The inimitable Kerry Smith as Magda on NZ’s most glamourously fun drama, Gloss. (Photo: NZ on Screen / TVNZ, Design: Tina Tiller)
The inimitable Kerry Smith as Magda on NZ’s most glamourously fun drama, Gloss. (Photo: NZ on Screen / TVNZ, Design: Tina Tiller)

TelevisionOctober 21, 2021

Gloss is the shiny, shoulder-padded unicorn of local drama

The inimitable Kerry Smith as Magda on NZ’s most glamourously fun drama, Gloss. (Photo: NZ on Screen / TVNZ, Design: Tina Tiller)
The inimitable Kerry Smith as Magda on NZ’s most glamourously fun drama, Gloss. (Photo: NZ on Screen / TVNZ, Design: Tina Tiller)

The 80s were hard for New Zealand, but at least we had Gloss. 

We stare at screens all day and all night. Is this good for us? We’re going to talk about that. Read more Screen Week content here. 

Roughly 10 minutes into the first episode of TVNZ’s 80s drama Gloss a character named Jasmine (played with winning acidity by Geeling Ng) muses: “Women with short legs look vile in hats! It’s just one of those things.” I watched the episode a week ago, via NZ on Screen, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it since. 

I’ve no idea whether it’s actually true – I generally don’t gauge leg-to-accessory ratio on other people – but my god, it’s funny. It’s also emblematic of what Gloss is at its best: a heavy dose of fun, served with a side dish of the ludicrous and a few drops of venom.

If you’re not clear on what Gloss is, I am delighted to fill you in. It was a drama that was very much in the vein of 80s dramas, in that it was actually a primetime soap opera – think Dynasty, Falcon Crest, Dallas. It ran for three seasons from 1987-90, had 55 episodes (imagine that happening now!), and is fondly remembered as a highlight of our televisual output in the 80s. Where everyone else went dour, Gloss went sour. When they went fam(ily), Gloss went glam. It stood out.

The series told two stories. The first was of Gloss, a high-fashion magazine that, somewhat infuriatingly, did not actually print on glossy paper. The second was the story of the Redferns, a ridiculously wealthy family flaunting  that mid-Oceanic accent that nobody born after 1990 actually has.

You want drama? Take this plotline, also from the first episode. The Redfern patriarch, Brad Redfern (Michael Keir-Morrissey) is having a secret wedding, seemingly just so his ex-wife Maxine, who runs Gloss with shoulder pads that make her look like a contender for the All Blacks’ front row, doesn’t interrupt it. Given that Maxine has what seems like an undiagnosed addiction to interpersonal drama, he’s not wrong.

Of course, Maxine interrupts the wedding and it blows up spectacularly.

The wonderful Ilona Rodgers as Maxine (Photo: NZ on Screen / TVNZ)

Which brings me to what makes Gloss special: it never forgets that it must be entertaining. Is it an especially great example of TV? Well, no. It’s an hour-long drama made in the 80s – the plots are padded out more than the shoulders, and while the duds are high fashion, the sets and cinematography are high nothing. But there’s a commitment to always giving us something to look at or laugh at that I really miss in an era of, “Oh it gets good after the third episode of the second season.”

From the jump, Gloss is camper than a row of homosexual tents. It doesn’t bore us with the ins and outs of writing for a magazine, which is good because there’s nothing I want to see less than people struggling to meet their deadline. No, it gives us the drama of a writer being fired from her column because her writing sucks – a genuine plot from later on in the series. It gives us people yelling at each other and then storming off… It gives us the goods, lean and mean.

I compare Gloss to something like Filthy Rich, which often felt like it had Gloss-esque aspirations. That series, which played on TV3 for two coldly received seasons, was a misfire for one reason alone: it forgot to be fun. Rather than lean into the sudsy stakes of the concept – rich guy has three illegitimate children who want in – it refused to enjoy itself. It was drama but it wasn’t drama.

Should we bring Gloss back? God no! The TV landscape has changed and honestly, based on the media landscape at the moment, I’m not sure any show about the magazine industry could be anything other than a bleak kitchen sink drama. But what we definitely need is more shows made here that are like Gloss. 

I want to see more stories that reflect the makeup of New Zealand, but we need to acknowledge some of those stories are really silly. Some of those stories are “what the actual hell” yarns. Some of those stories are catty gossip told over bottles of cheap sav. And once upon a time, one of those stories was Gloss.

You can watch the first episode of Gloss on NZ on Screen.

Mad Chapman, Editor
Aotearoa continues to adapt to a new reality and The Spinoff is right there, sorting fact from fiction to bring you the latest updates and biggest stories. Help us continue this coverage, and so much more, by supporting The Spinoff Members.Madeleine Chapman, EditorJoin Members

Get The Spinoff
in your inbox