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Somehow the titles for Seekers are less bonkers than the actual show.
Somehow the titles for Seekers are less bonkers than the actual show.

Pop CultureApril 24, 2018

Seekers was the bonkers high-concept drama that 80s New Zealand deserved

Somehow the titles for Seekers are less bonkers than the actual show.
Somehow the titles for Seekers are less bonkers than the actual show.

Long-lost siblings? A high-stakes and seemingly pointless quest? A fake death? Sounds like a good time. Sam Brooks celebrates the forgotten Kiwi drama Seekers.

Before Filthy Rich was even a glimmer in Gavin Strawhan’s eye, Seekers brought the unpredictable and improbable drama to New Zealand primetime television.

Straight off the bat, Seekers is an extremely weird high-concept premise for a show. Three people, Nadia (New Zealand’s tallest actor Jennifer Ward-Lealand), Selwyn (Fett patriarch Temuera Morrison) and Ben (Kerry McKay, never seen again but quite good in this) receive a letter asking them to come to dinner that very night at an antiques shop. For whatever reason, they all agree to go, and it turns out that it’s from their birth mother, also they’re all half-siblings and also it turns out she just killed herself by walking off a cliff that very day.

“Why yes, I would like to create an elaborate scheme to bring my estranged children together.”

That’s a lot of plot for ten minutes! Hell, that’s a lot of plot for one episode. Especially at a time when most TV shows had the luxury of moving through plot like there were only two channels and you still had a literal dial on your box to turn if you wanted to switch between them. It takes all of two minutes of scepticism before these people totally accept that this woman is their mother, they’re all siblings, and this is their life now.

Oh, also their mother wants them to compete for a $250, 000 inheritance via a series of non-specific and non-mutually exclusive goals. Which is a terrible way to run a competition, but then I’ve never tried to make the children I gave up for adoption compete for money.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand bringing Working Girl realness and shoulder pads.

Seekers shows a remarkable economy for storytelling. Immediately you understand that Selwyn is ambitious and wants to get rich as quickly as possible, Nadia is a television journalist who is rising through the ranks, and Ben is… an artist who wants to be ‘enlightened’ (direct quote, which proves that whoever wrote this had never met an artist or just really hated artists, which is honestly a very valid take).

You also understand that Seekers has no problem being totally ridiculous. First, there’s the clearly dubious and unambiguously homosexual antiques dealer with whom they all dine; he’s a few concentrated days and a tin of wax away from literally twirling his moustache.

We are supposed to believe this man, who runs an antique shop and looks like this, is married to a woman.

Then there’s the weird music cues that would absolutely be labelled ‘spooky_hijinks.wav’ if they labelled music that way back in the 80s. And finally, there’s Temuera dropping some very, very sassy shade. (When the trio’s potential father – a boring white guy who looks like he sells sheds – appears before them, Tem deadpans: “Well, we know he’s not my dad.”)

Because why wouldn’t you get mid-80s era Temuera Morrison to take his shirt off for almost no reason?

Halfway through the first episode, our plucky trio are investigating their respective adoptions and parentages. The show runs through the tropes of adoption plots (Nadia didn’t know she was adopted and has a tearful scene with her parents, Selwyn did but his parents are vague about it, and Ben is… just Ben about it, because Ben is the worst, you guys) with similar efficiency and economy. It’s not particularly subtle, or deep, or good, but goddamn if Seekers wants to get to the absolutely bonkers end of this episode.

Which is: the mother has actually faked her death, and in a truly unbelievable series of scenes, she turns up at her own funeral, gathers all three newly acquainted siblings and takes them to a bizarre location overlooking the ocean while pretending to be a friend of… herself. This is despite this woman having the most distinct Kim Hill-esque voice (she was played by Bridget Armstrong, who had an incredible career) and wearing a veil for almost all of their interactions, like she’s auditioning to be on Twin Peaks. Still, they go along with this insane competition, which their ‘mother’s friend’ is conspicuously well-informed about, and the episode ends.

“Nothing suspicious here, just having a conversation in a veil with complete strangers. Didn’t fake my death at all.”

It’s a genuine treat of a show, and it makes me wish that the rest of the series was actually available on NZ on Screen (release the tapes, whoever has them! They have to be out there somewhere). I’ve watched a lot of old New Zealand television for this loosely defined series, and this is the first time I’ve seen a show that I actually want to watch all the way through. It’s fast-paced, with good performances (you forget how goddamned charismatic Temuera Morrison is) and an incredibly strange tone that I haven’t really seen done on New Zealand television since – a kind of earnestness that managed to wink at the audience at the same time.

Because while you’ve got Nadia, Selwyn and Ben being legitimately aggrieved that their chance to know their birth mother has been so suddenly cut off, you’ve also got a woman who refuses to take off her veil lest they see that she is… actually their mother and is full-on gaslighting them like a sociopath. Reboot this immediately, please. But keep the shoulder pads, keep the veil, actually keep everything, keep it all. Just give us more Seekers.

You can watch the first episode of Seekers on NZ on Screen right here.

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