What's not to like about Girl vs Boy?
From the team who gave us Emmy Award-winning Reservoir Hill, we've now got a new drama aimed at the younger end of the teenage market – Girl vs Boy (TV2, Sunday, 5pm).
The characters might be old enough to announce their engagements, but just as it was always 13-year-old girls who most loved Seventeen magazine, I suspect this series will most appeal to those about to negotiate the boyfriend stage.
Girl vs Boy is an appealing, jaunty little series set in The Bay, recently voted New Zealand's third happiest suburb, and immediately recognisable as Seatoun. There's a 50s feel to the whole thing, from the Mad Men-style clothing favoured in particular by the female characters to the Norman Rockwell feel to the suburb.
Kids travel by bike and build sandcastles on the beach, men play courteous games of bowls, everybody knows everybody else and the fish and chips are terrific. Get-togethers are in the local hall, there are sausage rolls and a DJ. Girls marry the boy next door, and the handsome boy has a friend who's a dweeb and another who's just a bit of a tryhard.
What takes this new series away from the cloyingly wholesome, though, is that while not falling into slyly self-mocking mode, Girl vs Boy refuses to take itself too seriously. Central to the story is Maxine (Courtney Abbot), likeably klutzy, the sort whose foot hovers permanently in the vicinity of her mouth. But she's kind-hearted and when things start to go badly wrong in The Bay she's the one who's most anxious that things return to how they were – this is in spite of being told that when she tries to fix things, they get worse.
Perhaps it's not New Zealand as it is, or indeed ever was. But it's engaging, full of references that make it recognisable as ours. And I have to assume they get the language right. "Sexting" is a new one on me, though of course its meaning is blooming obvious. As did last night's Separation City, it makes Wellington look lovely. I'll rephrase that: shows Wellington at its loveliest. And it races along at a good pace and usefully uses lots of local talent – what's not to like?
And now, something for the grownups. I'm a convert, so I'm acting like one when it comes to a whodunit of a very different kind from Girl vs Boy. Only last week I looked at all the episodes of The Killing cluttering up MySky space. What to do? Delete and wait for the "real" Danish series, starting soon? Or hunker down and watch the whole 15 or so hours' worth?
Rarely has 15 hours gone so quickly.
Sometimes television gets everything right. The script, which hurtles you towards one possibility, only pulling back just as the answer seems in sight, is taut and spectacular.
You know you're being manipulated, but it doesn't seem to matter. But what I like about this series best is the depth of characterisation: the whodunnit side is less important than the whydunnit. The stars are the two leads – damaged female cop Sarah Linden gets paler, more stressed, more stretched each episode; her sidekick Stephen Holder warmer, more endearing. Then there's Stan, not the birth father of the murdered Rosie, but an obsessive father nevertheless. Actually, who isn't obsessive in this drama?
Mothers don't come off all that well – Linden's obsession means that her son Jack is seriously neglected.
Linden herself was abandoned as a child by her own mother. And while it's proven that the death of a child pulls many relationships in two, it's hard to understand how Rosie's mother could walk out on her two young sons.
But the strongest character of all may well be Seattle. It never rains in Southern California, but in Seattle it pours, man, it pours. The makers of this drama have managed the impossible: they've made Seattle look more Scandinavian than Denmark could ever hope to look. Scrupulous care has been taken – many actors have names like Eric and Kirsten.
Coincidentally, I was knitting my grand-daughter a Nordic looking fairisle jersey as I watched. If it were in dingier colours, Linden would have loved it.
One To Watch
On Maori TV tonight at 8pm watch Whare Taonga – the taonga this week is the restored grand wharenui Mataatua.
And if you haven't seen Bleak House then you have the chance tonight on UKTV at 10.10. One of the best dramatic series. Ever.