When TVNZ first announced its reality series, Survive the 80s, I thought it was a prank.
It wasn't. It's real, it arrived On Demand last week and it's exactly as cringey as you would have thought.
If you missed the original casting call in January, it was slated then as an "epic retro adventure" full of "mysterious technology", in which teams of "technology-dependent Gen Y and Z-ers" would be put through a series of 80s challenges - "all without their smartphones and social media".
To be fair, if ever there were a time to give this a fair crack, this is it. We're at peak reality TV. But the downside of that is people are now expecting a bit more than… well, this.
Similarly, if they'd managed to get it out while we were all still bored out of our minds in level 4 lockdown they might have got away with it like all of Netflix's not-that-great-but-it'll-do reality releases this year, but they didn't.
The premise is simple; each episode, hosted by Kim Crossman and Guy Montgomery, focuses on trends or events from a different year of the decade. The first episode, 1980, was all about creating an 80s look while 1981 saw the contestants play Trivial Pursuit and go rollerskating - not exactly riveting TV.
The winners of each challenge get to choose between an 80s prize for the whole team (eg. some Rubik's cubes) or 20 minutes with their phones and WiFi, all for themselves.
I've yet to discern what the series' grand prize is, and TVNZ's website says only that it's an "80s-inspired prize" which could mean anything from a Jane Fonda workout video to a lifetime worth of perms from Servilles.
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Not only are the premise and challenges lacking, the set looks like it's made up of leftover props from the Pleasuredome and the general vibe of the show feels like a segment from What Now where kids compete for a prize pack and some gunge. This is because dressing up like your Aunty Karen and being bad at roller skating might be fun on your Insta story but does not make for particularly good viewing.
Survive The 80's | Streaming now OnDemand
⚡ Big hair ⚡ Shoulder pads ⚡ Neon ⚡ In the brand-new reality series Survive The 80's, millennials are submerged in the pop-culture and mysterious technology of the 80s! How will they cope with the pre-internet age? 🕹💾👾 #StreamingNowPosted by TVNZ OnDemand on Wednesday, 27 May 2020
Give me a bunch of Gen-Z feminist activists surviving the 50s, or young urban Māori surviving in pre-colonial times, or even a Boomers v Millenials face-off - anything that presents an actual challenge.
When the show was first promoted it seemed like we'd at least get some Big Brother -type reality TV drama with the contestants living in an "80s-themed house", but two episodes in, we've not seen anything from the house except a short clip of the contestants playing Pac-Man and fiddling with Rubik's cubes.
Between the "pretty s****" - host Guy Montgomery's words, not mine - prizes, the low-stakes "challenges" and the generally underwhelming state of affairs, Survive the 80s feels like a lockdown TV show made with a low budget, not a lot of time and very little expectation.
But it wasn't. And the kicker is that TVNZ actually has a lockdown show made under those exact circumstances - it's called You Got This and is made up of Zoom calls and footage filmed by average Kiwis in their bubbles and it's actually pretty great.
Really, all it has that Survive the 80s doesn't is relatability.
These are households just like yours doing challenges you can try at home, with a snappy format and a great host (ZM's Bree Tomasei), in situations we can all relate to: 1) being in lockdown and 2) trying to complete a challenge with family members - or flatties - and things taking a hostile turn (looking at you kit-set furniture).
Between the self-filmed format, some sharp editing and the easy banter between contestants and host, it's a fun, enjoyable and easy watch.
That's proof that low budget and short timeframe aren't an excuse for poor TV, so what went wrong with Survive the 80s must be that it just doesn't work.
Whether that's because of the premise itself or the casting or both, I don't know. It's not horribly bad television it's just incredibly easy to ignore, even while it's on. And in an era where TV is king - particularly with the film industry majorly on hold due to Covid - that's not something you want in a series.
If you want a hit of stereotypical 80s nostalgia and some quality Kiwi entertainment, maybe just throw on some Cyndi Lauper, tease your hair and do some jazzercise before checking out some of TVNZ's other offerings instead.
Survive the 80s, TVNZ on Demand, new episodes Thursdays 12pm