New Kiwi comedy goes to the dogs

DOG-GONE: New comedy Hounds has set itself the task of creating the laugh that misses the beat.
DOG-GONE: New comedy Hounds has set itself the task of creating the laugh that misses the beat.

Hounds, TV3's recent homegrown effort at comedy, has been given the dog house screening slot of 10pm on a Friday indicating that the channel doesn't imagine it will be everybody's cup of tea.

And on first perusal it does seem to have deliberately gone out of its way to be a gumboot brew, every character either odd ball or hard case, supposedly because that comes with the greyhound-racetrack territory.

Made by the creators of the sit-down comedy conceit that is 7 Days, where mostly male comedians loiter on competing panels to entertain and one up each other with their different takes on humour, Hounds has set itself the task of creating the laugh that misses the beat.

Charmless characters stumble to communicate with each other across great divides and defended territories, rubbing uncomfortably up against each other like fingernails on a blackboard. Think Vigil with a postmodern nod to Fred Dagg humour, plus shades of Letter to Blanchy as it strives to achieve the warmth of The Castle.

David, a proud owner of Lundy Dixon Watson, a greyhound given the triple-barreled moniker that runs together the names of convicted Kiwi murderers (hopefully he gets to race against Mark Antoine Scott), suddenly cardiac arrests at the racetrack and dies, leaving his worldly possessions to a trifecta, made up of two of his offspring (Will and Lily) and Marty, a dog trainer.

Will, a foppish-looking Auckland lawyer a barmaid likens to Hugh Grant, has a witless girlfriend called Amber who's only 18, just a few years older than his half-sister Lily, whose Asian mother has passed to her reward. Will doesn't know much about greyhounds, and even less about his sister, who is one of those wise-beyond-her-years kids destined to take her brother and guardian under her unflappable wing.

Marty takes photographs of Lundy Dixon Watson posed in front of a sheet on the line with the canine dressed up in Spanish gear to advertise a foreign night at the hounds, where Will, sticking out like dogs' balls, tries to fit in and get into the mood of things by downing copious glasses of lethal bunny juice.

No hardcase Nu Zild comedy is complete without someone puking over somebody else, or up on the specially designed for such occasions technicolour pub carpet, and indeed there's a projectile-vomiting scene following the bunny beverage, proving there's no show without punch.

Speaking of food and beverage, did I mention that other great leitmotif, the sausage roll putting in an appearance at David's funeral after Marty nearly lets his side of the coffin down while carrying it, in order to blow his drinker's nose on a grimy handkerchief?

Throwing so very many arresting characters into the mix – e.g. a real estate agent strangely incapable of waxing lyrical about houses for sale, and an eccentric track habitue wearing a jacket comprised of stitched-together first place, red winning ribbons – risks the main characters getting drowned out by all the local colour, but it's early days yet.

It's encouraging to see comedy on New Zealand television that has been put together and penned by someone other than the ubiquitous Rachel Lang/James Griffin winning combo, and the acting in Hounds is good enough to give this comedy more than a dog's show to save it from being scratched.

On a heavier historical note what a true treat to see Gunpowder Treason and Plot – a miniseries screening in the Prime Spotlight (Wednesday, 8.30pm). Fed up to the gunnels with Liz I, this particular focus on Mary Queen of Scots (and next time her son King James VI) is a ray of grisly sunshine on the shallow programming schedule.

The building passion between Queen Mary and Bothwell more than sizzled as the actors, Clemence Posey and Kevin McKidd, played out their love/hate relationship and then all-consuming love in this awfully exciting historical intrigue, written by Jimmy McGovern. No wonder the guy who penned Cracker was just the ticket to do a story on explosives. Look out for next week's final with Robert Carlyle as James VI.

The Dominion Post