Boy, is set. The series follows Mitch (Sproull), a budding journalist who begrudgingly returns to her hometown after her a failed attempt at life in the big city.
Back home, living in the shadow of her All Black brother Tama (James Rolleston), she attempts to rejuvinate the community newspaper and is surprised to find herself connecting with local nice-guy and wannabe DJ, Dave (Dean O'Gorman).
The scene they're taping this morning depicts an intoxicated Mitch being literally thrown off balance when Dave vocalises his feelings for her. (Sproull has to return to her chair and tumble out of it repeatedly until the crew get the right shot.) Though she's taking a beating in this particular scene – "I'm still quite bruised up from that," she tells me later – Sproull relished the chance play Mitch again after Golden Boy was given the green light.
"My character is really fun to play," she says. "We've had a longer time to work out the ins and outs of our characters, which has been way more fun.
"The family dynamic is really exciting now, and we just get to explore everyone's little journey a bit more than a 22-minute pilot, in which you're trying to tell an audience everything, as opposed to when we've got eight episodes to do that."
Golden Boy began with last year's Comedy Pilot Week programme, which saw five pilots for potential new sitcoms air over one week on Three, with the public choosing their favourites to put to series. As the series-length version of Golden Boy starts fresh, re-writing details from the original pitch, lead writer Alice Snedden says Comedy Pilot Week provided "a lot of learning" for the creative team.
"Just following the strengths of people's performances – I think that's what we tried our best to play into," she says. "Some of the absurd elements of the pilot as well, we wanted to up those, and make it feel quite silly and light.
"We also got to play on everyone's sensibilities – like Ronnie, which is the character Kura (Forrester) plays, came out of people improvising in the room itself. We also got really into the town aspect of it – about how weird this little small town was, but in a lovable way."
With a formidable cast and crew assembled – Madeleine Sami, Rima Te Wiata and Chris Parker star, while Leon Wadham, Chelsie Preston Crayford and Rose Matafeo have each directed episodes – the new Golden Boy focuses on bringing the town of Crawdon to life in all its eccentric details. The writing team wanted to create a escalated sense of small-town New Zealand, while avoiding the usual cliches; "We've kind of steered away from that and played more into individual characteristics," says Snedden.
"They just exist in this own little world that we've created – like the parents in it are two mums and there was a decision made that that would not be an issue in the town; it would just be completely accepted and it's never the butt of a joke."
The absurd comedy comes to life through Crawdon's stranger characteristics – "deciding certain things matter to the town and then treating those with complete and utter genuine sincerity", says Snedden.
"In one of the episodes, a seal turns up in town and it's revealed that there's a big prophecy about how a seal would show up giving good luck to the town," she says. "Everybody treats that prophecy as if it is like the word of God, or as if it's literal, objective truth."
Sproull says her character acts as a channel for small town/city comparisons – and that the joke is more often on the latter. "Mitch feels like an outsider in her hometown – or I think she likes to make herself an outsider in her home town. I think she looks at Dean's character Dave as a bit of a kindred spirit. He's often the highlight of her day.
"I don't think she fundamentally believes that she's better than this town and that she's a city slicker, or that her career in Auckland was skyrocketing – but that's how she likes to paint herself, she likes to project that on people," says Sproull.
O'Gorman – bleary-eyed and exhausted when we speak, having just become a father – agrees. "She's anxiously clinging to the iceberg of her career as it melts in the climate change of her life," he says, shocked. "That's the most coherent thing I've said in the last six weeks."
Given that Golden Boy is one of New Zealand's first forays into sitcom since the ill-fated Melody Rules, it's a particularly interesting job for O'Gorman, who taped one episode of Rules when he was 16. On Golden Boy, he says, he has a much better feeling.
"I remember being pretty young, and I'd only done a few jobs by then, and still just thinking: 'this is not funny,'" he says. "I just remember having this weird sinking feeling."
"If the on-set vibe of this show is anything to go by, this is going to be funny," says Sproull. "In the edit they'll have 50/50 footage of us just laughing, and us actually acting."
Who: Hayley Sproull, Dean O'Gorman and Alice Snedden
What: Golden Boy
When: Tuesday, 9.05pm