Hounds deserves a good pat
REVIEW: Hounds. TV3, Fridays 10pm
Considering the hype and hyperbole that surrounds almost every homegrown success story in the sporting, film or music arenas, the lack of chest-thumping and back-slapping associated with our domestic television output is more than a little surprising.
Auckland-based production company The Downlow Concept are as close to a Kiwi comedy hit factory as currently exists.
After making a breakthrough with the underrated music quiz Pop Goes the Weasel it cemented its status by cobbling together the funny but formulaic panel show 7 Days from a relatively threadbare New Zealand stand-up circuit. Not content with making waves on the small screen, it also boosted its indie credentials by taking home top honours at the 48 Hour Film Festival in consecutive years.
With that kind of pedigree, you'd expect a little more fanfare to greet its first foray into sitcom than the muted reception afforded to it by TV3. The graveyard slot scheduling is understandable considering the post-watershed requirements of the script, but the lack of advertising or promotion in the weeks building up to the show's debut was slightly baffling.
Perhaps conscious of the difficulty in selling a show based around the altogether unsexy world of greyhound racing, it almost felt like an intentional move on the part of the producers when a spot of calculated controversy caused a last-minute renaming of the dog that serves as the show's MacGuffin.
Aside from a shirtless SBW or a foreigner saying mean things about us, one of the few guaranteed ways of generating column inches in the New Zealand print media is to mention David Bain and invoke the wrath of his long-time offsider Joe Karam.
By naming the four-legged star "LundyBainWatson" and tarring the country's most famous non-murderer with same brush used for two of our most heinous criminals, it was virtually assured that Karam would come out swinging, and that Hounds would receive much-needed publicity in the days before its premiere.
Hastily renamed LundyDixonWatson, the dog finds itself at the centre of an unusual inheritance settlement in the show's first episode. Nothing says black comedy better than kicking things off with an untimely death, and by carking it trackside in the opening scene, dead dog-owner David sets the tone for what's to follow.
With his entire estate left to his estranged offspring Will and Lily, it's immediately apparent that the half-siblings' odd-couple dynamic will provide the basis for most of the gags.
Will, an Auckland lawyer with a "dorky Hugh Grant haircut" wastes no time in rubbing up world-weary teenager Lily the wrong way, with badly judged one liners and cringe-worthy comments doing little to endear him to his newfound half-sister.
Every good sitcom needs a wacky weirdo to inject a little hilarity into proceedings, and alcoholic dog trainer Marty lays an early claim to the role by dressing LundyDixonWatson in Spanish attire for the track's international night. As any click-hungry website knows, animals in funny clothes are a guaranteed crowd-pleaser and the sight of a greyhound in bullfighting gear will bring in a few cheap chuckles.
Another gimme is bagged when city slicker Will makes an arse of himself on his first visit to the races, over-indulging on the track's trademark tipple "bunny juice" and vomiting over an obnoxious owner and his coat fashioned from winning ribbons. Highbrow it isn't, but the emphasis seems to be on quirky characters and the humour that arises from their awkward interactions.
As with any new comedy, it's difficult to make any real judgements on its merits based on a pilot episode. Introducing characters, establishing tone and setting the pace as well as cramming in enough laughs to win over an audience is a tough ask in a 25-minute timeframe. Although it's not quite a runaway favourite, there's enough potential shown in Hounds' first lap of the track to suggest there could well be life in the old dog yet.
Coming up: Reason enough to keep your SoHo subscription going after Game of Thrones finishes, the team behind The Thick of It pokes fun at the impotent irrelevance of the US vice-president in the snappy satire Veep (SoHo, Saturdays 11pm).
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