“Wellington Paranormal” may be set in a world of aliens, ghosts and ghouls but it doesn’t need a huge effects budget to work.
The New Zealand comedy, in fact, proves great acting and writing matter most.
In the opening episode, there’s a girl whose behavior suggests there may be something to the idea of demonic possession. Sergeant Maaka (Maaka Pohatu) sends two officers – O’Leary and Minogue (Karen O’Leary and Mike Minogue) to investigate. Sure enough, there’s something supernatural at play. Producers could have stuffed this with effects. Instead, they use simple techniques and get big results.
That launches the simple cop comedy onto a whole different plain.
Unbeknownst to other officers, there’s actually a room at headquarters designed to deal with the paranormal (never mind its guessable key code). Maaka assigns O’Leary and Minogue to the “unit” and, in due time, they’re investigating crop circles, disappearing cattle and alien plants.
Created by Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement as a companion piece to their “What We Do in the Shadows,” “Wellington Paranormal” uses the mockumentary approach to send up “The X-Files.” “She’s analytical…and I’m a man with brown hair,” Minogue says when making the comparison.
O’Leary and Minogue take everything seriously. Their deadpan approach works nicely, particularly when the storylines could veer in a different direction.
The two barely breathe between exchanges and chase the paranormal as if they're shoplifters on the street. Using security cams, Waititi and Clement up the fear factor and still find the absurdity.
When crop circles appear in the second episode, the two don’t address the obvious. They lean in to the resemblance to “Led Zeppelin: Remasters.”
Comedy comes from accepting the unfamiliar and embracing the unacceptable.
O’Leary and Minogue (the actors) have great verbal rhythm, making this seem spontaneous at every turn. While some nuance gets lost in the accents, the humor still emerges. They don’t just take evidence photos; they pose with the creatures.
Now in its fourth season in New Zealand, the series has just begun in the United States. Like “Shadows,” it reaches an audience that’s highly under-served. Here, though, families can enjoy the absurdities and not worry about language. Not so, “Shadows.”
"Wellington Paranormal" may not be another walk in the park (watch those accents) but it's nice knowing authorities are on the prowl for things that go bump in the night. Somewhere.
"Wellington Paranormal" airs on The CW.