WELLINGTON PARANORMAL : Episodes 1-3. Good, but you want better

A demonic possession, aliens in crops, and 70’s poltergeists prompting noise complaints: the first three creepy cases confronting the new paranormal unit at Wellington police.

“Wellington Paranormal” has been credited as being the brainchild of both Jermaine Clement and Taika Waititi, two gentlemen in the upper stratosphere of New Zealand comedy, and justly recognised as such overseas.

After three episodes Waititi has been given executive producer credit, but no scripting or directing, while Clement has tackled both these chores, along with others.

And what these two comedic heavyweights give us is a follow up to their successful 2014 mockumentary vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows, also based in Wellington. The television series takes two characters from the film, Officer O’Leary (Karen O’Leary) and Officer Minogue (Mike Minogue), and has them joining a new paranormal unit, the brainchild of Senior Sergeant Maaka (Maaka Pohatu). Given the critics raved so much about the movie, you can’t blame the creators wanting to extend that run, this time on a smaller screen.

The bottom line is that if you liked the film there’s a good chance you’ll like Wellington Paranormal. Again we have that low budget, silly comedy with a straight face fare. The actors are dumped in ludicrous scenes and play them straight and a little dumb, and, in the case of Minogue’s character, a lot dumb.

I confess to having a mixed reaction. Yes, the approach is intentionally familiar, but after three short (about 21 minutes each) episodes, it’s feeling a little tired. We know what we’re getting. The trick of course is to be clever enough in the writing and performances that this doesn’t matter. Well, I have laughed, make no mistake, but not as much as I would have liked.

There are some nice lines: “If we identify a UFO does that mean it’s just an FO?” asks Minogue in episode two. Linking the crop circles in the same episode to the cover of Led Zeppelin’s Remasters was a nice touch too. But Officer Minogue’s suggestion – in the same episode – that a cow may have got stuck up a tree because the trees grew around it over many years didn’t zing for me. In another scene Sergeant Maaka talks of being so scared his pubic hair turned white and he offers to show it to both O’Leary and Minogue (O’Leary declines). Not a winner for me. I should note that as an
Aucklander I have undoubtedly missed some of the Wellington-centric jokes which have so entertained critics based in the capital. Fair cop.

As far as the performances go, O’Leary’s deadpan earnestness and Maaka’s desperation to believe in the supernatural do work, while I find Minogue’s character, playing the outright silliest of them all, often more irritating than funny. Maybe that’s on purpose and I’m missing the point.

It’ll be interesting to see whether Waititi takes up some scripting duties, and what difference this may make. You’d think the guy who single handedly changed the mood and feel of the multi-squillion dollar Marvel Cinematic Universe may have an impact in this area. Even if Waititi doesn’t get more hands on, it’s still worth giving Wellington Paranormal a shot. It’s just these guys have set their bar very high now, and our expectations are probably even higher. Yes it’s good, but you’re wishing it were even better.

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