Calum Henderson dives into the low-key, improvised charms of Educators.
You know how the funniest person in the room is hardly ever the one who's the centre of attention? I think the same thing applies when it comes to New Zealand TV comedy.
All the funniest local shows in my lifetime have existed on the margins in one way or another – mostly scheduled late at night or tucked away somewhere else out of harm's way. Maybe Trojan Horsed into primetime disguised as reality or documentary like Neighbours at War.
It's why we've got this weird prevailing misconception that there's no funny television comedy in New Zealand – a view held by people who must only watch TV between the hours of 6pm and 9.30pm exclusively.
Take Educators, the funniest local show in ages (since Funny Girls, anyway). This one isn't even on TV at all. You'll have to go scrat about on TVNZ OnDemand to find it, but it's worth it.
You get a sense of the show's post- The Office style of comedy from the opening scene. It's the morning staff meeting and drama teacher Judy Mokopouwhare (Kura Forrester) has an announcement: the school play this year will be ... Equus. "So there'll be a few key roles that are human; everybody else will be horses, and the horses are nude."
"I've got a real problem with this, Judy," guidance counsellor Robyn Duffy (Jackie van Beek) pipes up. "Surprise, surprise," Judy rolls her eyes.
"Why wouldn't you put on a show people want to see," Robyn asks, "like Footloose or Dirty Dancing or Grease Lightning." I don't know why, but the way she calls it "Grease Lightning" just kills me.
The show is largely unscripted, which is a word that set off several alarm bells in my head when I first saw it. But in the hands of these improvisers, character comedians, whatever you want to call them, the unscriptedness is exactly what makes it work.
The other big thing Educators gets right is its episode length. Each one clocks in at about 15-16 minutes, which feels like a sort of Goldilocks length for a sketch-based TV comedy (see also recent Netflix hit I Think You Should Leave ). It's long enough to feel like you're actually watching something, but not too long that it outstays its welcome.
Each scene still has a bit of room to breathe, enough for the cast to pick up the ball and run with it. The big scene in the first episode involves a debate over whether or not it's fine for a 40-something man to enrol as a student in order to exploit a loophole in his child custody arrangement and spend time with his daughter. They end up letting him in.
"Does he even have a daughter here?" the PE teacher (Rick Donald) wonders once it's just him and the principal (Jonny Brugh) left in the office. "We just sort of went with that." It's a bad way to run a school, but it makes for a bloody good comedy.
Educators is available weekly on TVNZ OnDemand.