Release: 29th May 2017
Format: DVD / DGTL
Journalist David Farrier goes on a quest to small town New Zealand to find the average Kiwi. What he finds in this mockumentary series, is a lovable bunch of people who are anything but ordinary or average. Each week he meets a new local, all played by Rhys Darby.
Rhys Darby has come a long way from roll call obsessed band ‘manager’ Murray Hewitt. Once a brilliant and endearing support act, he has long been front and centre doing his own thing as “the other” great comedy export from New Zealand. The primary names, of course, being a certain musical double act who gave us ‘Business Time’ and director Taika Waititi.
Much like his Australian contemporary, Chris Lilley (Summer Heights High, We Can Be Heroes), Darby has launched his own style of one-man-in-many-guises mockumentary, Short Poppies. Now approaching 3 years old and only 1 season in, the show has made a slow run from on demand services in New Zealand, then abroad – briefly finding a home on Netflix – before finally arriving on DVD.
It is a lovely little show that eschews some Kiwi archetypes (whale watching tour guide, park ranger, et al) whilst also spawning some outlandish creations ranging from a UFO fanatic to a budding leg model / lifeguard. The show is pure Darby; high energy, nerdy and a little camp. Its aim is to take the viewer in to a world of utterly nutso caricatures as they bound through their seemingly minuscule existences, treating every moment like it is life changing (but then again, don’t we all!). Along for the journey is real life journalist David Farrier who is best known now as the filmmaker behind ‘you couldn’t make that 💩 up’- documentary Tickled.
Short Poppies treads a fine line, always laughing at what its subjects do, while never making them the butt of a joke. We, of course, know for example that Ron Taylor is Darby in a hat, but he is so fun to watch, so sweet and impish, it would feel wrong to laugh directly at him. In fact, his dynamic with chip shop worker Jason is so entertaining, there is room for an entire spin off. Meanwhile, loveable idiots Terry Pole, Bill Napier and Louise Cooper are just too endearing to see fail. Darby does his best work when he is making us root for these people without ever making them feel overly sympathetic, or without hitting us in the face with too much schmaltz. Farrier, too, proves a wonderful straight man to Darby’s insane antics. It would be too obvious to compare him to the likes of Louis Theroux, but there are moments when one of Darby’s creation is at the hight of eccentricity leaving Farrier in the enviable position of at once being woefully shocked, but oddly mesmerised. He has a knowing innocene and winning presence, and at it is at times like these when the Theroux comparison is all too clear.
One of the show’s highlights in passive aggressive face palm inducing Mary Ledbetter. A particularly great moment for Mary comes in her visit to the local hairdressers, with guest star Karl Urban giving 110% and proving great comedy chops. There are, as Mary would say, a few criticisms of the show. Even at 20 minutes each, most episodes run out of steam fairly quickly, and Darby’s style can become a little repetitive over a long period, so the show does not lend itself to binge watching. Also, the lack of a second season leaves one to ponder, is it worth investing in these characters if we will never see them again. Except Bill, of course, who has been supporting Darby’s stand up show for years.
This being said, there is definitely something to be had in watching a grown man bronzing his skin and entering a “leg off”.
Film Grade: B
Trailers and some commentary.
Special Features Grade: D
A gem of a show, that has been all but neglected. As if finally arrives on DVD, the lack of attention to details speaks volumes about an unloved and low key release.
Overall Grade: C