I thought I would post about New Zealand-produced drama today. Two things in particular tickled my tickling-bone: Shortland Street’s “groundbreaking” feature-length mid-season season-closer; and the new sci-fi-lite show This Is Not My Life.
Shortland Street first. Anyone who’s ever watched knows the show is hilariously funny (I’m ignoring the claimed mistake of running a Clayton Weatherston parallel plot here), but one has to wonder what possessed them to get rid of their “key character” with a 90 minute special - I suppose the fact that he’s ex-Coro Street and can actually act makes him worth it. I have to admit, I didn’t watch the whole thing, but my partner’s synopsis was very entertaining. The episode consisted of several characters scrambling around a random forest running away from a dude with a knife and a guy who was the bad guy in every single kidult show ever produced in New Zealand. One character was in pyjamas; the “key character” was at death’s door before reappearing to save the day during an action scene so poorly choreographed that Uwe Boll would have laughed. The culmination was three people hanging off a cliff made of builder’s foam above a green-screen backdrop that was pretty much just a shift-f5 fill-with-foreground-colour teal.
I want to be quite clear here: We had to rewind and step through to work out what was going on in the action sequences (to be honest we still couldn’t work it out), and the compositing during the cliff sequence was worse than in the 50s sci-fi class The Spider - it was like watching Tim and Eric Awesome Show, only Shortland Street was trying.
So, in all, poor marks for plot, creativity, and technical competence. I have one solution for the action sequence problem - do like Michael Bay, fill the thing with explosions, then it doesn’t really matter what’s going on. All said though, still a lot of laughs.
Which brings us to This Is Not My Life. Hyped over a short period by One with promos featuring one of my favourite songs, it couldn’t hurt to try, right?
Wrong. This is the single most derivative work of televisual production I’ve seen in a long time. Mostly drawing on Paul Verhoeve’s Total Recall, with strong doses of The Truman Show, Stepford Wives and just about any ultra-modern-everything-is-white film (THX 1138, the original Solaris, and so forth), the show centres on a dude living in a utopian/dystopian community somewhere in future New Zealand where everything is strictly controlled, the nanny state is omnipresent, energy is rationed and paper is defunct (maybe Rodney Hide part-funded it), and people’s memories are controlled by a chip implanted in their brain. Sound familiar? It should do.
Weirdly though, it doesn’t appear to be familiar to The Listener’s TV columnist Dana Wichtel, who even went so far as to applaud a sequence where the hero attempts to escape in a tiny voice-controlled car which won’t respond to his commands or “just go, ahh crap” - “Crap is not a location I understand.” Of course, Verhoeven directed this same sequence 20 years ago in Total Recall:
Quaid: drive! drive! Johnnycab: Would you please repeat the destination? Quaid: Anywhere! Just go! Go! Johnnycab: Please state a street and number. Quaid: Oh, shit! Shit! Johnnycab: I'm not familiar with that address.
It seems very odd to me the Wichtel gives a glowing review without pointing out that such a sequence has been lifted almost directly. Has she never watched movies? Or sci-fi? Review fail, either way.
Still, after the anger subsided, I was left with a show that, again, was unintentionally funny enough to be a vaguely enjoyable watch. So, things are heading in the right direction on these shores anyway: Fewer reality shows, more sci-fi.