It’s not often New Zealand television makes me shed a tear. In a good way, I mean, as opposed to the “RIP, state television current affairs” way. The opening scenes of TV3’s new series The Blue Rose almost managed it. They were so … good. Possibly the most assured I’ve seen launching a local television drama (suggestions welcome).
In some ways, this was television crime series as usual: scantily clad girls on the rantan down at the Viaduct; body (young, female) in the water. But Auckland has seldom looked so pleasingly noir-ish, everything tinged a moody, cyanotic blue. In a few efficient scenes, Antonia Prebble and Siobhan Marshall set about making you forget Outrageous Fortune’s Loretta and Pascalle and established themselves in the tradition of ill-matched female crime-solving duos: Cagney and Lacey; Rosemary and Thyme; Scott and Bailey …
Prebble’s Jane: mild-mannered temp legal secretary, filling in for the dead Rose. Marshall’s Linda: scary courier company manager. Each has skin in this game. Rose was Linda’s best friend. Jane’s parents lost money in the collapse of a finance company connected to the law firm, and to Rose’s death.
Linda is also, as everyone reminds her, a mad cow. “You’re going to stop me?” she sneers persuasively at a burly security guy when she storms the office to pick up Rose’s effects and bowl the office bitch. Jane, who reveals chutzpah beneath the pallid, Bronte-esque demeanour, to the rescue. The two recognise a kindred spirit – a skilful subtextual transaction between Prebble and Marshall – and they set about solving the murder, avenging victims of the finance company and setting a lot of generic, market-driven flimflam to rights. Somehow, this is all vaguely believable.
If the chemistry works, it’s down to people who have been allowed to develop serious skills over time. Outrageous Fortune’s Rachel Lang and James Griffin custom-made these characters for actors they knew well.
Reservations? The pace. We learn too much too quickly. The promisingly sinister IT guy is soon revealed to be friend, not foe. Jane’s cheated parents have a cheque in the mail by episode two. The writers, you can only hope, have a lot more tricks up their sleeves to be going on with.
There is also some dialogue that rather overstates the bleeding obvious: “The world is full of assholes who treat other people like shit. They shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it!”etc. The endemic sex and swearing of Outrageous hasn’t entirely been expunged, but the earlier timeslot means there’s a lot of “Oh, frickin’ hell!” Never mind. So far, the series seems to have what it’s impossible to fake: sufficient respect for its audience and sufficient heart. I’m in.
I’ll be sticking with TV1’s Agent Anna, too. Like its lead character, newbie realtor Anna Kingston, this quiet comedy is in danger of being overshadowed by something sexier. At its best, it’s a sort of timorous Girls for ladies of a certain age, down to Anna’s unforgivable wardrobe (Malcolm must long for Cheryl’s age-inappropriate prints and a bit of cleavage) and lack of noticeable work skills. There’s awkward sex.
Left with the kids and his debts by her devious husband, Anna is fair game for her ex-friends (bitches), her predatory colleagues at the real estate office from Hell and her mother (pathologically undermining, naturally). Anna sums up the situation: “Sandi got my listing and I had to sell my old life on Trade Me.”
Malcolm is a terrific actress, and as she’s sometimes required to demonstrate here, could infuse a cardboard cutout with a plucky, puzzled humanity. But the opening credits in which she’s dressed and fed like a big catatonic baby are slightly depressing half a century after feminism’s second wave. “Sometimes you have to be content to be the victim” is the new wisdom Anna proclaims, having mastered changing a light bulb. Dear Lord. The girls from Girls would have her for breakfast.
THE BLUE ROSE, TV3, Monday, 8.30pm.
AGENT ANNA, TV1, Thursday, 8.30pm.