WELLINGTON PARANORMAL Review: Stranger Communities Together

WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS’ first spinoff delivers.

The What We Do In The Shadows Cinematic Universe is on the verge of exploding. The American television spinoff/remake (set in Staten Island, starring some terrific US and UK comedians, and apparently great) will premiere in 2019, while the spin-off sequel We’re Wolves is in development. But one element of the WWDITSCU has already premiered and run its full set of episodes: New Zealand television comedy Wellington Paranormal

In officers Minogue (Mike Minogue) and O’Leary (Karen O’Leary), returning from their hysterical minor roles in Shadows, this show could not have better leads. Their matter-of-fact, exceptionally Kiwi attitude to the crazy goings-on with which they’re confronted is the show’s finest quality, but they’re not one-note characters. In just two hours of total running time, we get significantly more insight into the characters, particularly their relationships with each other and the rest of the police force. O’Leary’s upbeat common sense and withering reprimands of Minogue’s general uselessness make her one of television’s best characters in 2018. She’s great.

The comic premise of Wellington Paranormal is as clever and elegant as you’d hope: it’s a police reality show, but centred around the two lowest-key officers as they investigate supernatural phenomena. I'd call it a riff on COPS, but that show is way too high-stakes; it's closer to New Zealand's equivalent, Police Ten 7. Every cliche of the genre is hit upon and twisted into something newly hilarious. Dramatic reality-TV stings accompany every new revelation, no matter how mundane. The officers deliver pieces to camera explaining their procedure, maintaining a deadpan attitude even as the stories devolve into absolute lunacy. Everything’s shot either handheld or with bodycams or dashcams. And the paranormal unit itself is so tiny as to be crammed into a storage closet, run by the very earnest and very silly Sergeant Maaka (Maaka Pohatu), a man with a one-digit PIN number and a serious attitude towards policing Wellington.

The most obvious way in which Wellington Paranormal expands upon its film predecessor is in the range of paranormal activity going on in Wellington. Turns out the New Zealand capital is something of a hotspot for the strange and supernatural. Over the series’ six episodes, Minogue and O’Leary encounter demons, werewolves, vampires, ghosts, yokai, killer clowns, aliens, and zombies, and there are hints at more on the fringes too. These creatures are compellingly-realised on a limited budget that actually works. After all, epic CGI effects would ruin the character of this exceptionally humble show.

Shadows fans will be pleased to hear that a couple characters from the film return, in the form of Cohen Holloway as a werewolf and Cori Gonzalez-Macuer as young and impulsive vampire Nick. You won’t get cameos from the now international superstars that led the film, but if they did show up, it’d only be distracting. Wellington Paranormal focuses on the down-to-earth, and on New Zealanders, so it makes sense that the sole returning vampire is Nick - working happily in a new job at a blood bank.

As its title suggests, Wellington Paranormal is highly New Zealand-centric, to the point that many of its jokes likely won’t travel outside Aotearoa. It’ll still be funny, regardless of where you’re from, but many jokes - at the expense of the suburb Lower Hutt, the human trash of the Courtenay Place entertainment district, the police force’s puffed-up attitude towards wielding tasers (the only weapons carried by NZ police on regular duty), the slogan “safer communities together,” and Kiwi brands like Juicies - simply won’t have the same currency to foreigners. The overall effect of all those jokes, though, is that New Zealand is a pretty quiet country, especially where law enforcement is concerned, and even where paranormal activity is concerned. And that feels pretty universal.

The best thing I can say for Wellington Paranormal is that it frequently made me laugh out loud even as I watched it on my own. The show’s dense with great non-sequiturs and jokes so deadpan they're almost throwaway, and matches that with memorable visual gags and creature designs (including non-humanoid aliens that, perplexingly, have a portion of their bodies censored), and characters who are instantly loveable and unexpectedly captivating. This Cinematic Universe is expanding with strength, and I can’t wait to see what comes out of it next.

For non-New Zealanders: Wellington Paranormal is not available on disc and seems unlikely to make its way to overseas television, but if you have a multi-region player, you can order the DVD from Kiwi retailer Mighty Ape, if you can stomach the shipping costs. If you're a fan of this universe: totally worth it.