Pop CultureSeptember 10, 2017

Common Sense is the reality show New Zealand needs to make next


Calum Henderson watches Common Sense, a reality show that asks real people for their real reckons on current events. 

Who hasn’t watched the vox pops on the news and thought: these random people on the street should have their own show? In Australia, that dream has become a new reality series called Common Sense.

A spinoff of the popular British format Gogglebox, which takes viewers into a variety of households to watch and discuss highlights of the week’s television, Common Sense goes inside a range of different workplaces to get a true blue Aussie take on the week’s news and current events.

Topics range from proper news (Sydney terror raids, a bike lane vandal on the loose in Melbourne) to classic clickbait (“a study has found housewives are more likely to cheat on their spouses…”). Sometimes even New Zealand gets a look in, like when Jacinda Ardern infamously had her child-rearing intentions brought into question on The AM Show.

“If you’re an employer you need to know that type of thing from the women you’re employing,” Mark Richardson had argued. “No you don’t… idiot,” responded Sydney marketing consultant Steve. In Melbourne, tech creative Helen had an even more succinct response: “F*** you,” she sighed while watching the clip.

Not everybody was so forthcoming in support for the Labour leader. “The reality is when you’re up at 2 and 3 in the morning and little Freddy has gastro you can’t then be running the country,” pointed out one of the ‘Bra and Swimwear Ladies’, a trio of Victorian bra-fitters spookily similar to Kath and Kim’s posh shopkeepers Prue and Trude.

“You know what I want to hear from politicians?” asked mulleted man-with-a-van Brett. “Their policies – that’s it.” Fellow removalist Laurence, who looked like he could be Slash in a Guns N Roses tribute band, agreed. “We’ve just had a senator breastfeeding in the Senate while dropping a bill like a boss.” The pair’s animated discussions of any topic invariably stray off-topic, and as such are a regular highlight of the show.

The Common Sense cast is well-chosen, though the show could probably stand to be a bit more racially diverse – only one of the ten workplaces includes any non-white commentators (the Chinese-Australian Yip family, fruit and veg market sellers from New South Wales). But from the butchery in Galston to the hair salon Kogarah and the retirement village in Keysborough, it’s a mostly likeable and entertaining selection of Aussies to pass the time with.

Like spending time with your actual friends, the topical conversations are punctuated by snippets of inane, sometimes bizarre small talk. After the Jacinda Ardern debate we dropped back in on Helen and work mate Sarah discussing the virtues of Vegemite. “Do you know what my dad used to do? Vegemite soup,” said Helen. At the market, Trudi found a bit of turmeric that looked like a rabbit.

The more you get to know the different personalities, the funnier these kinds of moments become. At times the show can also be unexpectedly heartwarming. In this episode, the usual trio from the rest home was down to two – 92-year-old Jean had been in hospital with a bad cold. “Let’s hope she’ll be with us again, because we do miss her,” said Ted. “Here, I’ll pour you a cup of tea,” offered Aileen. (Later, during a conversation about puberty, Aileen came out with the line of the episode: “I don’t think I knew I had a vagina until I was about 21!”)

While the idea of a local version of Gogglebox always sounded good, the truth is there is probably not enough New Zealand television worth talking about to make it sustainable. But there is never any shortage of news to discuss, and with the right talent a Kiwi Common Sense would go great guns. The only question is, who’ll make it?

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