Local variety makes a return to our TV screens, and the critic makes a discovery he wasn’t expecting.

Local variety makes a return to our TV screens, and the critic makes a discovery he wasn’t expecting.

September 9 2014

Colin Hogg: Revived dinosaur beats the arrows

The Modern Maori Quartet with Temuera Morrison (centre) in Happy Hour.

I felt happy in a sad sort of way on hearing that experiments had once again started to bring back to life that great dinosaur of the television age, the variety show.

Happy because nothing raises the pulse of a TV critic more quickly than the sight of a big soft target stumbling into view. But I also felt sad because there's little pleasure in taking shots at such easy and innocent prey.

And so it wandered into range, last Saturday night on TV One at 9:30 (and for a season of six). It even came with an awful name, Happy Hour, and one of those hosts with the most, this time Temuera Morrison.

So there it was, live before a full Mercury Theatre with its jolly (if tuneless) theme song and old-fashioned smiley style, done with a slightly desperate air.

Well that's how it seemed at first, especially when Tem bounded onstage to shout out how glad he was to be there and then had to add, "And hey, isn't it great to have one of these shows back on television?"

Let's see how great it is then, said the critic, tensing his bow and reaching for his quiver of cruel words. But then something went wrong, terribly wrong. I'd never expected I would laugh out loud at the damned thing.

Mind you, I have a taste for corn, especially when it's served up in the rich style of the greats who once did these sorts of shows rather well - Prince Tui Teka, Sir Howard Morrison (Tem's uncle) and Lord Billy T. James, the greatest and perhaps corniest of them all.

And funniest, of course, though Tem and his team were more often than not really quite funny last Saturday with their first show.

Not breathtakingly, side-shakingly, fall-off-the-sofa funny, but laugh-raising, especially in the skits that dotted Happy Hour. Elsewhere, it was mostly songs and sing-alongs and little routines.

Antique as they are with their sentimental singing, regular guests the Modern Maori Quartet really could sing and were useful on backing vocals and giggles.

Co-presenter Keisha Castle-Hughes didn't do much at all, but she did it well enough, and MC and skit actor Thane Kirby was pretty much perfect and sometimes hilarious.

On the down side, it's a pity there wasn't a live band, Tem said he was "glad to be here" far too often and guest singer Annie Crummer once again made Mariah Carey sound understated.

Tem, all the gushing aside, was terrific, doing a hilarious solo turn with a broom for a taiaha - "we were a poor tribe" - and telling a crazy tale about losing his patu to his uncle's three-legged dog on a marae while delivering the challenge to Prime Minister Rob Muldoon.

And there was the promising start of a running gag called "Doctor Ropata", a spoof prequel to the famous Shortland Street line, this one ending with, "You're not in New Zealand now Dr Ropata", delivered by a drag queen dressed as a nurse.

And there was a neat string of Tem's failed movie auditions. In one he's trying out for the lead in The 40-Year-Old Virgin.

"I'm a good actor, but I'm not that good," he tells the director. "You might have to ring Cliff Curtis".

Later, Tem ended the show with, "Cook your missus some eggs".

He might have found something that finally fits - and the critic has found a variety show he likes.

NZ Herald