In New Zealand: Mondays, 8.30pm, TV3
New Zealand is a small country - okay, it's quite big, but in turns of population, it's quite small - but it does still have a surprisingly large effect on world media. The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit were filmed there, mainly thanks to New Zealand film director Peter Jackson. The Oscar-winning Whale Rider launched the US career of actor Cliff Curtis (Trauma and Missing). A multitude of shows from the late 90s, including Hercules: The Legendary Journeys and Xena: Warrior Princess, introduced the likes of Lucy Lawless and Karl Urban to the world, and Spartacus is doing so with a new generation of actors all over again, with that show's Manu Bennett leading the charge into the US.
However, New Zealand does have its own home-grown film and TV industry, and in modern times, three of the biggest forces in New Zealand TV have been broadcaster TV3, and James Griffin and Rachel Lang of South Pacific Pictures, the originators of the long-lasting Shortland Street. This combo first gave us the comedy crime series Outrageous Fortune (remade in the US as Scoundrels), which nurtured the career of many a New Zealand actor, including Anthony Starr, currently doing sterling work as the star of Cinemax's Banshee.
Then came The Almighty Johnsons, which delved more into fantasy, with a tale of reincarnated Norse gods living in New Zealand. That's currently filming its third season and a US remake is currently being piloted by SyFy.
But it's all systems go at South Pacific because now we have another Lang and Griffin project (actually, so far, it's most Lang) - The Blue Rose, a comedy crime drama that reunites two of Outrageous Fortune's female stars, Antonia Prebble and Siobhan Marshall, in a tale of vigilantism and office temp work. When office temp Jane (Prebble) discovers that Rose, the PA she is replacing, died under mysterious circumstances, she joins forces with Rose’s best friend Linda (Marshall) to get justice for Rose. Along the way, they find others who need their help - victims of fraud, theft and injustice - and soon Jane, Linda and a team of unlikely co-workers are taking on the corporate bullies, fighting for justice and using their unique powers for good. They're not afraid to break the law in order to stand up for the little people, and every step takes them a little closer to uncovering what really happened to Rose.
It's an odd combination of office politics and murder mystery with a very odd couple at its heart, but it just about works. Here's a trailer:
Outrageous Fortune’s Antonia Prebble and Siobhan Marshall are joining forces again in THE BLUE ROSE, a new South Pacific Pictures comedy/drama for TV3, which commences shooting this month.
Created by Rachel Lang and James Griffin, the acclaimed team behind Outrageous Fortune and The Almighty Johnsons, THE BLUE ROSE is a fresh take on the investigative drama series.
THE BLUE ROSE is set in the vibrant and chaotic heart of Auckland City, where young guns chase opportunity, but Mum and Dad investors are losing money, while dubious finance companies hide their assets from the scrutiny of the justice system. But for once, the underpaid and overlooked PAs and computer nerds are fighting back with unique powers we all recognise - the PA who can screw your day; the courier who can save your life.
When office temp Jane (Prebble) discovers that Rose, the PA she is replacing, died under mysterious circumstances, she joins forces with Rose’s best friend Linda (Marshall) to get justice for Rose. Along the way, they find others who need their help, victims of fraud, theft and injustice, and soon Jane, Linda - and a team of unlikely co-workers - are taking on the corporate bullies, fighting for justice and using their unique powers for good. They are not afraid to break the law in order to stand up for the little people, and every step takes them a little closer to uncovering what really happened to Rose.
TV3 Head of Comedy and Drama, Rachel Jean, says the series is a perfect blend of comedy, drama and thriller.
“We are thrilled that Antonia and Siobhan are coming back to TV3, and although the audience has a deep affection for Loretta and Pascalle, I think that the very different Jane and Linda will supplant them as iconic Kiwi heroes.”
Joining Marshall and Prebble on the core cast of THE BLUE ROSE are: Anna Jullienne (Underbelly NZ, Shortland Street), Jennifer Ludlam (Golden, Apron Strings); Matt Minto (Shortland Street), Raj Varma (Curry Munchers, A Thousand Apologies), Stelios Yiakmis (Underbelly NZ, McLeod’s Daughters, Jindabyne), Tim Foley (Spartacus, Legend of the Seeker), George Mason (Shortland Street), Theresa Healey (Go Girls) and newcomer James Trevena-Brown.
Series producer Chris Bailey says: “I am thrilled we have pulled together such a fantastic cast who will do justice to the wonderful stories of Rachel and James - our audience should look forward to something very special.”
Is it any good?
You know, it's actually quite hard to say. I'll tell you for why.
The first two episodes are, in themselves, more or less a pilot episode. It's not until you get to the end of episode two that you get the show's premise developed - "Little people fight for justice against the big people, using their photocopying and IT skills" - or even why the show is called The Blue Rose.
So, for two episodes, it's a musing on female friendship: why two women may become friends, even if they're very different, what secrets they might keep from one another, how they can help each other and even change each other, and how they can support one another against the crap that men (and the rest of the world) throw at them.
Prebble, playing somewhat against Outrageous Fortune type, is a mousy individual with a nice but leech-like boyfriend; Marshall, not a million miles away from her Outrageous Fortune character, is a sports-loving tom boy of a woman with all the grace of a broken glass in the face. But they strike up an uneasy relationship that becomes genuine friendship as they try to figure out what happened to their mutual friend Rose, and help one another's friends and relatives, as well as Rose's relatives and child. Along the way, they have to deal with the office bitch, the creepy but unimpressive company IT guy, the manager Rose was having an affair with, and that handsome guy who sits in the corner but no one knows what he does.
As a comedy, it's broad and largely dependent on Marshall's unfeminine behaviour and the IT guy's nerdishness for laughs. As a crime drama, it's considerably more impressive, with our heroines investigating with the best of them and making office minutiae surprisingly thrilling.
But ultimately, this isn't really either of those things: it's a tale of female wish fulfilment, friendship and vengeance, showing women working together to fix a world made wrong by men. And at this, it's very good, inspiring in its own way, all without a hint of the dread word feminism or even anything that could be construed as misandry.
Now that the show's premise has been set up, it remains to be seen which direction it'll go in. Will it become funnier? It certainly needs to be. But as we learnt from The Almighty Johnsons, some New Zealand shows need a little time to develop before becoming really good. So I'm sticking with this to see if this could become a big a gem in New Zealand's TV crown as its South Pacific predecessors.
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