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Pop CultureJune 14, 2021

Review: The Block NZ is back – and the same as it ever was

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After a two year break, The Block NZ is back. Tara Ward watches the first episode of the new season to find out what drama lies ahead. 

The Block NZ returns to Three tonight, and host Mark Richardson is promising big things. Season nine will be “bigger and tougher than ever”, the houses are “the biggest and most demanding ever”, and the teams are the fiercest competitors we’ve ever seen. “We’re taking it back to what it was all about in the first five seasons: good quality, contemporary family homes,” Richardson tells us. These are big and tough promises, especially when the biggest and toughest twist is one no producer could ever have anticipated: Covid-19. 

A global lockdown beats the tension of building a wooden platform across a swimming pool, but this season, we’ll get to see both. The Block NZ premieres with footage filmed sometime in summer 2019/20, well before the Covid-19 lockdown stopped the builds. Four new teams arrive in Auckland’s Point Chevalier, ready to unleash their creativity on four partially built and enormous new homes. 

The teams meet for the first time (Photo: Three).

There’s married couple Meg and Dan, brothers Dylan and Keegan, Bay of Plenty friends Janah and Rach, and Auckland mates Tim and Arty. They’re enthusiastic and friendly, but the lack of cultural diversity is disappointing, especially when this has been a problem for The Block NZ previously. Several of the teams have building and renovation experience, which bodes well for the weeks ahead, even if Keegan admits to never having seen the show before. 

The season kicks off with a design challenge where teams pair up to create guest bedrooms in two of the four Block houses. The combined winners will choose which house they want for the rest of the season, meaning they can select one of the higher value street front houses. It’s one of The Block NZ’s typically over-complicated ideas, but it gets the teams talking and strategising on how best to win. Should they work together to create a continuous feel in the house, or will each team stick to their own design ideas? 

It’s only day one of a three month project, so there are few signs of the drama promised in the opening preview. We see the teams find their feet on The Block – learning what a scotia is, stuffing insulation into the walls, choosing the perfect shade of green. There’s barely a whiff of gameplay, although Janah and Rach decide to do a separate design to housemates Dylan and Keegan, and Meg realises she might not want the house with the highest reserve, given the team with the most profit wins. Nobody mentions Covid-19, which makes The Block NZ feel like it’s in a bubble of its own, before being in a bubble was even a thing.

The Block NZ host Mark Richardson and contestants (Photo: Three).

So far, this could be any season of The Block, on any Auckland building site. Richardson’s commentary is as droll as ever, The Wolf is still committed to high standards of insulation, and there’s plenty of random product placement. Subway footlong, anyone? It may feel like this until we reach the lockdown episodes, which will likely define this season of The Block NZ in a way that nothing else could.

What’s missing from episode one is a sense of urgency, which feels out of sync with the stifling heat of the current housing market. There are also three new judgesChris Stevens, Ann-Louise Hyde and Lauren Mirabito – and it would have been great to meet them before the teams set to work. What do the judges want to see? Do people who can afford to buy a new 250m2 home in Point Chevalier like “jungle luxe” decor, and what did “style” even mean in the cursed year of 2020? These influential experts play a crucial role on The Block NZ, and the sooner we meet them, the better.

Tonight’s premiere confirms we already know what to expect from The Block NZ: bonkers challenges, stressed contestants doing their best, and four highly auctionable homes at the end. The series sticks to the same format and wanders along at its own pace, which isn’t always a bad thing, because sometimes we need to watch a show where the biggest drama is what time Resene closes. The Block NZ has all the materials to build a great TV show, but is it big and tough enough to keep us watching four nights a week? Like The Wolf inspecting a ceiling of Pink Batts, we’ll have to wait and see.

The Block NZ screens on Three, Monday-Wednesday night (and Sunday-Wednesday night from next week) and streams from 12pm on Three Now.

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