"it's Wellington, it's scary"
- Sgt Maaka
The current New Zealand Listener, a long-running magazine aimed at middle-class, left-leaning baby boomers such as me, has a page of readers' letters on TV and Radio - 'Talkback' - in which Wellington Paranormal has come up several times (amid complaints about grammar and pronunciation in the media, and Coronation Street broadcast hours). My rough count of Love It / Hate It letters, until this issue, has been about 50/50, but William Wright's earlier scathing letter prompted three people to write in support of the TV comedy, so the count is now a bit in WP's favour.
My personal leaning is generally in favour, too. I've enjoyed the series, but I don't think it's quite earned its place among the classics of New Zealand TV comedy. Let's see if tonight's episode can help boost WP in that direction. And I'm keen to see if they use the footage* they shot at Inverlochy House, because they haven't so far.
*Footage - a word strangely surviving in a time when moving images are recorded directly to hard drive. 'Megabytage', perhaps?
At the start, in this episode's only bit of suburb-baiting, Khandallah gets another mention, a shooting no less. Earlier this year I witnessed a fist fight between two men in the middle of the road in the Khandallah Village shops, so my leafy suburb is not as tame and boring as it's cracked up to be. Anyway, in the meantime the Police team have taken a suspected zombie into custody, and arresting officers Laupepe and Donovan get the dread disease. So it's all on.
Shortly, in a patrol car on the streets of Wellington:
O'Leary: What about her over there in the black tee shirt?
Minogue: Is she a zombie?
O'Leary: No, she's just a lesbian.
Minogue: You always seem to be able to pick them, O'Leary. I can never tell.
Later - another running gag - O'Leary and Minogue have yet another young Maori woman in the back seat of the patrol car; this time she becomes zombiefied. And it gets better, or worse - whatever your take on all this is. Having the police turn into zombies was a brilliant idea (though one that originated a year ago). But zombies are as much yesterday's thing as ghost hunting and the paranormal in general; we've all had way too much exposure to it on TV and elsewhere, and, inevitably, interest has flagged. So WP has to have a different take - something a bit special - to make it worth the watch. (Old hat: Wellington's Zombie Apocalypse Plan hasn't been updated since 2011.)
Ad break: cue another promo for Sensing Murder. TV2 must think there's an audience overlap here. Maybe there is; SM would be hilarious if it wasn't so f**king tragic.
Back to WP: more hilarity and mayhem, a clever ending, and that's it. No fanfare, and no Inverlochy House, dammit. That scene must've hit the Cutting Room floor.
The episodes are too short (21 minutes 24 seconds, this one) and so is the series. I'm left wanting more. Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement are probably hoping TVNZ feel the same. They must've had great fun making this series. So, did Wellington Paranormal rate well enough to merit a second series? I hope so, and I guess so do Listener letter-writers Hamish Barwick of Gisbourne, Jan Thorburn of Auckland, Peggy Fittes of Wanganui, and several others. And if there is to be one, as a long serving paranormal investigator based in Wellington, I'm putting my hand up for a cameo.
Thank you O'Leary, Minogue, Maaka and the rest of the cast and crew, and Taika and Jemaine. And TVNZ2 for putting this show on. It's been a blast. And maybe also a boost for interest in the paranormal.
Episode 6 of Wellington Paranormal, and the previous 5 episodes, are available to view on TVNZ2 On Demand.
Five episodes down, one to go. This is a tough one to review, perhaps made tougher by the fact it's my birthday and the evening's been a tad indulgent.
In the patrol car:
Minogue: [pulls out Taser] You're always saying don't tase stuff. [Accidentally Tasers himself.]
O'Leary: Oh. God, this is the fourth time you've done that.
Nothing like a running gag. Another is Sgt Maaka's fake security upgrades for the paranormal office's secret door. This time it's fingerprint recognition.
So tonight it's vampires, and once again we're in the Hutt Valley - this time Taita. (Cue quiet pun on 'tighter' with the handcuffs when they first arrest the vampire character, Nick - played superbly by Cori Gonzalez-Macuer.) Maybe it's something about the water flowing through and under the broad river valley that somehow concentrates paranormal energy. Or maybe the Hutt's just a bit weird. Whatever, there's a lot of quiet humour in this episode. Like the group of hooded vampires carrying flaming torches, circling their potential victim - a naked man tied to a pole - in the middle of a Lower Hutt park:
Minogue: "What's going on here? You guys having a drink, are ya?
Nick: I guess you could say that.
O'leary: What's with the cloaks?
Nick: It's, um, role playing. Like a Dungeons and Dragons thing.
Minogue: This must be a different version, is it?
Nicki: Yeah, it's the Lower Hutt version.
Then there's Nick's talk to camera, once arrested for the second time, about being discriminated against for being a brown vampire, not a white vampire. See Taika Waititi's "New Zealand is racist as f**k."
But I really don't get the ensuing five-minute interlude with the numerous clowns in the Fiat Bambina. This irrelevant, unfunny scene chewed up a large chunk of an episode that wasn't hanging together too well to begin with, so maybe the time could've been better spent advancing the thin and struggling vampire story. Likewise the haunted plastic bag sequence, which was great but didn't much help the plot. Hell, vampires are native territory for the 'What we do in the shadows' team, so why not make more of it? We had barely a glimpse of Alexandr - see poster above - which was annoying.
Overall, this episode - directed by Jemaine Clement - was even more undercooked than episode 1. Best scenes not already mentioned; the goths in Taita Cemetery (the ghosts/goths confusion) and the momentarily-scary reprise of the haunted plastic bag at the end. This episode was weak and disjointed compared to the last three, each of which showed signs of improvement and promise for the series. So back to square one, guys, like a game of snakes and ladders.
Let's see what next week's episode - the series final - has in store, and if it can lift the game overall with a strong finish. What paranormal theme haven't they done yet? Oh, yes, of course: zombies...
Episode 5 of Wellington Paranormal is already available for viewing on TVNZ On Demand - at least if you're in New Zealand. Earlier episodes are possibly available in your home country by now, legitimately or otherwise.
is a blog by James Gilberd - leader and co-founder of Strange Occurrences. Views expressed here do not necessarily represent those of the Strange Occurrences team.
James Gilberd is an amateur paranormalist, writer and musician, and a professional photographer, living in Wellington, New Zealand.