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Throwback Thursday: Our Serial Stuff Expert Unearths a Time Capsule of Television Treasure

Claire Adamson is undoubtedly New Zealand’s premiere expert on the 90s What Now series This is Serial Stuff. This week she hit the jackpot after being sent over an hour of kiwi childhood nostalgia on Youtube.

The Reddit envelope of doom blinked angrily from the corner of the page. “Read me!” it screamed, a tiny, triangle-filled precursor of terrible, hate-filled, white liberalism. How had I angered the masses this time? Had my last comment been factually incorrect in some miniscule way? Was my opinion wrong, despite it being an opinion? Or was I simply in possession of too many vaginas for the community’s picky taste?

My alarm was unfounded. It was a message from an eager-to-please New Zealander, bringing to my attention that they had found a FULL HOUR’S WORTH of This is Serial Stuff on VHS and had posted it to YouTube.

A brief recap: on the eve of my 30th birthday this year I embarked on a quest to watch some of the television show that had captured me so solidly in my youth, This is Serial Stuff. The show followed the exploits of a group of flatmates (played by the What Now presenters and some Barbies) as they navigated love triangles, plots to take over the world and other ridiculously overwrought storylines.

the gang is all tied up

It became quite an epic ordeal – it seemed that Serial Stuff, despite its solid grip on many of my peers’ memories and the current vogue for kiwi nostalgia, had slipped through the cracks of New Zealand’s digital television archiving. Rejection emails became a regular part of my nine to five. After a few weeks of searching, I managed to find a mere 15 minutes’ worth of the show I’d spent a good part of my adolescence revering.

Reading through the Reddit message, I realised that in my quest to bring the glorious exploits of Sports Susie, Outdoor Trevor and Lifestyle Sharon to the masses, I had become New Zealand’s pre-eminent expert on the topic of This is Serial Stuff. It was my job to watch the full hour on YouTube, following in the footsteps of the 47 hardy souls who had gone before, and bring it to the good people of the Spinoff.

We start out with a recap of the previous episode. Xerox, Warrior Prince (and “world champion sausage roll eater” – we are to be married in the fall) has won tickets to Sydney and is taking his sister Sports Susie and his flatmate Outdoor Trevor along for the ride. Trevor, as I discovered the first time around, is a vehicle for all sorts of incredible innuendo – he is introduced as “king of the sticky buns” and when Sports Susie tries to put a barley sugar in her ear to stop it from popping, he tells her, “you have to suck on it.”

En route to sydney

I think that Serial Stuff years are shorter than human years – after 15 minutes, it feels like I’ve watched at least two seasons. We’ve been at the Opera House and up on the Sydney Harbour Bridge, and had a cameo from Mel Gibson (pre-his being the literal worst – the late 90s were simpler times). The gang has nearly met a grisly end twice and Sports Susie has struck up a romance with Manly Jack’s Australian doppelganger, Manly Jim (strong and wise and fairly slim). Manly Jim tells Sports Susie he once wrestled a four-metre reptile. She says “What a croc!” and he replies “No, it’s true”. I am immediately moved to call my Dad and ask him if he was ever a writer for What Now.

I press on. The gang make their way back to New Zealand through the handy tunnel road (forget the flag referendum, amiright) and Manly Jim and Sports Susie announce their intentions to get married. But Lifestyle Sharon’s eyes take on a greenish tinge as she breaks through the fourth wall. She’s been here from the start, for all 240 episodes. When will she get to get married? Somehow she becomes locked in a garden shed with Manly Jim, and as Trevor excitedly gathers together the wedding dress and decorations, she makes her moves, telling Manly Jim to – and this is a direct quote – “kiss me on the mouth!” The pair are freed some time later, both covered in red lipstick.

sharon pashes manly jim

Sports Susie takes a wee while to catch on to what’s happening, but Trevor is livid. His anger is somewhat unfounded, as it is revealed that Manly Jim is in fact Bad Bobby Joe in disguise. Bad Bobby Joe is Sports Susie’s evil twin (because why would this show not have evil twins), and has the black lipstick and evil laugh that leave you in no possible doubt that she is the bad guy. She didn’t show up when I revisited in April, and I was a little disappointed, but here she is now, wearing a black leather jacket and plotting to marry her own twin sister in some kind of evil scheme.

bad bobby joe

Before things take a turn for the incestuous, Lifestyle Sharon is revealed to be Trevor’s Dad, Bad Bobby Joe’s love interest and also a bad guy, in disguise. They’ve kidnapped actual Sharon and are planning to douse her with cheap men’s cologne, unless Xerox marries them (a plan that 60% of the time, works every time). If they don’t comply, Sharon will be forced to smell like a Real Bloke for the rest of her life. Again this is a direct quote – I came into this recap expecting to write comedy and so far it has written itself.

Cue the hero: Manly Jack’s sister Lady Laura Flashheart steps in to save Sharon. Flashheart is a true feminist, but she’s more Ginger Spice than she is Germaine Greer – her opening line is “It’s Girl Power to the rescue, or my name isn’t Lady Laura Flashheart.” She saves Sharon, Sharon pukes and I have to stop to have a lie down.

I resume and somehow the gang are now at the beach. Anthony Samuels, who has donned a  rather small pair of spangly togs, is more of a beefcake than his ken-doll counterpart, which is quite impressive, really. “Hi boys!” he shouts flirtily at the lifeguards before heading in for a surf. “Hi Trevor!” they shout buffly back.

Sports Susie spots something in the water, at which point I lose any comprehension of what is happening, as the speakers in my laptop are ill-equipped to deal with the high pitch of Susie’s screams. There is some kind of giant skwudd? Maybe? But nobody believes Sports Susie? And now there’s Manly Jack? This is harder to follow than the second season of True Detective.

Susie spots a squid

Turns out there is a squid – it’s Trevor’s evil Dad’s pet. He reveals his diabolical plot to steal all the sand on the beach. “What is it the world can’t get enough of?” he asks. “Mayonnaise!” replies Xerox. “Love, sweet love?” asks Susie. It turns out his evil plot is to become the mogul of some kind of sandpaper empire, with the paper coming from chopped-down Amazon rainforests. Sandpaper has gone the way of coconut oil in this imagining, slated to cure diabetes and help your kids learn to read. Paul Holmes heads the news bulletin; Sports Susie wants it.

the tapes about to run out

Trevor sets the gang free, and Lifestyle Sharon leaps to the rescue with her raygun that turns pants into skirts, defeating the bad guys and their fragile masculinity. But the drama isn’t over – there’s itching powder in everyone’s clothes! And a Russian space station is about to crash into earth! And – and this is the worst of it – the video tape is about to run out! The gang informs me I’ll have to tune into What Now (circa 1999) to find out what happens. Ah. So that’s how it is.

Guess I’ll have to keep working on that time machine.


Want to see this serious Serial Stuff supercut for yourself? Click here to watch on Youtube

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