Critic’s Chair: Guy Somerset welcomes a new New Zealand comedy-drama series so good, so original, that it demands your attention, awards and future series
In 2004, TVNZ rejected the pilot episode for a New Zealand version of what would become the HBO international hit show Flight of the Conchords, describing it as “a bit Wellington”. Seventeen years later, TVNZ OnDemand is streaming Creamerie. This is called progress.
Creamerie is a pitch-black dystopian comedy-drama where within the first seconds we see the bare bums of a bunch of rural rugby players in a changing room and in short order their other ends projectile vomiting blood as they die from a pandemic that wipes out New Zealand’s, and we assume the world’s, male population.
For good measure, the show then gives us the spectacle of a massive funeral pyre of men’s corpses, like those we see of cattle after a breakout of Bovine spongiform encephalopathy.
A bit Wellington? And then some.
TVNZ is so game and on board with the show it has even created a mock L’Oréal commercial to echo the pseudo-philosophical pronouncements and banal but sinister vacuity of the Wellness movement of women that, eight years after the pandemic, presides over a police-state New Zealand, dispensing via lotteries the dwindling supply of sperm left from the men who have died.
At least I assume the commercial is a fake. It slips so easily into the mood of the show when it pops up. But, realistically, that’s probably just L’Oréal commercials for you.
It’s hard to know where to begin with all the elements that make Creamerie so good – in fact, possibly the best piece of New Zealand television since Flight of the Conchords (if we can, TVNZ’s rejection notwithstanding, still claim that show as essentially New Zealand’s). Those elements are most likely indivisible.
The writing – by Kirsty Fisher, Roseanne Liang, Dan Musgrove and Shoshana McCallum – and direction – by Liang – is thought through down to the tiniest details. The show can turn on a dime from goofing comedy to pathos, tragedy, terror or all-out horror. There are even moments that combine many of these elements simultaneously.
Creamerie captures a complete – and completely plausible – new world and the conflicted emotions and actions we might expect of those living in it.
Love, lust, loss. Grief, mourning and longing. Fear. The urge to comply and that to rebel. They are all here.
That they are wrapped up in a package that is so funny is a miracle of, yes, the writing, but also of the actors’ ability and chemistry as they navigate the show’s many requirements of them.
JJ Fong is Jaime, who runs a dairy farm and lost her husband and son to the pandemic; she shares her farmhouse with two friends, sisters-in-law (or “whichever it is we are to each other”) Alex (Ally Xue) and Pip (Perlina Lau). Alex is the rebel, Pip the compliant one, a rule-obeyer who, asked why she isn’t driving faster during a car chase, replies: “This is a residential zone.”
The three discover there is at least one remaining male, Bobby (Jay Ryan). Bobby as in bobby calf? Surely.
Bobby is soon discovering the double meaning of the show’s title as he is made to provide sperm in the same way as Jaime’s bulls. Except in his case he is spared the long needle used on the bulls in favour of delivering in a mug Jaime takes to inseminate herself. A show that kicks off with all that projectile vomiting of blood isn’t about to spare us a camera shot of the inside of the mug; the sight that greets us looks remarkably like one of those L’Oréal hair conditioners.
Fong, Xue and Lau – and Ryan for that matter – play off each other brilliantly, whether forging ahead in unity or scrapping. Or at times – Ryan again – flirting. They have the measure of the multi-faceted script perfectly and go with it for all they are worth.
Tandi Wright – one part Holly Hunter’s spiritual guru in Top of the Lake to one part Martha Stewart and three parts Cruella de Vil – is Lane, the blonde-haired, white-gowned leader of the Wellness movement, with its menstrual-worshipping mantras, orgasm-encouraging mental health campaigns (“A climax a day keeps the black clouds away”) and “bliss balls” to be shot into the back of the head of any recalcitrants. The balls give temporary release “from the constraints of negative thinking”; for those who need to be made “forever free”, there is “perming”, which certainly would make your hair curl: a lobotomy whose first stage is a power-drill to the side of the skull.
Wright is proof of the old adage that the menacing whisper is more terrifying than the scream; whenever she is on screen you want to hide behind the sofa and she only gets more frightening as the show goes on.
Wright, with the rest of the cast and showmakers, deserves to win every award going. For its verbal and visual wit and flair, for its imaginativeness and ability to keep you guessing and on the edge of your seat right through its first season and on into what we must hope will be others to come, it is up there with a show like Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Orphan Black before it lost its way.
It has that quality of originality whereby it steals from all over and makes of its swag something completely its own.
As well as the shows above, there are cribs from, or nods to if you prefer (and I think you’d be right to), everything from The Handmaid’s Tale to Mad Max. ET is in there too. The show is nothing if not knowing. Its knack is to make you feel at the same time.
And as well as making you think of Buffy and Orphan Black, Creamerie should be considered in the same class as other boundary-breaking shows from the past year, such as I May Destroy You and I Hate Suzie. It really is that good.
As Lane and her Wellness acolytes would say, carpe futurum.
Creamerie (TVNZ OnDemand).