In New Zealand: Wednesdays, TVNZ 2, 8.30pm
In the UK: Not yet acquired
Taika Waititi is so hot right now. Eagle V Shark may have had a cult following, but it didn’t elevate him to stardom. You might have noticed him in Green Lantern…
…but it didn’t exactly give him free rein to be hilarious. 2014 vampire house-sharing comedy What We Do In The Shadows, which he co-wrote with Flight of the Conchords‘ Jemaine Clement, might have done better business than the original short film, but it still didn’t quite set the world alight.
However, the marketing muscle of Marvel Studios meant that Thor: Ragnarok finally unleashed the hilarity of Taika Waititi around the world. Naturally, that has meant there’s a lot of interest in his latest projects, which include a US series of What We Do In The Shadows with Toast of London‘s Matt Berry.
Before that, though, we have a somewhat more niche project that’s actually more of a Jemaine Clement affair, given he’s the co-writer of the first episode. It’s a New Zealand TV show called Wellington Paranormal that’s a spin-off from What We Do In the Shadows, and features two of that movie’s characters, Officers Minogue (Mike Minogue) and O’Leary (Karen O’Leary), but none of the vampires. A sort of cross between Cops and The X-Files, it sees the hapless duo Mulder and Scullying up to haplessly investigate incidents of the paranormal at the insistence of their sergeant (Maaka Pohatu), who’s been collecting evidence for years suggesting that Wellington might have its own hellmouth (maybe).
The first episode concerns a case of demonic possession that might ultimately lead to the dead coming up from hell to take over the Earth through the Bucket Fountain in Wellington, which was apparently created by Satanists in the 60s. As you might deduce, just like The Almighty Johnsons before it, Wellington Paranormal plays on the low-key, friendly, not especially Earth-shattering nature of New Zealand life, as well as satirising genre conventions. O’Leary and Minogue generally have little to do in their regular line of duty and when they experience a demon projectile-vomiting, they merely advise it where to direct its bodily fluids. They chase after ‘unusually athletic’ housewives, castigate people for breaking the laws of gravity, and advise them not to rotate their necks 360º as it’s bound to hurt. Minogue’s claim to there being a sexual tension between him and O’Leary is met merely with an uncomfortable, embarrassed silence.
However, if you’re expecting something designed to ride on the backs of both Clement’s and Waititi’s current popularity to achieve worldwide success, you’ll be surprised. This is a low-budget affair clearly devised as something for a New Zealand audience watching TV NZ’s second channel (not even its first). There are plenty of jokes that you might need Wikipedia to get if you’re not from NZ – the Bucket Fountain joke only really works if you’ve ever spent time watching it in real-life – and you really do have to have an appreciation for the New Zealand style of comedy to find Wellington Paranormal a laugh-a-minute, rather than a titter-a-minute show.
There is plenty to raise a giggle most of the time, and there’s even a belly laugh from time to time (such as O’Leary’s encounter with a fence), but it’s not something that even tries for the hilarity of Thor: Ragnarok, let alone achieves it.
On the plus side, it’s at least light years ahead of Ghosted and the 25-minute runtime does fly by, as there’s never really a let-up in the show’s antics. The characters are more jokes and set-ups for punchlines than real characters, but that’s often usually enough to work, and the genre pastiching does score more than a few hits.
Just don’t expect something that’s going to set the world alight or make your sides hurt from all the laughing.