Beset by endless schedule-induced delays, Late Night Big Breakfast ended up timing its arrival brilliantly. During the greatest period of media flux in decades, and against the backdrop of the strangest election campaign any of us will ever know. The show’s crazed, no-attention-span sensibility seems like it could only possibly have been properly digested right now.
At its core it’s a parody of breakfast TV culture, the most hyperactive, anything-for-an-eyeball-and-a-buck portion of the TV day. Good Morning and Breakfast, basically. Those shows have all kinds of strange tics – overly brief interviews with visibly distracted hosts, overly brief segments on ‘tech’ or ‘music’ or dog racing or basically anything to pad out the show. But it functions equally well as a critique of commercial radio stunts or over-compressed panel discussions on any medium, really.
Part of the LNBB’s genius is – truly – a lightness of touch. As bizarre as it has been – and it’s probably the strangest thing to appear in primetime on mainstream New Zealand TV since Back of the Y – it never strays too far from its source material. So Leigh Hart’s ‘Bookshelf–s’ with Joe Bennett is only slightly more psychotic and pinched than similar segments in other variety shows. The music is simultaneously insane and perfectly pitched. Equally the setting – that crap Target on upper Dominion rd, during business hours – isn’t so different from RadioSport broadcasting live from the pub. When the set changed halfway through, it was because their sofas had literally been sold out from underneath them.
This plausibility was backed up by early comments on the show’s Facebook, which pointed to how deeply affronted middle New Zealand was by the LNBB barging onto their screens. “What a continuing load of crap… No talent here. Humour is usually clever this is so far removed. What a waste of funding,” wrote Karen McGehan. “Had to turn the show off,” Cathy Rightnow (probably not her real name) said. “I think it would be more entertaining to watch paint dry than watch this garbage.”
Two of the three garbage men hosting the show are Leigh Hart and Jason Hoyte, veterans of Moon TV, long a buried treasure of unhinged sketch comedy. They’re joined by Jeremy Wells’ long overdue return from the TV wilderness. Tellingly, all three were involved in the Alternative Commentary Collective’s brilliantly strange cricket coverage last summer, and the mutating free associations feel descended and informed by the long stretches of bullshitting those matches required.
Hart functions as the alpha male, this quintessential kiwi-as joker, who makes up for what he lacks in intellect with intensity and weird directionless enthusiasm. He draws deeply from other over-worked, under-prepped hosts of our time, particularly Rawdon Christie’s drowning man pleasantries on Breakfast.
Hoyte is maybe the best thing about the piece – a golfing, skivvy-reviving, maori language-mangling ‘thinking man’ to Hart’s blundering ‘feeling man’. The Lush to Hart’s Garner, in this world. His infomercials – for haemorrhoid cream or budget funerals – are a particular joy.
Wells plays the sock puppet, one of those despicably handsome TV suitmen who loves nothing more than to vigorously penetrate the camera, his conviction betrayed by the kind of amiable confusion familiar to labrador owners everywhere.
The guests, always real people in their real life roles, are seemingly never fully aware of the extent of the show’s seriousness. They’re sweet, bewildered, sometimes almost angry. Not without justification. Designer Lexi Fulton, after being asked repeatedly about her (non-existent) experience as a travel agent, talked about being on The Block “as a guest judge”.
“I’m glad you said that, ‘as a guest judge’,” interrupts Hart turning to camera, “because when Lexi said she’s ‘been on the block’, she’s referring to the TV show.” He’s half wincing, half restraining his own laughter – a natural response to the LNBB‘s sometimes skin-crawling brutality. Its willingness to transgress nearly every extant line in the sand – without ever feeling like it’s channeling The Rock-style boorishness – is a big part of the show’s appeal.
Regular contributors include the infinitely patient Nadia Lim and a bemused Jax Hamilton, dealing with Hart’s fellow celebrity chefdom, and through their own frequent appearances on Breakfast themselves they help to further blur the lines. There’s also roving reporter Guy Mont, who mainly roves the Target carpark, reporting on virtually nothing.
It’s the best New Zealand TV show of the year, dense and strange and violently unpredictable. So, naturally, it hasn’t been renewed for a second season*. The final episode plays at 10.20pm tonight on TV One. It’s an election special, from a group of people – perhaps the only group of people – properly qualified to decode the endless queasy mania of this campaign. It will be dynamite. Then it will be done.
* Happily Hart sounds confident about a return somewhere in Alex Casey’s upcoming interview.
The Spinoff Weekly compiles the best stories of the week – an essential guide to modern life in New Zealand, emailed out on Monday evenings.