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Roseanne Liang (Photo: Matthew Klitscher / Design: Archi Banal)
Roseanne Liang (Photo: Matthew Klitscher / Design: Archi Banal)

Pop CultureJuly 15, 2023

The 90s ad Roseanne Liang can’t get out of her head

Roseanne Liang (Photo: Matthew Klitscher / Design: Archi Banal)
Roseanne Liang (Photo: Matthew Klitscher / Design: Archi Banal)

The award-winning director and screenwriter talks cereal earworms, X-Files chemistry, and why the new season of Creamerie is creamier than ever.

Roseanne Liang is a powerhouse of the New Zealand screen industry. Since bursting onto our screens in 2005 with autobiographical documentary Banana in a Nutshell (which later evolved into the acclaimed film My Wedding and Other Secrets), the director and screenwriter has built a stellar credit list that includes series Flat3 and Friday Night Bites and Hollywood film Shadow in the Cloud. Liang is currently directing live-action TV series Avatar: The Last Airbender for Netflix, and she’s set to direct the blockbuster spy thriller Maude v Maude, starring Angelina Jolie and Halle Berry. 

If that’s not quite enough projects for you, Liang also co-created, co-wrote and directed Creamerie, the dystopian New Zealand comedy about three dairy farmers living in a world where a deadly virus has killed 99% of all men. As the second season of the brilliantly dark comedy drops on TVNZ+, Liang shares some of her favourite television memories, including her fascination with the Honeypuffs ad, her affinity with Freaks and Geeks, and why Creamerie is her favourite project yet. 

Roseanne Liang (Photo: 2023 Creamerie Ltd, Photographer: Matthew Klitscher)

My earliest TV memory is… Sitting on the floor and watching Monkey, the 80s Japanese series, with my family. The show that played before Monkey was a kid’s show called Woolly Valley, and I remember getting mad that I had to sit through a puppet show about farm life before we got to the good stuff. I thought Woolley Valley was British because of its accents, but I just found out it was made in NZ!

The TV show I used to rush home from school to watch was… All the afternoon cartoons – Rugrats, Batman: The Animated Series, Duck Tales. I can still sing the song: “… might solve a mystery, or rewrite history, Duck Tales! Woo-ooo!”. I was obsessed with Animaniacs, and would make VHS mixtapes of my favourite skits from that show. On the weekend they would play Ren and Stimpy, and then really late at night they would play Aeon Flux, which felt dangerously and thrillingly different. 

The TV moment that haunts me the most is… In Freaks and Geeks, when Sam Weir gets talked into buying a “Parisian Night Suit” at a disco shop, and goes to school wearing it. That horrible dawning of realisation, that feeling of “dear god – how could I get it so wrong”, is very triggering for me personally. I’ll be sitting at the lights in my car, even now, and just curl my hands into fists wishing I could take back my high school mufti day choices.

My earliest TV crush was… Mulder and Scully from The X-Files. Their sapiosexual chemistry is off the charts.

The TV ad I can’t stop thinking about is… The Honeypuffs ad from the 1990s. The whole song has lived in my brain for decades, like a lifetime earworm. “Fly, let’s fly away; honey bees are coming today. If you like honey, then you’ll love honey puffs…”. Sometimes I’ll find myself singing it and my husband will join in and we’ll harmonise. Dork central. 

My TV guilty pleasure is… No guilt, just pleasure! I harbour zero guilt for dipping into Singles Inferno and watching impossibly hot Korean men and women be impossibly innocent around each other. Also, Queer Eye, Old Enough (tiny Japanese children are sent on errands) and Love on the Spectrum renew my faith in humanity. I know it’s all manufactured and produced, but it’s still beautiful, dammit!

My favourite TV moment of all time is… Silicon Valley’s “Middle Out” scene, which is the most mathematically sophisticated dick joke ever committed to broadcast TV. The audacity of Mike Judge and the writers of this show in pulling this off (geddit), tickles me so much. Inspired by this scene, Stanford researchers subsequently wrote a 12-page paper about “Optimal Tip-to-tip Efficiency”. 

My favourite TV character of all time is… Selina Meyer from Veep. She is the awful person inside all of us, and her potty mouth is sublime. I wish Armando Iannucci and the writers of Veep could write all my swears.  

The most stylish person on TV is… Senator Mon Mothma from Andor. Her costuming is absolutely divine.

My favourite TV project I’ve ever been involved in is… Creamerie season two. Even Creamerier than the first season, and we go deeper on the drama, power play, corruption, politics and sex jokes. Everyone went all-in on this – the cast, the crew, the producers. It wasn’t always plain sailing, but the hard work and passion shows. We can only cross our fingers for the audience reception, but whatever happens, I’m proud of what we made.

Liang with the stars of Creamerie (L to R Ally Xue, Perlina Lau, JJ Fong) Photo: TVNZ

My advice for anyone who wants to make a TV show is… Never work with anyone you wouldn’t want to share a meal with. I can’t take credit for this advice – it comes from our Creamerie EP, Tony Ayres, and it’s a goodie.

The TV show that defined my lockdown was… So many, and so good in their own ways. I May Destroy You, White Lotus, The Mandalorian 2, The Queen’s Gambit… and yes, even Tiger King. 

The TV show I wish I’d made is… A toss up between Severance and Andor. What these shows manage to achieve craftwise – aesthetically, performance-wise, sonically, score-wise – was staggering enough without also saying something utterly unique and vital about the human condition, power and corruption. When I think about these shows and their assured storytelling, I swoon a little. 

The one thing I wish people knew about making TV is… How TV is like dining. Some dining is fast and does the job, able to be enjoyed while you’re doing something else. Other dining is an experience – you sit down and savour it. Sometimes it even challenges you, but the experience leaves you changed a little bit. It’s not always for everyone, but for me, watching and making the latter kind of TV is life.

Director Roseanne Liang and Perlina Lau on the set of Creamerie. (Photo: TVNZ)

One day I’d really like to make a TV show about… An adaptation of Haruki Murakami’s novel, 1Q84. I know it feels unadaptable, and why would you want to sully a fascinating novel like this, but I spend a lot of time thinking about how it could work, and how to stay true to the magical realism, quiet action and aching love story at the heart of this book.

My most-watched TV show of all time is… Freaks and Geeks. While there’s little visible diversity, it was the first time I saw myself represented in such loving and painfully truthful detail. There’s a scene where the geeky kids get a life lesson from the AV teacher about how the jocks peak at high school, and the nerds just need to wait and get their dues in adulthood. I mentioned Sam’s Parisian Night Suit earlier – the kid actor who played gawky little picked-on Sam, a guy called John Francis Daley, is now one of the hottest screenwriters and directors in Hollywood. I love it when life imitates art.

My controversial TV take is… I’m gonna copy Chris Parker’s great answer – we should have equal coverage of the arts on the news, as they do sports!

A show I will never watch, no matter how many people say I should is… Vanderpump Rules. Not because I’m too good for it, but because I love other people telling me aaaallllll about it. I love watching their hands wave in the air, their voices getting louder and higher over the tea – literal and figurative. 

The last thing I watched on TV was… Beef on Netflix, from A24. Delicious TV, cooked just right and unlike anything I’ve watched before. I also gobbled up Double Parked and Homebound 3.0 which were beautifully charming, and (no bias) also made by our Creamerie producing partners, Kevin and Co. Three tasty NZ comedies on TV within a month – what a hat trick!

Season two of Creamerie screens on Friday nights at 10pm on TVNZ 2 and streams on TVNZ+. 

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