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Throwback Thursday: Being Eve and the fantasy of the Y2K New Zealand teen

Katie Parker reopens the locker of her adolescence in Being Eve, the local teen series brimming with asymmetrical tank tops, IRL dating and fourth wall-breaking.

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Like all naive pre-teens, at the age of 10 all I wanted in the world was to hit adolescence. Whether I was trimming my non-existent leg hair with scissors or studying my face hopefully for pimples, I was hyper-aware of the future that awaited. With the help of Being Eve, I felt only too ready to tackle them.

Being Eve was New Zealand’s seminal local show that tackled the trials and tribulations of everyday adolescent life in little ol’ Aotearoa. Airing from 2001 to 2002, it could not have come at a better time in my life.

From her family (sassy single mum, clueless plumber father, trashy but well meaning stepmother, stoner TV-addicted brother), to her peers (drama queen Sylvie, platonic-ish one time boyfriend Matt, bitchy blonde Charlotte, multiple nondescript hot guys who didn’t notice her), Eve’s life was bursting with topics to chew on.

Eve Baxter seemed like the ultimate every-teen. Nerdy and awkward with her twin braids and wire framed glasses, she was also charming, precocious and outspoken. Not to mention that, in spite of her get-up, there was never really any hiding that Fleur Saville was a total babe.

It really did feel like you knew what it was to ‘be’ Eve. Speaking frequently straight to camera about her feelings à la Malcolm in the Middle, Eve’s fears and anxieties were often played out in fantasy sequences and pop culture homages.

In a bid for social realism, each episode took time away from the narrative to feature vox pops from actual teens. They would talk directly into their lockers, giving some candid hot-takes on the issue at hand.

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Hard hitting stuff I know, but Skins this was not.

These kids didn’t even have cellphones – let alone smartphones. Instead, Eve and co. stumbled forth with nary a single think piece to guide them. There were no selfies, sexts or tweets. The millennial apocalypse was not yet foretold. To watch it now, the total lack of prescience is soothing.

Ending after only two seasons, my teenage years began without Eve and were nothing as she had forecast. Avril Lavigne came and went. The O.C. usurped my teenage dream. The nice little narrative I had planned was disrupted: along came phones and Myspace; better phones and Bebo; even better phones and Facebook.

Which is also to say that Being Eve has dated horrifically. The social issues; the clothes; the pop-culture fantasy sequences; the horrific takes on race relations – it is hard to believe the recent past could feel so distant.

Being Eve is a vestige of another time, in which reverse racism, asymmetrical tank tops and IRL dating were still firmly on the table. A time that can only be understood once it is confronted…

The Big Issues

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Attending a high school unconstrained by NCEA – or seemingly any fixed curriculum – Eve had far too much on her plate to concern herself with academics. Death, eating, disorders, bullying, pregnancy: Being Eve was there to cover it all. She may have been a sensible, bookish young woman, but Eve and her friends were by no means immune to high school drama.

In each episode, Eve confronts yet another of teenage life’s little mysteries. For ‘Being Beautiful’ Eve agonises over her looks; “Being a Couple” focuses on the day-to-day of being in an ‘official’ relationship; and in “Being Reborn” she ponders theology. So on and so forth.

Funnily enough, many of these issues boiled down to the same core problem: boys. Perpetually fawning after hot, gormless, brunettes (Adam in season one, Sam in season two), Eve and Sylvie spend a troubling amount of time figuring out how to get male attention. Eve undergoes a sexy makeover to catch Adam’s eye; Sylvie joins a cult with an attractive leader; Eve makes a clay sculpture of Adam for a class project; Sylvie disastrously tries to find a ball-date via a chat room.

In this world before heart-eyes emoji, the struggle truly was real – one can only thank the gods we now have Tinder.

The race relations

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It may be hard to believe, but 15 or so years ago New Zealand wasn’t quite the cosmopolitan utopia we enjoy today. Never one to shy away from the big issues, the fairly innocuous-sounding episode “Being a Couple” made a pretty bold stab at remedying that.

The trouble starts when Eve’s new boyfriend Matt, a hip hop dancer, is cast in a music video shoot. Eve says, direct to camera, “that’s my spunky Māori boyfriend and I’m very proud.”

But then, disaster strikes. Having both brought their younger brothers to the shoot, Matt’s brother is chosen to appear in the video while Eve’s Pākehā brother Caleb is overlooked. Matt tries to tell her he just wouldn’t fit in. Eve is incensed. Caleb digs a grave in the garden in which to bury his little hip hop outfit.

“I think I’ve just had my first fight with my first boyfriend,” Eve cries. “Why did it have to be about something as complicated as race relations?” Yes, that old chestnut.

It doesn’t end there. A subplot sees Sylvie attract the attention of an Fijian-Indian named Pravesh. He works in a dairy. He has a clearly fake accent. He gets called “dot head” and “curry muncher” at school. Sylvie refuses to date him until he serenades her with a Bollywood-style song and, after realising she can get free stuff from the dairy, Sylvie has a change of heart.

Amidst all of this, Eve’s stepmother gifts her with a novel titled Savage Desire to help with her “interracial relationship”. There’s an uncomfortable scene in which Eve’s family unwillingly eat Chinese food in the form of chicken feet; and then there’s a full-on parody of The Piano. The episode is full of outrageously outmoded good intentions.

The fashion

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Though she spends the majority of her time in a realistically unappealing green school uniform, the absolute best part of Being Eve was the clothes.

Aesthetically, the early 2000s were a funny time for everyone. Asymmetry, camo, diamantes and many other things deemed “funky” were go, and not even the most dedicated art waif can truly replicate the chaos and the confusion.

There are too many amazing fashion moments to count. Those that stand out: Sylvie leaving the cult after having to give up her Calvin Klein thong; Eve shopping with her ditzy stepmum in one of the best mall makeover scenes ever (accompanied by Kiwi classic ‘Workout’ by Purrr). Finally, like any good teen show, Being Eve’s final episode featured a truly perfect prom dress.

Of course, being New Zealand this was not a prom – but a ball. And what a ball it was. Believing her true love Sam to be lost forever to her superficial rival Imogen, Eve almost didn’t go. Thankfully, one pep talk from her father later, Eve is rescued from a night at home in her pyjamas and makes the best, most iconic ball entrance in New Zealand ball television history.

Doing her best Claire Danes-era Romeo and Juliet, a disillusioned Eve walks in amidst a sea of bubbles and backlit by some shimmery shredded cellophane. Sam, suddenly disgusted with Imogen, takes to the stage to confess his love. The two dance and kiss the night away.

(Never mind that Sam lied to Eve about still being with Imogen, or that earlier that day Sam said they would never be more than just friends and he was taking Imogen to the ball, or that Imogen was just publicly humiliated and left to watch her boyfriend go make out with some random amongst the bubbles.)

Eve Baxter may wind up with the guy who had said he didn’t want her just that afternoon – but at least she does it in style. And somewhere, in the divine afterlife of cancelled New Zealand television characters, I’m sure she knows better now.


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