Every person and their dog has made a film reboot for television overseas, so why hasn’t New Zealand? Aaron Yap picks some classic films that are due a television revival.
Confession: I don’t watch New Zealand television. It’s not that NZ TV sucks, although there is definitely an element of that. A huge one. I can’t shake the overriding impression that it’s inferior to international TV. In all fairness, as much as cultural cringe is a valid reason as any to avoid NZ shows in this time of peak TV, I haven’t watched enough to be able to authoritatively arrive at that conclusion. I’d like to think that I’m not alone in this, that there’s a whole market of New Zealanders who have minimal-to-zero desire to tune into homegrown television.
Why? Let’s try to unpack this.
In recent years, I tuned into our versions of reality programming such as The Bachelor NZ, New Zealand’s Next Top Model and The X-Factor NZ. When I first moved here some 27 years ago, I recall catching What Now, Ice TV and the earliest, most awkward seasons of Shortland Street. I’ve sat through episodes of Street Legal and Mercy Peak, if only to tape those split-second moments I appeared as a background extra. I’d include Flight of the Conchords here, but since it’s HBO and we’re going to keep the discussion specifically of local product, it doesn’t count. This makes the list of the NZ TV I’m acquainted with rather limited. Essentially, these are the shows that have coloured my perception of what NZ TV is.
I could be way off base, but my honest-to-goodness view of NZ TV is that’s it safe, dull and unadventurous. There aren’t many, if any, shows with interesting hooks. There’s a lot of reality, lifestyle TV, and a lot of middle-of-the-road comedy and dramas. There’s a desperate preoccupation with the country’s identity. There’s very little interest in producing genre-based TV (sci-fi, horror, action, etc.). Nor is there a sense that anyone, or at least the gatekeepers of creative funding, wants to push the envelope, challenge conventions and take chances. It’s very hard to prioritise committing to the tumbleweed-generating likes of Filthy Rich and Dirty Laundry when there are more provocative, chatter-worthy shows like Mr. Robot or Westworld around.
I guess the simplest reason why I don’t watch NZ TV is because there isn’t anything out there that grabs me. So what would I like to see? Perhaps a musical miniseries based on the birth of Flying Nun records, and the key players of the “Dunedin sound” scene. A gritty, sprawling Sons of Anarchy-style drama that takes us into inner lives of the Mongrel Mob – perhaps seen from the perspective of a teenager growing up in that world. An immersive, lushly mounted period piece about the first Asian immigrants in New Zealand, with stories drawn from historical documents. A surreal long-form rural murder mystery in the vein of Top of the Lake, set in the sheep-shearing community.
Ideally, you’d want a show that inspires intense Hunt for the Wilderpeople-levels of mania. Maybe there’s another Barry Crump book gathering dust, crying for an adaptation. The forthcoming What We Do in the Shadows spinoff seems like a promising step in the right direction: capitalising on a culty property, made by filmmakers with an established online presence. In fact, our film history is teeming with untapped possibilities. We have a vault of creaky/lame/flawed movies that could use a good spit-and-polish, as well as distinguished classics that could be expanded on or rebooted.
These are probably awful, baffling pitches, but just for the sake of brainstorming, humour me for a sec:
Sci-fi is so hot right now that a reboot of Geoff Murphy’s 1985 end-of-the-world favourite could just work. Something that deepens the mythology, fleshes out characters and upgrades the effects while retaining the modest, character-driven qualities of the original. Scale it along the lines of The Leftovers. The film’s mind-bending last shot, which has no doubt stayed in the minds of everyone who’s seen the movie, is a great starting point to reimagine the whole thing.
This might be one of our misbegotten stabs at Americanised action filmmaking, but don’t tell me we don’t have a stunt industry itching to blow minds, and stretches of unused road ready to accommodate wild chase scenes. There’s this notion that we do personal stories better than big action, but I want to call bullshit on that. It’s a noose around creativity. Remember we’re a country with a hand in developing four Avatar sequels, so maybe a thriller miniseries about stunt drivers enmeshed in some kind of government bioweapon conspiracy isn’t too outlandish? Edge of Darkness meets Fast and the Furious.
Robert Sarkies’ low-budget feature debut struck a chord when it came out in ’99, its darkly comic portrait of uni life in Dunners translating to an impressive box office success. A TV remake or sequel could find one of the original cast members – now older, wiser – returning to their former stomping grounds and getting up to mischief with a millennial generation of scrappy, hapless couch-burners who are trying to graduate, pay the rent and rob meth dens at the same time.
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Not sure whatever happened to Scott Reynolds, but the stylish, pulpy sensibility he displayed as a director – particularly The Ugly – could find a comfortable place on telly. Though far from a great film, there are enough intriguing and strange elements floating around in the narrative that could gel into a sharp, bingeable psychological shocker a la Hannibal or The Fall. Maybe he could repurpose The Ugly into a sheep-shearing murder mystery.
I’m partly being facetious, but the potential for exciting, ambitious, offbeat TV is there. Our history and culture are rich enough to tap for storytelling ideas and cater to a diverse range of audiences. I’m looking forward to the day when my taste of NZ TV drama will broaden beyond “You’re not in Guatemala now, Dr. Ropata.”
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