I have returned from our extended, almost-entirely-internet-free trip to New Zealand, and after about a day and a half of rapidly scanning down my twitter feed and reading the titles of about two hundred blog posts, I feel mostly caught up. Surely that’s sufficient, yes?
We were without the internet in New Zealand, but on occasion, we did have the good fortune to stumble across a television, much to my delight. I did live in England for several months, and so some of the basic television landscape was familiar – a mix of both American and British programming, number of channels just barely making it into the double digits, fewer commercials (which nevertheless resulted in us both absent-mindedly singing “The Warehouse – where everyone gets a bargain!” at frequent intervals), programs that begin at odd times, lots of cricket. Out of a desire to feed my Anglophilia, we watched the Queen’s Christmas message; out of a need to quell my (well-deserved) fear of our impending kayaking trip, we watched an episode of Castle; out of our concern about the upcoming weather we watched a lot of the national news at 6pm, which allowed me plenty of time with TVNZ’s adorable gay weatherman, Tamati Coffey.
And we did have the opportunity to watch a few things it would be hard to find in the States. One show that had us glued to the TV was a British reality show about two couples who have to transform their modest homes into a restaurant for one night. I cannot for the life of me find the show’s name now, as any google search for “British reality show restaurant in home” is completely buried in Gordon Ramsay-related results, but the premise was pretty simple. Two couples get the same budget and have a limited amount of time to choose a menu, decide how many people to serve, get supplies, rearrange their homes as necessary, and then open their “restaurant” for one night. They have to cook for and manage the whole evening themselves, and each patron pays whatever they feel the meal deserves. The winning couple is the pair that makes the most money. It’s a fun concept, combining a number of proven reality show concepts: head-to-head competition, food, marital relations, time constraints, and a snarky voiceover commentary. Can someone help me figure out what the heck this show is called?
Another BBC program I thoroughly enjoyed (although I don’t think David got the same kick out of it that I did) was the final segment of Joanna Lumley: Jewel of the Nile. In case you are not familiar, Joanna Lumley was one of the incredible stars of Absolutely Fabulous and played a platinum blonde wino, barely capable of walking in a straight line, but still well up to the task of slurring appalling insults. In Jewel of the Nile, a travel documentary about Lumley’s journey down the entire length of the Nile River, the platinum blonde hair and fondness for alcohol remain, but the arch intoxicated dialogue is replaced by awesomely breathy invocations of the beauty of Africa, and the occasional dry comment as Lumley endures some of the inconveniences that necessarily accompany exotic travel. When, at the end of her journey, Lumley is forced to help carry her small boat over shallow water, she intones on the voiceover, “the French word for this is portage. [Pause] The British call it ‘messing about with boats.’” I’m crushed that I only got to see the final part of the series.
Finally, my favorite television discovery was made not in New Zealand, but on the plane ride over, and the show is actually Australian. It’s an incredibly weird half hour comedy called The Librarians. And yes, it is about a public library in Australia. The show is sort of built on the bones of The Office, where the librarians of the Middleton Interactive Learning Centre are an occasionally well-meaning but hardly admirable bunch of public servants. Frances O’Brien, head librarian, is deeply Catholic and also casually racist, and her stern, often despairing reign as head librarian is marred by disappointment and the quirks of her fellow employees. In one episode I saw, while Frances is out dealing with her senile, violent mother, another employee successfully turns the library into a video rental store. It’s a very strange show, and its reliance on frequent short flashbacks can come off as a jarring, hiccup-y rhythm, but it’s also darkly hilarious.
So those are my brief hotel room impressions of television in New Zealand. Excuse me while I go try to find DVDs of Joanna Lumley: Jewel of the Nile.