Duncan Greive watched Our First Home‘s opening week, and came away convinced that the three families at its core – considerate and good-hearted as they are – just shouldn’t be on TV. //
We’re only through week one of Our First Home, but already the pain of renovation is palpable in the audience. The nauseating horror of having hacked away gib to reveal deep rot. Endless hours coated in dust and immersed in drudge. And a commitment to spending months with people we already know too well. Them and us, in this mess together.
Our First Home is reality TV which takes the genre’s name too literally. Which feels way too real. Like hanging out with regular people who could be your cousins or neighbours. That’s a problem.
The largest part of the appeal of every reality hit from Survivor to Top Chef to Next Top Model and X Factor has been the characters involved. It’s so much more important than casting drama or comedy – because there are no writers. So you need the crazies, the angries, the horndogs, the schemers and all the other fringe personality types who cause most of the world’s chaos and beauty. They make up maybe 10% of the global populace but 90% of reality TV casts.
Because we came to be entertained, not educated, right? No sane person is watching these shows thinking they are actually finding the empirically proven Hottest Home Baker or Most Talented New Zealander. They’re simply a vague framework upon which extroverts with an attitude problem can project their wildest fantasies and deepest insecurities.
Our First Home should have been a dream on this front. Three sets of young couples, buying a house with their boomer parents’ cash, all living in the do-up while it’s done up and then flicking it on at a live auction.
Those elements are all there, still. The tension of real money on the line. Inter-generational resentments. Four different people in each scenario, all bringing a lifetime’s baggage and all forced to do back-breaking work that most of them have no experience doing. Honestly, this should have been raw, angry conflict from the first frame.
Instead we got three of the most affable families we’ve ever seen on screen. They’re all essentially identical – white (not how NZ looks anymore, TVNZ), Christian-vibey go-getters who’ve never exchanged a cross word. I’ll talk you through these sweet, loving families one by one, so you can better understand why, despite their full hearts and blameless pasts, none of them have any business being on your television.
In the leadup, the mum, Robyn Schroëder was pitched as ‘the character’ of the series. And just look at her – what a card! Big hair, big lips, big personality – right? Um, no. She’s just a nice person who occasionally laughs for no reason at all. Just to fill the aching silent void. She’s married to Tom Shoulder, ‘the brains of the operation’ (no), who’s being spun as this cantankerous old coot, but really is just sensible. And sensible don’t make good TV.
The kids are… alive? Jono and Karen Scordor are also married and, like the Gourleys, extremely young and perky. Why do they want to own their own home when they should still be waking up in an unfamiliar bedroom and tiptoeing out in the halflight of a cursed dawn? I don’t know. Jono has a South African accent – is that enough? (No). The kids don’t really say or do anything, just look pretty and wholesome and make you feel nonspecifically optimistic about our economy. They bought a house in Titirangi. That’s probably the most ‘out there’ thing any Shurderer has ever done.
Oh mate, have you met Mick? He’s CRAZY! He once dove headfirst onto a pontoon! Near his wife Kathy! What on earth is going to happen?!?! Honestly that is the most exciting thing that’s happened in three hours of OFHNZ so far. The producers milked it dry, freezing the frame and replaying it from multiple angles, then cutting to ad break before the ‘big reveal’ – that Kathy got a bit of her leg in the water. Mick looks a bit like how you imagine David Cunliffe will look in 10 years time – shrunken and a little genderless. He’s a leaguie and an Ocker but man do they have to work hard to get him to seem fair dinkum – he’s actual timid and thoughtful.
Mick and his son Tim are both builders. Unlike the other families, where there’s only one experienced builder. Excuse me? Yes, the producers have made sure that the renovations are being carried out by experienced professionals. Because watching nice people competently do jobs they’re eminently qualified for should be three-nights-a-week riveting.
The Wardlaws are my favourite family, but that’s like picking edam as your #1 cheese over colby and mild. The closest we’ve seen the Wardlaws to conflict was when Mick and his son had a 10 second conversation about who would get the upstairs bedroom. It was resolved amicably. That’s as tense as the show ever gets – rational debate, swift resolution.
The Gourleys’ main distinguishing feature is their height, particularly the patriarch Al, who is by far the most wee human on the show. They look to be descended from either elves or pixies – time will tell which. The in-law is Matt, a big lug of a kid who boasted that he started passing English after writing love notes to Amy, a factoid somewhat spoiled when he yelled “I love trucks”, like an excited toddler when he saw their Toyota. The pair are 21 or so and married, which probably shouldn’t be legal, and she gazes at him with that peculiar mix of confusion and determination you often see in the prematurely wed. They are probably the most unambiguously stoked on life of the families, and thus the least interesting of a banal bunch.
Those are your families, people. So kind and gentle I can’t even bring myself to say anything properly mean about them, because they all look like they have real feelings that could be hurt. I wouldn’t want to do that – they’re all so lovely! I wish they were my relatives!
But this is TVNZ’s big bet. A brand new, big money franchise they’ve whipped up in the garden shed. It looked great out of the box. But they have royally screwed up the casting. Who wants to watch three white, pleasant middle New Zealand families do a job?
So far, it’s looking grim. Ratings have plunged from 445,000 for the show’s Sunday debut, to 311,000 on Monday and 287,000 on Tuesday. And that’s without X Factor playing on the other channel. That is a problem. Because, though it’s early days, it already looks like One’s doer upper is beyond repair.