Anika Moa Unleashed had a triumphant first season, and showcased the singer-personality as one of our best interviewers, but what does the second season do with her?
If you wrote Anika Moa as a character in a work of fiction, you’d be told she was too perfect and you had to go back to the drawing board and give her some flaws and texture.
As it stands, Anika Moa is a real life human being who happens to be a very good singer, a talented and charismatic news presenter, and an astonishingly good interviewer.
In the first season of Anika Moa Unleashed, Moa made a human out of Paula Bennett, got Sam Neill to swear, and gently ribbed First Fish Murderer™ Clarke Gayford. She’s a deft hand at getting the most media-trained and avoidant of personalities to let down their guard and show their human side, persuading them to laugh at themselves and their persona. It’s as simple as Moa sitting down with them, making fun of them, and asking them questions that no journalist would ask for fear of angering some PR person somewhere.
The second season gives her a hard task from the outset: Stan Walker.
To clarify, the hard task is not Stan Walker himself, who proved in his documentary to be a gregarious and charismatic presence who was ready to take the wind out of the sails that had been thrust upon him. Those sails being, you know, a life-threatening cancer. The hard task Moa faces is addressing that in a way that blends with the tone of Unleashed which leans towards the comedy side of online short content.
The way Moa does it? She takes the piss out of it, in what has now become her trademark style. The interview starts off with her reading a list of things she doesn’t like about Stan Walker, which includes an off-hand remark about how she hates the way he eats KFC, followed up with a Mamet-quick aside of, “You can’t eat that anymore, let’s cross that off.” That is, referencing how Walker had his entire stomach removed as part of his treatment.
It breaks the ice. It lets both Walker – although let’s be real, Walker knew what he was getting into with this interview and was clearly more than up to it – and the audience know that they’re going to talk about Walker’s illness, and they’re going to make light of it.
Moa allows Walker to talk comfortably and honestly about how he views his disease, in a way that few other interviewers would be willing to. There’s no hush around it, no sidestepping of potentially awkward places in the conversation. It’s a frank conversation, and it’s funny as hell. When Moa calls Walker’s donation of some of his tour proceeds to cancer research a publicity-grab, he riffs on it, saying flatly, “If you want to buy tickets just to feel sorry for me, I actually don’t care.”
It’s a showcase of the thing that makes Anika Moa a great interviewer. Sure, she’s funny. Sure, she comes well-prepared. Sure, she can self-deprecate and self-inflate in the same sentence, getting all the points for doing both those things without any of the drawbacks. Those are all contributing factors to a good interviewer, at least of a certain sort. But the thing that makes Moa great is that she invites her guests to meet her at her level.
That is, she allows her interviewee to be all the things that makes Moa an absolute joy to watch. Last season, she allowed Paula Bennett to make fun of herself, show her human side, which is not a side you get to see when she’s on the other end of a journalist’s agenda and deadline. In this episode, she lets Walker own his disease and his response to it in such a subtle way that you don’t notice how much skill it takes from Moa.
The scripted aspects of the show continue to jar a little – not because they’re not funny, but because the sketches feel like a distraction from interviews. There’s comedy gold in Moa and Walker singing a duet at a piano, which Moa cleverly plants during the interview by teasing Walker with her own jealousy, but it’s less compelling than watching Moa and Walker riff together. The more seasoned comedic performers she has coming up – like Chris Parker and Thomas Sainsbury or Urzila Carlson or, Parliament forbid, David Seymour – the sketches might tick up in quality, but it’s hard to imagine them becoming the main draw for the show.
Nobody gets New Zealand celebrities like Moa does. More importantly, nobody strips back that celebrity like she does. She’s game like a deer in the eyes of a rifle, and she’s as assured on camera as someone who’s been doing it decades longer.
So while the hook for the series might be the people she’s interviewing – the show has the likes of Judith Collins and David Farrier coming down the pipeline – the thing that makes it essential is the fact that it’s Anika Moa interviewing them. She knows the best way to be watchable is to take the piss out of yourself: she’s done it her whole career, and she provides a platform for people to do it. In a country where even our prime minister is a tweet away, she reminds us that we’re all bloody humans.
Anika Moa Unleashed remains essential viewing for one reason alone: Anika Moa.
Anika Moa Unleashed drops weekly on TVNZ on Demand starting today. You can also watch the entire first season on TVNZ on Demand.