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Design: Tina Tiller
Design: Tina Tiller

Pop CultureDecember 19, 2023

The best local television moments of 2023

Design: Tina Tiller
Design: Tina Tiller

Alex Casey and Tara Ward look back at a bumper year of local television.

We might have run short of eggs, houses and PVC pipe in 2023, but one thing we weren’t low on this year was good telly. As we prepare to say goodbye to 2023, it’s time to look back on some of our finest and most memorable local TV moments, from Jo Cotton dressed as Harley Quinn on Treasure Island (yes, that was this year), to Suzanne Paul stepping into the Briscoes cinematic universe, to the shattering After the Party finale in December. So many memories and so much to get through, but don’t cry because it’s over, laugh because “comebox” happened. 

Celebrity Treasure Island: Fans v Faves gave us the treasure

Send us out to sea like Josh Kronfeld’s dirty undies, because it’s hard to pick just one memorable moment from the cracker season of Celebrity Treasure Island: Fans v Faves at the very start of the year. Was it poor old Matty McLean collapsing before going on to win the entire thing? Was it Jane Yee being eliminated by a rogue gust of wind, or Jo Cotton’s curious cosplay, or Dame Susan Devoy and Wardie beating the uber-cocky Art Green and Lance Savali in the fire challenge? Whatever your choice, the evidence is clear: Yee was robbed. / Tara Ward

The Dog House NZ melted hearts nationwide

Arriving to battle a truly monstrous season of Married at First Sight Australia, The Dog House NZ felt like a welcome injection of cute and calm back in February. “We still get to meet people tearing down their walls in the search for love, we still get that high stakes first impression moment and we still get the all-important “decision” (just swap the roses for dog treats),” we wrote at the time. “All of this, without any gaslighting, breadcrumbing or wine-throwing.” 

As for specific moments from the series, it doesn’t get much more melty and meta than when our own Chris Schulz appeared on the show with his family and came away with the best dog ever, whose “nervous disposition” soon transformed into that of an “utter goofball” after finding her forever home. “Astar’s heart needed healing. Now, she seems intent on helping do the same for others. What a dog. What a show,” he wrote. I’m not crying, you are! / Alex Casey

The buzz of Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont Spelling Bee

“The three years since Covid-19 began have been pretty rocky, but one of the best things to come out of the chaos was Guy Montgomery’s Guy Mont Spelling Bee,” we wrote in March. Montgomery’s lockdown idea for an online spelling competition with his mates became one of the year’s TV success stories, as comedians like Chris Parker and Urzila Carlson stumbled through the pressure of spelling “chimney”, “waka rererangi” and “Adam Parore” on national television. Light, silly and warm, Spelling Bee offered a few moments of gleeful escapism from a world where most of us will never spell “haemoglobin” correctly. / TW

The battle of the Jacinda Ardern exit interviews 

Jacinda Ardern gave two interviews to our nightly news bulletins during her last days as prime minister in April, and in a shocking turn of events, both interviews screened on the same day at the same time. 1News went for a sombre vibe with a lot of varnished wood, while Newshub chucked in an apricot feature wall and a tiny plush kiwifruit. It was a game of two halves, television was the winner of the day and congratulations to all involved. / TW

Breakfast gave us the freakiest interview ever

In May, Breakfast gave us an astonishing interview with a human shadow who confessed to being addicted to nicking Dunedin’s road cones. The thief’s voice was warped and he appeared to be hiding in some sort of underground bunker, presumably to protect himself from the wrath of people who really love road works. “It was bleak. It was bare. It was a room that could do with some brightening up, perhaps with something orange and conical,” we wrote of the tragic scene. Months later, we hope this guy is OK. / TW

Couples Therapy put the real in reality

At one end of the reality spectrum in 2023, we’ve got the celeb-studded surrealism of Brooke Howard-Smith screaming in a bath full of maggots and Colin Mathura-Jeffree slurping an eyeball in The Traitors. At the other, we’ve got struggling couple Emma and Parrish, quietly wiping tears from their cheeks, as they reveal their innermost pain to the entire nation in Couples Therapy. Three’s fly-on-the-wall docuseries, with real couples in conversation with a real therapist, explored everything from childhood trauma to waning sex lives, religious differences, to porn addiction. No wonder we called it the realest reality TV this country has ever made. / AC

The fifth Harry Warner came to Ferndale

Harry Warner is one of Shortland Street’s longest running characters, and in May the fifth actor to play the bratty son of Dr Love arrived in Ferndale. Don’t ask how Dr Warner Jr (now played by Xander Manktelow) got his medical degree in record time, or why he now has ginger hair, or what happened to his wife in China – in fact, don’t ask anything. Just be glad he’s not saving dick pics to his iPad any more. / TW

The Suzanne-aissance 

Queen of infomercials Suzanne Paul ripped the fabric of the universe in April when she joined Tammy Wells against the buttercup yellow Briscoes background. “You’ve got two of the most powerful sales forces in New Zealand, or possibly the world’s, history,” posited Suzanne Paul expert Hayden Donnell, who concluded that Briscoes may have “bitten off more than they can chew” and that their stores might soon look like “barren, post-apocalyptic caves.” 

But wait, there was more! Just one month later, Suzanne Paul popped up on our screens again as the face of, well, everything. On TVNZ, a tiara-wearing Paul sold us everything from Arnott’s to Liquorland, Flight Centre to Summerset Retirement Villages. Some experts thought she might be diffusing her power by fronting too many brands, and others thought she might be simply positioning herself as future queen. Who knows what she’ll do in 2024? / AC

Mike Puru’s shopping show frenzy 

Long before we were rocked by the tragic news that Mike Puru would be leaving Aotearoa to start a country music station in rural France (sublime for him, sucks for us), he took the wheel of a frenetic new online shopping series in May. The Selection was 30 minutes of live performance art about the chaos of modern consumption, with all evidence of it disappearing faster than a reasonably priced pair of snakeskin boots as soon as the broadcast was over. Beatles records. Candlesticks. Jenga. One of those “you had to be there” moments and I am so glad I was. / AC

Everyone thought Tina from Turners had died

Absolute scenes in May, when many young New Zealanders heard the news that real person Tina Turner had died, and mistook it for the tragic death of the beloved but entirely fictional character Tina from Turners. Thankfully, Tina from Turners continues to walk among us, especially if you’re in the market for CARS! CARS! CARS! / TW

When Chris Warner had his nachos

New Zealand’s longest-running soap delivered plenty of drama this year, kicking off with some mind-boggling time-jump episodes with a super gritty vibe, and then toying with us by making us think TK Samuels was about to cark it. However, arguably the best moment of all was when Chris Warner got drunk at a party and hoovered up a bowl of nachos. Maybe he found his one true love this year, after all? / TW

Temuera Morrison and Robyn Malcolm reunited 

Robyn Malcolm kicked off a stonker of a TV year by starring in the unbelievable true story of Far North, where she played a chutney-making, aqua aerobics instructor who busted open New Zealand’s biggest drug deal. The role saw Malcolm reunite with Temuera Morrison, the pair having last shared the small screen on Shortland Street in the late 90s. Together, they made Far North sing and delivered an impressive piece of local drama about two unlikely national heroes. / TW

Tāme Iti washed up on Celebrity Treasure Island

To read the name Tāme Iti alongside Matilda Green and Megan Alatini in this year’s Celebrity Treasure Island cast list was nothing short of a paradigm shift, a cultural reset, and a game-changer. At 71 years old, the Māori activist told us he was there to “kick ass” and he wasn’t lying – in the very first week, he went rabbit hunting, foraged for spices to zhuzh up the rice, and even convinced Laura Daniel to wade into a freezing cold lake. But Iti was just getting started on his journey to becoming one of the most memorable contestants in CTI history. 

As Duncan Greive wrote in September, it was one moment mid-season that did it. After pulling aside James Mustapic for an inspiring conversation about leadership, Iti revealed he was leaving the show, launching into a karakia and not leaving a dry eye in the house. “His entire appearance on the show was more the stuff of dreams than something that could ever really have happened,” wrote Grieve, praising CTI’s ability to create moments that “would naturally sit in any rational cultural hall of fame for this country.” Tāme Iti was one of those. / AC

Bubbah’s Taskmaster tattoo

In the most extreme attempt to win not just a Taskmaster task, but any task in human history, Bubbah (Sieni Leo’o Olo) revealed a tattoo of her fellow contestants during the first week of Taskmaster season four. When asked to present “the most unbelievable thing”, the comedian revealed the inky likeness of castmates Melanie Bracewell, Karen O’Leary, Dai Henwood and Ray O’Leary on her forearm. Although this is not the first time someone had tattooed themselves on the show – Josh Widdicome had “GREG” tattooed on his foot during the original UK season – the sheer scale and intricacy of Bubbah’s ink remains unmatched. Go Kiwi. / AC

The wētā that did a poo live on AM

Let’s tip our curved tusks and spiny legs to this wētā, the unexpected star of 2023. Not only did this wētā poo live on AM, but it defecated at the exact moment when the wētā expert was discussing wētā defecation. It was like Pavlov’s dog, but for shitting invertebrates on breakfast telly. Rude? We’ll show you rude. / TW

Mary Lambie gave all her fucks on Celebrity Treasure Island

In September, Mary Lambie’s tense exit on Celebrity Treasure Island: Te Waipounamu provoked an emotional outburst towards team captain Jordan Vandermade that will go down in the show’s history. As Mary finished retelling the dramatic events of her elimination challenge, she cackled, rolled over, and then stared directly down the camera and unleashed the most swears CTI has ever seen. Incredibly, “fuck you, you fucking fucker” didn’t make it to the Quote of the Year 2023 shortlist, but some of us will never forget. / TW

Brooke Howard-Smith got maggoted on The Traitors

The Traitors NZ was easily the most anticipated local reality television show of 2023, and will be remembered for Traitor Matt Heath unravelling in 0.5 seconds, Traitor Colin Mathura-Jeffree’s endlessly pithy soundbites, and host Paul Henry appearing to have a fedora superglued to his head like Matilda’s dad. But nothing on the murder mystery show trumps what happened during the big finale, where the remaining “complete strangers” (half of whom had been to each other’s weddings) took on a series of shocking solo missions. 

Colin had to nosh down an eyeball, Sam Smith had to get a Friar Tuck haircut and Julia had to get cryotherapy. But it was former Target host Brooke Howard-Smith who faced the biggest test of all: lying in a bath filled with cockroaches AND maggots. Here lies a truncated transcript of proceedings: “Brian, take it easy! Brian! Oh my god they are so big, why are they so big? Why are they so big, Brian?… Brian, do they bite?? They are feeling really itchy!!… Why would they be, why would they beeee??” Why would they be, indeed. / AC

‘Comebox’ broke The Project NZ 

Things started out so sweetly in this good news story about Roses chocolates finally getting restored to their former glory. “Longtime fans of Cadbury Roses chocolates will be saying ‘thank you very much’ with the return of three original flavours,” Kanoa Lloyd began on The Project NZ. “After getting ditched back in 2018, strawberry creme, orange creme and peppermint creme are making a come box-” she stopped herself. “Come box?!?!” 

What transpired for the next 85 seconds was nothing short of a gift from the live television gods and easily the blooper of the year. Patrick Gower, Guy Williams and Antonia Prebble all played to type perfectly as Kanoa Lloyd completely collapsed onto the desk in a fit of giggles. With both The Project NZ ending and What Now? ending its live studio broadcast in 2024, pour one out for the very specific energy and electricity that can only come from a live studio audience. / AC

All the Rugby World Cup travel shows

In 2022, Calum Henderson predicted that all lifestyle shows would soon be presented by a former All Black. For a brief moment in 2023, his dream came true. Rugby really is the gift that keeps on giving. / TW

Linda the Laser Kiwi showed us her cloaca

Election night was full of surprises, but the biggest one was Linda, Newshub’s augmented reality bird who spent the evening plopping out politicians. Not only did Linda the Laser Kiwi give birth to new members of parliament, but her laser eyes also blew losing members to smithereens. AM’s pooing wētā had nothing on Linda. Who said politics couldn’t be fun? / TW

The end of The Project NZ 

After seven years at 7pm, The Project NZ delivered its final ever episode in November. “When we lose a show like The Project, we lose a lot…The Project helps promote movies, TV shows and live music. It humanised politicians, brought attention to causes and could get behind situations in powerful ways,” Duncan Greive wrote, having been in the studio for the last episode. The Project NZ gave us plenty of memorable moments from Lizzo’s opinion on cheese rolls to searing monologues about inequality, and once and for all, proved that everyone really does wear shorts under the news desk. / TW

After the Party gripped the nation

It feels extremely 2023 that our most shattering and impactful television moment arrived just as we were putting the Christmas tree up and getting ready to farewell the year. I will never forgive myself for how long it took me to watch After the Party and how many different smart people had to recommend it before I took the plunge. If you are reading this and have any of that residual “it’s just New Zealand, how good can it be” snobbishness, this is your final warning: get the hell over yourself and get stuck into this gripping, devastating and truly unparalleled series. 

Luckily, Rec Room’s Duncan Greive knew from the start. He previewed the series back in October, calling After the Party “a dark, tense and highly provocative drama which will rattle uneasily around your mind for days” and praising Robyn Malcolm’s Penny as “an absolute marvel, a middle-aged woman the likes of which I’ve never seen on screen before”. After the staggering final episode went to air, Madeleine Chapman and Madeleine Holden delivered their verdict: After the Party is the best television drama this country has ever made. / AC

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