In New Zealand: Sundays, 8.30pm, TV3
Without having watched Outrageous Fortune, it’s getting increasingly harder to work out Westside, TV3’s 1970s-set prequel to the most popular drama in New Zealand history that isn’t called Shortland Street. Telling the story of OF’s safecracking grandpa Ted West when he was still young, vibrant and married to his still-alive wife Rita, does it feel like Outrageous Fortune 30 years earlier?
Is it true to the characters of the original show?
Does it tie into and sort out all kinds of plot threads from the original show?
Are its Shakespearean episode titles as good as the originals’?
Does it really matter?
To be honest, though, it might be a two-edged sword, knowing Outrageous Fortune well while watching this. There are sub-plots and plot threads from the first couple of episodes that I thought might be interesting for Westside to explore in later episodes. Except having looked them up, it turns out they were all answered in the original show. And having now looked them up, I know there’s going to be a sad ending, too.
So in retrospect, I was probably better off not knowing about Outrageous Fortune, instead getting to enjoy a fun Bonnie and Clyde meets Life on Mars down under comedy crime caper, with a swaggering, smart and likeable young buck of a semi-ethical criminal, his scheming, adulterous but apparently equally good-hearted wife, his dopey gang and their equally dopey relationships with other criminal gangs of various ethnic origins.
My first recommendation for anyone who never watched the original show is therefore to not look up anything about the original show, at least until this season is over. Let it stand on its own two feet, because it does this very well.
After a very decent start to the show, the second episode was a slight come down, losing some of the fun, while bravely making most of our heroes casual racists in a 1970s-stylee. Rita’s scheming was nevertheless good to watch and we got our first Almighty Johnsons cameo (Eve Gordon) – here’s hoping for more to come.
Episode three saw a return to the fun of the first episode, as well as a continuation of the darker themes, with 1970s attitudes to domestic violence coming under the spotlight, as well as New Zealanders’ then attitudes to other islanders. Thankfully, this was all a lot more tasteful than Australia’s Jonah From Tonga.
It’s hard to dislike and very easy to like Westside. It could do with tightening up here and there, and there are a couple of duff actors in the supporting cast, but the leads are great, the setting is marvellous and the plots strong. It may be a prequel but it feels like it has the potential to run and run (and I’m sure that’s the intention, too). Just don’t spoil it for yourself by reading what happens 30 years later.
Barrometer rating: 2
Rob’s prediction: Could run for multiple seasons