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James Mustapic and his mum Janet (Photo: TVNZ)
James Mustapic and his mum Janet (Photo: TVNZ)

Pop CultureMarch 6, 2024

Review: James Must-a-pic His Mum a Man is the funniest local show in ages

James Mustapic and his mum Janet (Photo: TVNZ)
James Mustapic and his mum Janet (Photo: TVNZ)

Tara Ward watches TVNZ’s new comedy series and finds it bursting with heart, humour… and a certain Bachelor in a bathtub.

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James Mustapic is sitting on a couch, trying to find his mum a man. The New Zealand comedian wants a father figure in his life, but what exactly is his mother Janet looking for in a prospective partner? “Dark hair, nice eyes… a neck,” Janet tells a sketch artist, who sets to work bringing her romantic vision to life. Moments later, the artist reveals a stunning interpretation of Janet’s dream bloke. One picture can paint a thousand words, and in this uplifting moment of hope and possibility, the tone for the entire series of James Must-a-pic His Mum a Man is set.

A vision (Screengrab)

Forget Art and Matilda, nobody mention Scotty and Shanti, because James Must-a-pic His Mum a Man is a romantic journey the likes we’ve never seen on local television before. This hilarious new comedy series follows Mustapic as he embarks on a quest to find his mother her ideal man. Like any good dating show, Must-a-pic delves into Janet’s wants and needs, her romantic history and the challenges of dating in the modern world, and then sets her up on a series of bizarre dates.

But does Janet even want a man? “That’s not important,” Mustapic tells us.

The result is a show with a little bit of everything: a well-meaning protagonist, a reluctant heroine and a curious Art Green bathtub scene. Written by Mustapic and directed by Johnny Barker (who in a lovely full circle moment, played Shortland Street’s Ferndale Strangler and who Mustapic once made an entire video about), Must-a-pic hums along at a cracking pace, packing plenty of laughs into each 22 minute episode.

The writing is sharp and wonderfully snarky (the Alec Baldwin line in episode one made me gasp), and the comedy is awkward without feeling too uncomfortable. And for all the fake dates and wacky setups, there’s a surprising amount of heart to the show, particularly when Mustapic talks about his absent father. That emotion is quickly used for comic effect, like when Mustapic asks comedian Ray O’Leary to roleplay being his dad. “Of course I’m proud of you, Jason,” Dad O’Leary tells Mustapic.

Everything is fine: James, Pretend Dad Ray O’Leary and Janet (Screengrab)

Mustapic’s star has been on the rise for years, from his early beginnings with the brilliant Shorty Street Scandal to recent shows like Queer AcademyAbandonment Issues and The Spinoff’s Repressed Memories. The Celebrity Treasure Island winner and Billy T Nominee is in his element here, always making himself part of the joke, and there’s a warmth in the first two episodes that stops it feeling like Janet’s being made fun of. Janet gives as good as she gets, and the affection between mother and son continually shines through.

Plus, Must-a-pic gives us a brand new local star: Janet. James’ mum has featured in his videos before, but here, she sparkles in her own right as someone genuinely unsure why she agreed to appear on a TV show that exposes her romantic life to the nation. Janet goes along for the ride purely out of love for her son – who is a lot more invested in this journey than she is – and her tolerance and general lack of enthusiasm for every one of James’ batshit ideas is the perfect foil to the show’s entirely bonkers premise.

“It’s clear Janet was a lonely old wench,” James tells us in episode one, so what else is a loving son to do than set his mother up with a man who performs headstands in a cafe? After watching the first two episodes, I’m fully invested in this unpredictable, hilarious, wild journey. James Must-a-pic His Mum a Man never forgets its own ridiculousness, but is bursting with heart, humour and a whole lot more bathtime Art Green than you might expect.

The full season of James Must-a-pic His Mum a Man drops on TVNZ+ on Thursday 7 March. 

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