Calum Henderson watches TVNZ’s Darryl: An Outward Bound Story, a warm Kiwi comedy about how one moustachioed man goes bush to find himself.
Few New Zealanders who watched it unfold on television will ever forget the men’s 50km walk at the 1998 Commonwealth Games. Overcome by heat exhaustion, race leader Craig Barrett’s legs turned to jelly; the Kiwi walker dramatically swayed and stumbled in the Kuala Lumpur humidity and collapsed to the road less than a kilometre from the finish line.
This obscure moment of New Zealand sporting history – incredibly, there appears to be no footage of the race anywhere on the internet – is paid homage in the opening scenes of the funny, heartwarming new TVNZ OnDemand web series Darryl: An Outward Bound Story.
Lanky, handlebar-moustached Kiwi bloke-out-of-time Darryl Walker (series creator Millen Baird), is metres from winning the New Plymouth Mountain to Surf marathon when dehydration takes hold and he succumbs in familiar fashion. Unlike Barrett, who briefly became a national hero, ‘Dancing Darryl’ goes viral as a national laughing stock.
Plagued by self-doubt, which manifests itself as an extremely critical (and extremely funny) interior monologue, Darryl embarks on an eight day Outward Bound voyage of discovery in an attempt to “sharpen the saw” and regain the confidence required to go the full 42.2km.
It’s a simple and effective premise, one which is ideal for the series’ tidy ten mini-episode arc. In total all the episodes are about the length of a feature film – and a lot of people will probably watch the whole thing in one go – but chopping it into roughly 10-minute parts suits the loose-fitting character-focused narrative.
The series gets a lot of mileage out of throwing the classic Kiwi ‘man alone’ archetype into an intensely teamwork-dependent situation. Darryl gets off on rocky ground with his crew mates, managing to unwittingly alienate half of them before he’s even got off the Interislander. Things only get worse as he blunders his way through the opening set of challenges.
The supporting cast, which includes a lot of recent Shortland Street alumni, are all worth their weight in gold (or whatever the Outward Bound equivalent is… probably muesli) – in particular Shavaughn Ruakere as terminally ill solo mum Sally and Toby Sharpe as territorial army psycho and Darryl’s chief tormentor Trent.
The series’ closest point of comparison is perhaps the cult Australian movie The Castle – both have a hard case main character called Darryl, both are endlessly quotable, but most uniquely, they both have real warmth and affectionate for their weirdo characters.
The dysfunctional crew’s shared journey of self-discovery certainly takes some left turns – Darryl’s surreal showdown with “the minotaur” inside his head is a highlight – but the series never strays too far off track. In the end Darryl: An Outward Bound Story is an admirably uncynical and uplifting watch; a rare comedy gem.
Click here to watch Darryl: An Outward Bound Story on TVNZ OnDemand
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