If Reno 911 impregnated What We Do in the Shadows and the baby was raised in a small New Zealand town with toxic lead levels in the groundwater, it would grow into Wellington Paranormal. If that sounds like a dig, it’s not; fans of either show will enjoy this one. I certainly did. It might not be the smartest program around, but it doesn’t have to be.
The small community of Wellington, New Zealand has a reputation as perhaps the weirdest place on the island, as Officers Minogue (Mike Minogue) and O’Leary (Karen O’Leary) discover, much to their regret, when they bring in a young woman possessed by the demonic Bazoul of the Unholy Realm. Sergeant Maaka (Maaka Pohatu) brings them into the top-secret, classified Wellington Police Paranormal Unit. In fact, they now are the Paranormal Unit, whether they want to be or not. Their first case: track down Bazoul before it can perform a human sacrifice and unleash Hell on earth. The second episode, Cop Circles has them battling what might be an alien invasion or really inbred farmers.
It must be said that Wellington is not very well served by their Paranormal Unit. Officer Minogue tries but makes Jason Mendoza look like Chidi Anagonye. It leads to a lot of wordplay as he misunderstands even the simplest concept, which made subtitles very useful for this reviewer. His partner, Officer O’Leary, is ostensibly the brains of the unit. She’s not the sharpest tack in the drawer, but since it’s a miracle Minogue hasn’t swallowed his own tongue yet, she does her best. Her expression whenever Minogue says something particularly stupid is worth the price of admission all its own. Sergeant Maaka is relieved to hand his “best” officers all the weirdness that happens in town and the surrounding countryside. His fascination with the paranormal leads to a lot of gullibility, but he’s always there to back up his team in a pinch.
It’s a Clement/Waititi mockumentary, so you know what to expect. There’s a lot of ad-libbing, a lot of subtextually clever dialogue between dimwitted colleagues, and “special effects” that belong in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s first season. But no one watches a show like this for the effects; it’s all about the characters and their dynamic. And in that regard, Wellington Paranormal more than satisfies. The humor is dry and subdued, apart from a few gross-out or explicit moments played for laughs. The Kiwi cast is fantastic, with Minogue, O’Leary, and Maaka embracing their characters’ limitations. They’re no Mulder, Scully, and Skinner, but they’d like to be. And who knows; they might make it someday if they survive long enough. The camera work is grainy, handheld shaky-cam, with limited interaction between the officers and the “documentary team.”
The TL;DR is this: If you like Reno 911 or anything Taika Waititi’s done, you’ll like this. If his mockumentaries aren’t your thing or you don’t like lowbrow humor and deadpan delivery, you won’t enjoy this. The first 2 episodes are up on both Hulu and HBO Max. With 3 seasons already aired in New Zealand and a fourth on the way, there’s plenty to look forward to, and we’ll check in occasionally as the season progresses. I’m already looking forward to next week’s episode.
Header Image Source: HBO Max screenshots