There’s something about Kiwis. Whether it’s the accent, the natural friendliness, or the calm, phlegmatic response to basically any situation no matter how disturbing, Kiwis seem born to make us laugh. Anyone who’s ever watched the strangely addictive cops-on-the-beat documentary series Police Ten 7 knows the kind of comedy gold that flows from the average New Zealander. But Police Ten 7 is, ostensibly, only an accidental comedy: press the humble Kiwi copper into service in a deliberate one, and the laughs become supercharged. That’s where Wellington Paranormal comes in.
WP is a spin-off of the masterful vampire mockumentary What We Do In The Shadows, which was the brainchild of Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement and director Taika Waititi, whose spectacularly oddball talents have since been embraced by Hollywood (Thor: Ragnarok among others). That movie featured, in a couple of memorable scenes, a pair of utterly oblivious Wellington police officers, whose investigations into the private lives of vampires led to the discovery of nothing more sinister than an absence of smoke detectors. Clement and Waititi saw the potential in this dedicated but clueless pair, and Wellington Paranormal was born.
The show follows the eldritch adventures of Officers Karen O’Leary and Mike Minogue, hard-working members of the Wellington constabulary who coincidentally share the same names as the actors who play them. O’Leary and Minogue are ordinary cops who work under the supervision of Sergeant Maaka investigating all the supernatural occurrences that crop up in the Kiwi capital on a surprisingly regular basis. Whether they be demons, ghosts, aliens or witches, O’Leary and Minogue are on their trail to read them their rights and deal with them in strict accordance with the law and police protocol.
The overall effect is something like The X-Files, if Mulder and Scully were mainly interested in handing out parking tickets to extra-terrestrials. The foundation of the humour comes from O’Leary and Minogue’s completely deadpan response to the spooks and monsters they keep running into: no matter how nightmarish or ridiculous the threat, they handle it in the manner of the heroes of Police Ten 7 escorting a rowdy drunk home on a Saturday night. On top of this is their boss Maaka’s enthusiasm for the assignments he gives them: the sergeant is an ordinary Kiwi flatfoot fighting his own nature in his desire for a more exciting and glamorous existence. Maaka knows his caseload is filled with the extraordinary, but O’Leary and Minogue keep bringing him, disappointingly, back to earth – all the more amusing for the fact that “down to earth” is exactly where the team objectively is not.
The premise, clever as it is, would not work without the wondrous chemistry between O’Leary and Minogue as their fictional namesakes. Never fully understanding what they’re caught up in, but triumphing through their steadfast commitment to correct procedure, the pair fill every episode with cackleworthy banter that twists mundanity around absurdity to create a double act to rank with the greats. Vaguely reminiscent of the byplay of Clement and Bret McKenzie in FOTC, but even more idiosyncratically NZ-ish, the two officers bounce off each other hysterically while never offering the slightest wink to the audience – unbreakable in their straight-facedness. Minogue is the somewhat more naive partner, frequently bemusing the more sensible O’Leary with his misconceptions of the world, but they match each other in utter refusal to treat the paranormal as anything but normal. A rare, brilliant, and above all else, unmistakably Kiwi gem in the schedule.
Wellington Paranormal is on SBS Viceland, Thursday, 9.25pm.