Guy Williams’ comedy journalism series returned this week for more wacky travels around the country. Tara Ward recaps.
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New Zealanders can be an odd bunch, especially in the presence of a camera and microphone, and nobody knows this better than New Zealand Today. This week the comedy series returned to Three and ThreeNow for its fourth season, with comedian and self-proclaimed “volunteer journalist” Guy Williams bringing us a new batch of investigations into the towns “no one else wants to go to”. That’s a bit rough on poor old Nightcaps, but the New Zealand Today presenter is hellbent on continuing his intrepid mission around the country to serve us up a slice of authentic New Zealand.
The season starts by returning to an older story (first told by The Spinoff!) about two neighbouring Mt Albert BBQ Noodle Houses. It turns out New Zealand Today’s 2019 story on the feuding restaurants did little to repair the fractured relationship between the owners. In fact, the show made it worse. “I – no, we – all hate you,” Alice from the Mt Albert BBQ Noodle House bluntly tells Williams. His dreams of reconciliation lie in pieces, but the bubble tea is still good.
This time Mt Albert BBQ Noodle Houses provide the loose link to where Williams really wants to go, which is all the way to Australia to meet the infamous Jack Karlson. Karlson is the man who introduced “succulent Chinese meal” into the lexicon when he was arrested in Brisbane in the early 90s, and Williams wants Karlson — who has lived a life full of crime and juicy noodles — to make the definitive choice: which Mt Albert BBQ Noodle House is the most succulent of all?
This first episode is less New Zealand Today, more Australia A Few Years Ago, as Williams tracks down the man who yelled “get your hand off my penis” in 1991. He finds Karlson in a shed in rural Queensland, wine tumbler in hand and walls covered in his own paintings of naked ladies. Karlson doesn’t seem entirely sure who Williams is, but he agrees to chat. The next day, the men sit beside a broken down bus while Karlson drinks more wine and talks about his life.
It’s an awkward conversation, which is luckily where New Zealand Today thrives. Fans of the series will enjoy this new season, which continues with the same blokey banter, dubious conversations and bizarre characters of earlier episodes. Williams is one of very few people who can comfortably rock up to a small town and openly accuse the locals of racism, or declare a provincial town full of “shitheads” with no good schools, as he does in episode three. Despite his antagonism, Williams still has a knack for getting total strangers to open up to him.
Likewise, he takes it in his stride when people respond negatively to him, but there’s an underlying tension in the way New Zealand Today uses ordinary people as entertainment. When Williams asks a teenager to translate “get your hands off my penis” for the non-English speaking owner of the Mt Albert BBQ Noodle House, it feels uncomfortable. New Zealand Today’s mission to show us the “real” New Zealand, but sometimes it feels unclear whether we’re laughing with or at the real people involved.
Wherever the laughs are coming from, New Zealand Today shows there’s no shortage of intriguing New Zealanders (and a few Australians) hiding in plain sight. Also hiding in plain sight? Those noodles. Karlson finally chose his favourite Chinese meal – but of course, Williams hadn’t labelled the boxes. He returned to Mt Albert to award both noodle houses the “second most succulent” meal, his service to the nation completed by a unifying handshake across the footpath.
Williams’ work on Noodlegate may be done, but the fourth season of New Zealand Today proves there’s still a whole country full of weird stories out there waiting for him.
New Zealand Today screens on Thursday nights on Three and streams on ThreeNow.