Photo: ‘Wellington Paranormal’
Doubling Down and Finding Success
As we have written about on this very site, there is an abundance of incredible comedic talent running rampant and controlling our cultural zeitgeist right now coming from New Zealand, and that is a very good thing. Lost in all of the talk about Taika Waititi’s incredibly meteoric rise to prominence as one of the most in-demand filmmakers in the game, is the work of him and his frequent collaborator, Jemaine Clement. Perhaps best known as one half of the comedic musical duo and show of the same name ‘Flight of the Conchords’, Clement has been behind some of the most impressive comedic work of the last two decades and his collaborations with Waititi have produced some of the best comedy on television today.
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‘Wellington Paranormal’, the comedy about three inept New Zealand police officers who find themselves on the front lines of a battle against supernatural disturbances in Wellington, New Zealand is his and Waititi’s baby. The show recently released the first two episodes of its third season on HBO Max, and it is back in rare form. Clement and Waititi created the show based on the characters of officers Minogue and O’Leary, completely bumbling and clueless police officers who first appeared in the film version of ‘What We Do in the Shadows’ which was co-written and directed by Clement and Waititi. The series follows the officers via a documentary camera crew as they investigate and try to solve matters of the seemingly overwhelmed by the supernatural Wellington.
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The show is a master class in comedy writing by the prolific duo. As is the case with much of the work of Clement and Waititi, the comedy stems directly from the characters they have created, in Minogue, O’Leary, and their superior, Sergeant Maaka. Their projects are so reliant on ridiculous, yet just believable enough characters that allow them to flourish where they could so easily fall completely flat and come across as too unrealistic. They walk right up to the line of absurdity and then bring it back in a remarkably believable yet still insane way. They build worlds and settings like no one else currently in the game, and it makes for some of the most impressive and for the audience’s sake, hilarious filmmaking.
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‘Wellington Paranormal’ – Therein Lies the Conceit
To that end of world-building and structure, the most impressive thing that stands out about ‘Wellington Paranormal’ is the frustrating but masterfully concocted conceit at the heart of the show. The show’s central framework involves these bumbling officers getting to the bottom of the most mystifying, terrifying, and absurd supernatural occurrences, but we never learn what caused them or how they will be corrected moving forward. Everything from aliens to ghosts to demons is covered throughout the show, with no rhyme or reason as to why nor is their carryover about the potentially apocalypse-inducing events of the preceding episode.
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The writers are skewering shows about ghost hunting and the supernatural, while also demonstrating they have an appreciation and talent for classic horror and science fiction movies and shows. They are able to make the occurrences both legitimately terrifying, but also low stakes enough that they are played for hilarious ensuing comedy. Minogue, O’Leary, and Maaka are always able to ultimately get to the bottom of what the “monster of the week” is, but they never reveal why or how it will be defeated on a more permanent basis. It becomes a comedy bit completely and utterly to itself and plays perfectly throughout the series, once you finally get a grasp of the concept. As an audience member, you watch them solve and figure out what the occurrence is, but never why it happened or if it will stop permanently. It leaves the audience disjointed and frustrated, but also perfectly reminded that it is a comedy we are dealing with after all.
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As much as the show is aligned with horror and the supernatural, it is also a pitch-perfect parody of procedural cop shows like ‘Law and Order.’ ‘Wellington Paranormal’ follows all the same beats and parameters of a normal detective procedural, but where those officers are competent and able to apprehend the bad guys, our officers are not. Reliant on both the relationship and chemistry of those shows, Minogue and O’Leary have the same sort of interactions filled with casual banter and an understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses that come across as both hilarious and fairly touching. With Sergeant Maaka playing the part of the “hard ass” chief as a complete and total teddy bear, the officers are perfectly set up for failure and somehow are able to solve occurrences despite their best bumbling efforts.
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Advancing the Mockumentary Concept
As with all great works of media, it is not enough to simply replicate a concept, you must adapt and evolve with it. So is the case here with the “mockumentary” style used to film ‘Wellington Paranormal.’ Reminiscent of all-time comedy hits like ‘The Office’ or ‘Spinal Tap’, the style of having a crew follow the subjects and give aside interviews has worked for a very long time. One aspect ‘Wellington Paranormal’ does a tremendous job of is furthering this process along to include breaking the fourth wall and utilizing a “found footage” style of filmmaking in conjunction with the mockumentary style.
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As our officers who we follow are often chasing down supernatural leads, a brilliant thing the show does is employ the fourth wall to elevate the tension. No one on the set of the film is safe and anyone is fair game at all times for potential danger, helping to heighten the stakes and also the comedy of a given scene. Watching as Minogue and O’Leary turn from confident and competent police officers to the scared straight goofy individuals they truly are at heart is masterfully captured through the lens of the documentary crew. The crew being right on top of them also lends itself to great bits from Minogue or O’Leary to address the camera head-on about their feelings as they head toward imminent danger, and played pitch-perfectly by the actors it works very well and feels refreshing.
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‘Wellington Paranormal’ is truly an original and inspired series, and for any fans of Clement and Waititi’s other work, you will not be disappointed. For those that are fans or may be unfamiliar with their previous work, I would encourage all to check out ‘Wellington Paranormal’ on HBO Max where the first two full seasons and the first 2 episodes of the third season are now streaming.
Cast: Mike Minogue, Karen O’Leary and Maaka Pohatu | Created by: Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement
By Mark Raymond
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Mark Raymond is a writer and screenwriter who believes himself to be the only person desiring to work in film who originated in New York and currently resides in Los Angeles. Mark was inspired to write from a young age and has always desired to connect and uplift others through his work, as those that motivated him did for him. Mark feels very strongly that the world could use a lot more positivity and optimism, and is therefore very aligned to the mission of The Hollywood Insider to not spread hate or gossip, but instead to build each other up and shine a positive light on anyone bold enough to put their heart and soul into a piece of art. In his writing, Mark aims to use his signature wit to highlight the severity of the more serious and pressing issues of our time, to shine a beacon of light through the darkness. A devoted ally to all, he seeks to inspire and use his platform to give a voice to the voiceless and let his readers know that while everything may not be great right now, one day it can and will be.