Like all the greatest comedians, Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement have a strong and unique collective artistic voice, the core components of which are on display in their latest TV series, Wellington Paranormal. As with their hit film What We Do In The Shadows – which itself is becoming a TV show – they utilise the mocumentary format, naive characters, strong New Zealand idiom and the collision of the extremely mundane with the extraordinary to create very dry – and frequently brilliant – humour.
It is the naivety of the characters that is their greatest artistic gamble and pay-off. Throughout their work – including Flight of The Conchords, on which Waititi was not a creator but a contributing writer/director – most of the characters, and certainly the leads, are so unsophisticated as to credibly be called “dumb”. But this is not dumb comedy – not by a million miles – and these characters are never the butt of the jokes. Somehow – and it’s a kind of alchemy – characters like Rhys Darby’s Murray Hewitt on Conchords and his artistic descendants Officer O’Leary (Karen O’Leary), Officer Minogue (Mike Minogue) and Sergeant Maaka (Maaka Pohatu) are admirable in their honest attempts to overcome their own ignorance, noble in their own ignobility.
If you like their style, there’s a lot to love here, although for me the hook itself – that Wellington is beset by paranormal spooks and freaky creatures – is the least interesting element. The human characters are the thing here, just as they were on Conchords, which didn’t need a high concept. That masterpiece – I think it’s among the greatest TV comedies of all time – was simply about three knuckleheads trying to get by, which meant it was about, and for, us all.