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Hayley Sproull appears as Mitch in the second season of Golden Boy. (Photo: Supplied)
Hayley Sproull appears as Mitch in the second season of Golden Boy. (Photo: Supplied)

Pop CultureNovember 3, 2020

Review: Golden Boy is a sparkling light of New Zealand comedy

Hayley Sproull appears as Mitch in the second season of Golden Boy. (Photo: Supplied)
Hayley Sproull appears as Mitch in the second season of Golden Boy. (Photo: Supplied)

Some of New Zealand’s best comedians unite in Golden Boy to bring us a fun, breezy sitcom that will brighten any bad day. 

I’m binge-watching Golden Boy after a morning at the dentist. My face is numb. I’m sliding mandarin pieces between the teeth I’m allowed to use. I want to be cheered up, and this show is exactly what I need.

Golden Boy is set in the small, rugby-obsessed town of Crawdon, and it’s that cheerful brand of sitcom: the group of oddballs in forced proximity. It stars Hayley Sproull as Mitch, living in the shadow of her famous All Black brother, as she self-sabotages her career and relationship with Aussie Dave, played by Dean O’Gorman. Season two of Golden Boy has drawn in Rose Matafeo and Brynley Stent to the already stacked cast. Just about every member of the current NZ comedy brat pack is there, including Madeleine Sami, Angella Dravid and Chris Parker, to name a few. In fact, Kiwi comedies are starting to feel like watching the same group of friends play different games of dress-up with each other. In between episodes I’ve also watched Taskmaster NZ and Baby Done and found I was watching aspects of the same ensemble at differently scheduled points in my week. It would be understandable to forget which show you’re watching. 

That being said, the frequency with which these performers have worked together shows. They play off each other like pros, creating chaotic ensemble scenes that build to Monty Python levels of absurdity. The season’s highlight is when the town gets a microwave and the resulting episode is a masterclass in ensemble comedy. As the characters shout ideas of what they can microwave, (a jandal, a bell, another microwave), the hysteria builds until Kura Forrester rips out a handful of her own hair.

As with Monty Python, I find myself imagining the conversation in the writing room, wondering how they could possibly have known that a gag where characters microwave different items would be funny. This is one of the strengths of New Zealand comedy: it doesn’t rely on quippy one-liners, but on physical comedy, situational humour, and subtle needling of Kiwi parochialism. The punchlines aren’t jokes, but characters bursting into tears or dry-heaving. This humour allows minor characters, like Simon Mead with his ever-present glass of milk, to steal every scene, despite having fewer lines than the other actors.

James Rolleston as the titular Golden Boy in Golden Boy (Photo: Supplied)

James Rolleston plays Tama, the titular Golden Boy. The townspeople obsess over Tama, idolising him to the point where his return warrants nose bleeds. Much of the plot of the first season was centred around this obsession, despite the fact that he very rarely appeared in the show. Having an absent character as the focal point worked so well that I was mildly disappointed to find he was actually going to be a regular in the second season, but he quickly won me over. Rolleston holds his own against the comedy heavyweights. His strength has always been a physical intelligence and sensitivity that he’s been able to use in instinctual and transformative ways, from Boy to The Dead Lands. In Golden Boy, he stamps his foot like a child, throwing his fists around, to show that the revered All Black is just a boy who was told he was special too many times. It’s a subtle and brilliantly executed character progression.

A subplot (though everything in this show is subplot) is the romance between Mitch and Aussie Dave. Finally together after dancing around each other in season one, we now watch Mitch’s jealousy, and their struggle to say “I love you”. Romance side-plots can often feel ham-fisted into comedies. There’s something about the sudden turn towards the serious and saccharine that feels cringey. I have to fast forward many scenes in Friends for this exact reason. I had concerns that this cringeyness would happen with Golden Boy, but the plotline was sweet and funny. Any more serious moments were understated and quietly devastating.

The plot of Golden Boy has a tendency to dip into implausibility or silliness, and this came out strongest in the romance storyline. There were moments when I could see the hand of the writers, chucking something in there simply to move the plot along. The focus is obviously on getting laughs, and the plotting feels more like a vehicle for those laughs, rather than a well-crafted thing in itself. An example of this is Mitch’s self sabotage, which is introduced almost immediately in season one when she runs away from a potential job offer.

This aspect of her character never gets an origin story, so it’s hard to buy at times. It felt like a trigger point implanted earlier purely to create tension and raise the stakes as the series progressed. But as the self-destructiveness erodes Mitch and Aussie Dave’s relationship, the plot point didn’t feel earned or strongly established. It was an easy throwaway, and felt less plausible than a moment earlier in the season where a townsperson is buried with his Lotto win because he didn’t have a bff to give the money to.

That being said, although Golden Boy will never be held up as the example of developed characters, and a flawless plot, that’s not what I’ve switched it on for. I’ve come to it because I have a toothache and I’m pissed off, and because I have a wee crush on Dean O’Gorman. The moments of implausibility are forgivable because it’s charming and joyful. You’ll laugh, and you’ll keep clicking “next episode”, and that’s all you need sometimes.

You can watch both seasons of Golden Boy on ThreeNow. The second season finale airs on Three at 9.05pm tonight.

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