TV review: The Project

by Diana Wichtel / 03 March, 2017

Josh Thomson, Jesse Mulligan and Kanoa Lloyd.

It isn’t current affairs as we know it, but The Project needs time to find its feet.

It’s a worry when the most newsworthy moment to come out of our broadcast networks’ seven o’clock slot for a while is from Shortland Street. Chris Warner discovers a photo from son Harry’s phone on the family iPad. Neck muscles ­straining in disbelief at the career-limiting script he’s been handed, Warner Sr ­bellows at Harry, “Please tell me that is not your penis!”

This may be the greatest line heard on local television since sometime National Party leader Don Brash announced, “I don’t want any candidates to be talking about their testicles, to be quite frank.” It went global.

What are the writers on? Who knows. But, according to Three’s The Project, risen out of the ashes of Campbell Live and the largely unwatchable Story, meth use is on the rise. “It’s now targeting all different people on all different incomes!” The new show was so pleased with this item it tried to play it twice. Well, it was the first night and the mistake gave host Jesse Mulligan a desperately needed gag.

The Project, lurching along fitfully, may need to engineer a mistake every night. “Not the usual song and dance,” promised the barking-mad promo, yet in some ways it’s déjà vu. When TV1’s Seven Sharp began, hosted by Alison Mau, Greg Boyed and Mulligan, it was clearly looking to The Project in Australia for clues it never found.

Now, Mulligan is hosting the half-hour (Fridays run to an hour) local version, with reporter and former weather lady Kanoa Lloyd and comedian Josh Thomson. Individually, together or with a performing seal, these three are more appealing than the punishing duos on Seven Sharp and the late Story, but things got off to a rocky start. Rove McManus, whose Roving Enterprises owns the format, sat in the first night, looking oddly ill at ease. Maybe he was missing his mate John ­Campbell. I know I was.

Three hosts, a commercial half-hour: despite kamikaze attempts to yell from the sidelines, guests scarcely get a look-in. That’s fine when the guest is Kylie Bax, but Lucy Lawless seemed bored. Best guest so far: comedian Urzila Carlson, who gave the hosts a lesson on how to keep the laughs on point. Thomson is a brilliant comedian, but his ­surreal contributions tend to be more faux Buddhist koan than joke: “If a bear’s in the woods pooping …” The show grinds to a halt while ­everyone goes, “Eh?”

Lloyd is the most comfortable with the chaos, happy to smack down a guest who declares Metiria Turei “foxy”. Yes, someone thought it was a good idea to have Paul Henry on in the first week. “Have you missed us?” wondered Mulligan. “No,” barked Henry. He then proceeded to take over. His new role, it seems, will be to go on other people’s shows and try to make them look bad. Lloyd’s body language, inclining away from him so far she risked collision with Mulligan, was a picture.

The more serious interviews – the living wage, water quality – start off well, but tend to crash and burn for want of time. And it was a sad moment when the show didn’t credit Campbell Live for footage from the show’s “Caravan of ­Complaint” Christchurch earthquake ­coverage. The lighter interviews have produced some terrific talent. Sheep-shearing champion Leon Samuels deserves a place on the panel.

It’s early days and, in a country that historically places ­worryingly low on OECD tables for television banter, a huge ask. This is not current affairs as we know it, but Jon Stewart, John Oliver and even The Project in ­Australia have demonstrated that a news/comedy show can be more biting and ­enlightening than what passes for serious ­television these days. That should be the goal – and the show should be given the time it needs to try to reach it.

The Project, Three, weeknights, 7.00pm.

This article was first published in the March 11, 2017 issue of the New Zealand Listener. Follow the Listener on Twitter, Facebook and sign up to the weekly newsletter.  

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