Wellington Paranormal is the kind of Kiwi show we need more ofby Diana Wichtel
In Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi's new show Wellington Paranormal, the capital is a hive of supernatural goings-on.
Not that What We Do in the Shadows wasn’t daft. If Aotearoa had vampires, they would no doubt squabble over washing up the bloodstained crockery in the manner of Jemaine Clement’s 862-year-old neck-chomper, Vladislav, and Taika Waititi’s relatively youthful 379-year-old Viago.
Now there’s a six-part television spin-off written by Clement and Waititi. Wellington Paranormal lacks the budget and decaying, period-costumed panache of the movie. It does keep the mockumentary format, though no one, as yet, has eyed up a member of the camera crew for supper. And there’s the welcome return of the movie’s officers, O’Leary and Minogue.
“In laymen’s terms,” explains Minogue, “we’re kind of like Mulder and Scully … She’s analytical, she’s got the brains. I’m a man with brown hair.”
The truth may be out there, but this lot wouldn’t know it if they tripped over it. They are sceptical when Sergeant Maaka introduces them to the station’s top-secret paranormal unit in a cupboard behind a bookcase. Ghosts? He’s got to be joking. “I don’t joke at work,” says Maaka. “Outside of work, I have an observational, absurdist sense of humour.”
Maaka is concerned about the apparently drunk young woman whom O’Leary and Minogue have picked up, the one with the green vomit and gravel-gargling hound-from-hell voice (“Need a lozenge?” asks Minogue, just before his young suspect spider-walks Exorcist-style up the interview room wall.) It’s possibly meant as a damning indictment of the technicolour horrors of Kiwi youth binge-drinking culture that Minogue and O’Leary don’t at first notice anything is amiss with the sulphurous young miss communing with Beelzebub in the patrol car’s back seat. After all, in these inclusive times, even the demonically possessed have their rights.
The girl introduces herself as “Bazu’aal of the Unholy Realm”. “Is that the Unholy Realm in Hataitai?” enquires Minogue. As the police mill about, the girl walks out of the station, allowing the demon to leave her and possess first her father, then her mother, then a cute demonic puppy … You get the idea. There is nothing subtle about Wellington Paranormal. The police chase scenes should be set to the theme song from The Benny Hill Show.
“Police Ten 7 meets The X-Files,” went some optimistic pre-publicity. Competing with the absurdity of reality these days is always a big ask. Police Ten 7 produced characters as immortal as any vampire: the “Awww, gummon!” guy; the public-spirited constable who advised, “Always blow on the pie – safer communities together.” Hellhounds aside, Wellington Paranormal is more 80s Crimewatch. When the police aren’t looking for a gateway to hell under the iconic Cuba Mall Bucket Fountain, they’re investigating a heist involving a consignment of men’s trousers.
Still, Wellington Paranormal is good, knock-about fun. The core cast of cops – Karen O’Leary, Mike Minogue, Maaka Pohatu, Tom Sainsbury – do the deadpan business. And here is further evidence that we are a bunch of well-intentioned idiots with a dark side to which we are largely oblivious in a nation where no one is really in charge.
It’s good to see TVNZ, the network that famously failed, back in the day, to see the funny side of Flight of the Conchords, find a place for some of our top talent to goof around. Let’s hope this series opens the door for more.
WELLINGTON PARANORMAL, TVNZ 2, Wednesday, 8.30pm.
This article was first published in the July 21, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.
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