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TV Review Sunny Skies S1 Ep02

The second episode of Sunny Skies – the new local comedy from Mike Smith and Paul Yates, starring Oliver Driver and Tammy Davis as half-brothers thrown together after the death of the dad neither of them knew, and tasked with running the holiday park he owned – aired on Friday night (TV3, 8pm), entertaining throughout and proving that the brilliant first episode wasn’t a fluke; this is the best new local comedy of the season. There is just so much to love about this show.

(Spoilers from the first two episodes of Sunny Skies follow.)

For a start, the setting is near perfect. One of the major complaints – repeated again in the comments last week – is that local shows are all set in Auckland, which is a fair statement; most shows are filmed in Auckland, because that’s where most production companies are (though I think shows like The Blue Rose or Agent Anna are painted broadly enough that they aren’t just about Aucklanders, despite the obvious setting).

Skies bucks the trend by taking things rural, focusing the action on (and around) the Sunny Skies Holiday Park and making fun of that most Kiwi of traditions. Heck, I’m the most indoor person there is, and even I’ve been camping on more than one occasion. And with the action filmed at the real life Sandspit Holiday Park, in Warkworth, there is plenty to relate to.

Sunny Skies looks and feels like a real holiday park, whether it’s the seaside location, or the grunt of rubbish trucks picking up litter, or the family who brought way too much equipment with them. As much as I’ve enjoyed The Blue Rose and Agent Anna, getting out into the fresh air, with a little sun on our backs, is a nice change of pace. Skies might be the best case so far for why productions should head out of the big city more often, whether it needs to or not. It feels like true Kiwiana.

The cast is brilliant, too. From Driver and Davis as our fantastic leads Oscar and Deano, to Molly Tyrell as Deano’s daughter Charlotte and Morgana O’Reilly as sassy manager Nicki, to Erroll Shand as onsite handyman Gunna, to Ian Mune and Mick Innes as a pair of locals (“we’re not gay … we’re homosexuals”), Smith and Yates have brought together the most likeable cast on television. There isn’t a weak link amongst them.

I’m still not sure about the shows’ sense of humour though. The first two episodes have had their share of laugh-out-loud moments – the meeting with the lawyer/real estate agent, the dialogue between Oscar and rubbish collector Sione – and plenty of little moments of hilarity (the lawyers reaction to spying a stuffed possum in the meeting room, for example).

But, if I’m being fair, Sunny Skies has only been sporadically funny. Plenty of moments have worked. Plenty of moments have totally missed, too – predictable gags, like blowing up the boat with Oscar and Deano’s fathers ashes on board, or silly gags, like Gunna perfecting his “freezzbee” technique against a wall.

Luckily, the show makes up for it with that great setting and that perfect cast, and just enough pathos – there is something loveable about the tale here, even if a short-run local comedy might have trouble doing it justice. And even though it isn’t making me laugh on a consistent basis (yet), I’m in on Sunny Skies. It’s not the best Kiwi comedy ever, but it’s the best new Kiwi comedy this year. And I reckon it might get even better, before it’s done.

TV REVIEW The Blue Rose S1 Ep02

Last week’s premiere of The Blue Rose – the latest drama from Rachel Lang and James Griffin, the team behind Outrageous Fortune – ended abruptly. In fact, it left my spidey senses* tingling, so much so that I held off on reviewing the first episode. It just didn’t feel like the right point at which to review the show.

(Warning: spoilers from the first two episodes of The Blue Rose follow.)

I’m glad I did hold off on that review, because last night’s second episode tied up much of what took place last week and, paired with the first episode, turned what was a muddled, abrupt premiere into an intriguing two-parter (whether that was the intent or not) that introduces us to this world and establishes the characters and their roles within it.

After the suspicious death of Rose, a secretary at a law firm, the temp assigned to replace her – Jane, played by the delightful Antonia Prebble – works with Rose’s best friend Linda (Siobhan Marshall, playing the role with a bit of sass) to uncover the truth behind Rose’s death, uncovering a conspiracy and a group of co-workers fighting for the little guy.

It’s an interesting idea for a show, weaving together a longer serial arc while leaving room for the characters to take on smaller, weekly missions like getting rid of an ex-husband or returning the life savings to a hurting family.

The writing is clever and the first two episodes are tightly paced, but we’d expect no less from Lang and Griffin. The pair has worked on a number of entertaining series at this point, and they know how to put together a great show.

More than just entertaining, the writing here is efficient, quickly getting to know the main characters Jane and Linda (as well as lawyer Simon, played well, albeit subtly, by Matt Minto), while putting in the foundations for a great story as the season goes on (and also popping in a few easter eggs, like the connection to The Smiths’ singer Morrissey).

The first two episodes are also technically brilliant. Director Mark Beesley has done a great job with the script, taking the implication in the writing and realizing it as a taut thriller, full of suspense; many parts of the first episodes invoked the likes of 24 or Homeland, but with a uniquely Kiwi touch.

The music is fantastic too, maintaining the suspenseful vibe, courtesy of former Supergroove singer Karl Steven.

The question is whether the writers can keep it up for the rest of the season, and perhaps beyond. I have faith in Lang and Griffin, and I think they’ll do a typically great job crafting storylines going forward. And while we can see a few of the angles they might seek to explore – a legal battle over Rose’s daughter with douchebag ex-husband Grant, and Jane’s boyfriend developing a crush on Linda, in addition to the ongoing conspiracy we’ve already been introduced to – there is always a risk that the story might unfold too slowly, that The Blue Rose could be caught meandering during later episodes.

We can only wait and see how things turn out, and I’m looking forward to seeing where the show goes next. But regardless of what happens from here, I think it’s safe to say that The Blue Rose is one of the year’s most intriguing new shows, and another success for Lang, Griffin, and the team at South Pacific Pictures.

(*) That reference to “my spidey senses” might be the goofiest thing I’ve ever written.

TV REVIEW The Radio S1

What is the nicest thing I can say about The Radio, which started on Friday night after the new season premiere of 7 Days? I guess things can only get better from here. I mean, they sure couldn’t get much worse.

(Warning: spoilers from Friday’s The Radio and Sunny Skies follow.)

To be honest, I’m actually surprised by just how bad The Radio was: easy, predictable joke after easy, predictable joke, most of which took potshots at the mainstream radio industry (with the exception of a few decent programs, a pretty easy target to start with), all while a live studio audience half-heartedly chuckled along at the supposedly right moments.

Paul Ego and Jeremy Corbett star as fictionalized versions of themselves who are employed by a radio station, named The Radio, to front the breakfast show, after moving from Hevvy FM and Lite FM, respectively. Urzila Carlson appears as their receptionist, Urzila. The Edge FM DJ (and occasional 7 Days panelist) Vaughan Smith makes a couple of brief appearances as the nameless, faceless station manager.

I actually don’t have a problem with the cast; Ego has gotten better every year on 7 Days, Corbett is at least likeable, even if many of his pre-written jokes as 7 Days host are more groanworthy than laughable, and Carlson and Smith are entertaining as panelists who often provide the highlights on the hit comedy show.

Sadly, they don’t have much to work with here. One lengthy sequence has Ego and Corbett debating whose name should be first – Ego argues that the short name goes first, like with eggs and bacon (see, it’s funny because nobody says that), while Corbett believes he is the bigger name star.

Another sequence has them choosing the music for their show – a laughable proposition, since I think it’s fairly common knowledge that music decisions on radio aren’t made by DJs – and flicking between the heavy sounds of Metallica and the light sounds of Shania Twain, before compromising with Nickelback.

Maybe the problem is just that the radio industry isn’t good comedy terrain? Several times during the show – some of the decision making between the pair, the complaint that there isn’t enough music, those increasingly lame station identification sound bites (“The Radio, making your day 28% better”) – I found myself just nodding at the screen.

I can’t say I’d be surprised if some of the country’s bigger, middle-of-the-road stations actually operated this way.

I suppose the show could better. I mean, anything is possible. You’d have to think Ego and Corbett, who also serve as writers (the show is based off a successful live show the pair performed during last year’s comedy festival), have used up most of the obvious jokes. It’s not completely ludicrous to suggest that it might get better. Though I’m not confident it will.

Look, I get that TV3 wants to capitalize on the success of 7 Days by using the various cast members and panelists in other projects. Ben Hurley and Steve Wrigley have a show coming up later in the year, too. But this is a huge miss, invoking the mid-1990s vibe of Melody Rules, instead of capitalising on the successes local comedy has enjoyed in recent times (including the vastly enjoyable Sunny Skies, which aired earlier in the evening*).

Furthermore, the shows need to be smarter; I’ve written before that 7 Days is leading the charge in a kind of “golden era” of Kiwi comedy on television – based on a single episode, and assuming it doesn’t improve, The Radio can only be seen as a massive step backwards for local, scripted comedy. It could definitely hurt local comedy in the long run.

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