Fat joke. Sounds-like-sex-noises-but-not-really joke. Fat joke. Penis-size joke. Fat joke. Fat joke. #firstthreeminutesofGolden

— Toby Manhire (@toby_etc) June 24, 2012

At the weekend I sat down to watch the entire third episode of TV3 and South Pacific Pictures’ new Olympic-themed sitcom, Golden. The ‘inspiration’ for this endurance test came from the tweet above by Listener online guru Toby Manhire. I figured that since it’s too cold and depressing to turn my energies to writing a novel, going outside or perhaps even taking a shower, I’d run his splendid capsule summary into the endzone.

TV3's promotional site for Golden describes it as "the hilarious new comedy series about a world rowing champion with an expanding problem.After smashing all world records in the women’s single sculls, Shelley Bowman was on top of the world. Three years later, we find Shelley holed up in the suburbs, having forgone training and tofu and taken up TV and pies." She tries to make a comeback with the help of her mother, her redheaded cousin, and a crack coach.

The stats, first – because part of any post-mortem of an unsuccessful New Zealand television show has to be how much public money got poured into it. Golden received $1,290,185 out of the August 2011 round of NZ On Air funding decisions, for 6 30 minute episodes. My impression from ScreenScribe is that the ratings have fallen away since the premiere, and even then it was getting mothered by Big Bang Theory repeats over on TV2. I am technically entering the show nearly halfway into its run, although somehow I think it will be a bit easier to pick up than my first attempt at doing the same with The Wire.

Secondly – I’m harsh because I care. I badly want on-screen comedy to succeed in this country, and I would happily see over a million dollars funneled into doing so, albeit in a configuration that makes more than three hours of television. I love The Unauthorized History of NZ, the first season of Back Of The Y Masterpiece Television. Yet for everything like this it feels like there’s half a dozen Melody Ruleses, Willy Nillies, or Welcome To Paradises (the Tim Hume article in that last link is an excellent read). I know there are young, funny and capable people in NZ. I’ve met them. I drink with them. I watch them give away a script’s worth of jokes on social media every day. And it’s hard to believe they’re not getting a look in while a lot of the same drivel gets churned out for years on end.

(Disclaimer: I’ve heard okay things about TV3’s Hounds, the first sitcom-sized product of the Downlow Concept who have paid their dues ascending to victory in the 48 Hours Film Festival. This is probably exactly the sort of thing that should be happening Given that it’s a relatively fresh team working in a new medium, of course it gets put at 10pm on a Friday night when no one’s home. I’ll definitely give it a watch on OnDemand.)

My flatmate has obligingly started watching a repeat of The Big Bang Theory in the next room over, simulating the ratings war without the need to own two televisions. Let this begin.

00:30: The cold open of Golden Episode 3 has just started with something that must have happened in the last episode. The vaguely serialized nature is a good thing, I guess. The premise reminds me of Eastbound and Down, another show about a disgraced athlete trying to make their comeback with the kindness of family. The costumes are really gaudy and silly because people who dress silly remind us to laugh. The gag is that something embarrassing from last time is now up on YouTube, which is actually quite timely humour for a NZ sitcom. Although there was an ad for smartphones that did this two years ago.

00:38: The title sequence actually feels like it’s designed for stupid people who might think it’s Kath & Kim and accidentally keep watching. In other words, this is the American Warships to that show’s Battleship.

01:37: Gruff coach played by Joel Tolbeck: “My mate Fisnick is in Switzerland now. He’s got a lodge up in Berger.” Shelley’s mum: “Don’t even think about a burger!”

Hahah, she might! Because she’s fat. Why would an exchange of dialogue like this ever actually occur?

03:08: Really weird stretch of dialogue here that feels as if it was bowdlerized from on high by some exec. Sort of a series of anti-jokes about not being racist – “I kissed a Chinese long jumper at the last Olympics!” says the ginger actor with the moustache. “It shouldn’t matter that she was Chinese,” Joel Tolbeck gravely intones. Ginger: “I’m an oppressed minority myself!”

03:42: Shelley Bowman's Chinese accountant has one of those golden cats pumping the fist in her office because Asia. She is speaking to Ginger (apparently called Elliott) about how Shelley needs to stop throwing extravagant parties. “Parties?” “I’ve seen the food bills – you’ve obviously been catering for substantial amounts of people.” Fat people eat the same amount of food as 80 normal people.

04:20: Okay I actually smiled when the ornamental cat was referred to (“Put one of these on your desk and your life will immediately improve”) in a sort of non-sequitur way. 420.

04:52: Shelley has been teaching herself Swedish because in the past 120 seconds she forgot they were going to Switzerland. This apartment looks like the low-income housing version of The Room (not enough money for fork portraits).

05:03: A new crisis gives the episode much-needed impetus, as Shelley realizes she may not be able to fit into her economy seat. Cue lots of taking measurements and calling the airline.

06:00: I can’t tell but I think there was a random fart sound foleyed across the top of the audio just then. Like in What Now.

06:30: Inexplicable ‘Uranus’ pun.

07:00: Okay, so I think there’s meant to be a tension here where Joel Tolbeck and the mum have a flirty thing going on because they both make horrible jokes. I can’t even tell if the puns that the characters just regurgitate are meant to be some pathology – that we’re meant to find it bleak – or whether the show’s just covering all its bases, making sure there’s something out there for some monstrous hypothetical omnidad and not risking a beat where people just don’t say something that’s trying to be funny.

08:30: Shelley thought she owned low-income The Room house even though she signed a lease, and keeps getting distracted by the golden cat Elliott bought home and apparently can teach herself Swedish in minutes. She’s not a character in even a broad definition – she’s a Google cache of filler ideas.

Not to bring up Eastbound and Down again, but Kenny Powers is such a fantastic creation– vile, petulant, deluded, steeped in the American dream with its aspiration and incoherent symbolism and yet oddly sympathetic. Similarly, there could - should be real pathos in a woman who used to be an athlete and is now scared of going out in public. And I honestly believe they could realise that pathos and still make something funny. But they can’t be bothered.

09:40: Okay I’m bringing up Eastbound and Down again because it appears that, like Episode 3 of the first season of that series, this is the one where the fallen sportsperson tries to sell all his/her crap memorabilia on EBay/TradeMe.

11:47: Kooky mum just bullied Shelley into taking speed pills by raising the spectre of her public humiliation for being fat. This is the one of the saddest and most gruesome interactions I can imagine between mother and daughter, so of course there’s wacky comedy klezmer music and a bunch of locked-off shots (the direction, after we’ve been spoilt by a decade of single-camera and handheld methods, is shoestring stuff. No flair, no spirit. Where did the money go?)

13:40: Exterior shot #rare #agoraphobia

14:30: Oops, mother and daughter put really high bids on all the memorabilia themselves and now they’ve won it. This sort of insider training sullies TradeMe, I don’t think they should have agreed to include their brand. Massive ‘tragedy of the commons’ risk in everyone seeing and acting on behaviour like this from a television show on NZ’s #1 buy and sell website. Luckily it’s Golden so chances are everyone hasn’t seen it.

15:00: Why does this show present a world where only four human beings exist in total isolation, always inside, in the same room? It’s only been a quarter of an hour but I feel like I’m watching the director’s cut for Waiting For Godot, only set in Dannemora and staged by torturers.

15:23: Okay now there’s a cop who appears to be a recurring character. Why is a cop a recurring character? Wonder if Shelley is gonna waste him with a bottle of ‘roids and get blood all over the front deck, Cheryl West-style.

17:30: Horribly laboured ‘are you touching my bum’ trapped in the closet scene which features the line “The fat thing’s not a dealbreaker”. It turns out Joel Tolbeck’s bum is actually being touched by the ornamental cat.

18:45: Okay no one told the mum that they weren’t going to Zurich anymore so she put a bunch of speed up her clacker. Again, Golden manages the simultaneous feat of being both wink-wink evasive and more blunt than the above about this ‘gag’.

20:40: Oh lol, she forgot to wrap them in anything. RIP aggravating and provocative mum. Not really though, three more episodes of laffs to come.

22:06: I got up cos I had to get a beer at this point (‘had to’) and didn't entirely follow it but the gist of the denouement is that Elliott was meant to book them in to go to a ‘pristine’ camp instead of Zurich but he misheard on the phone and they’ve arrived at a ‘Christian’ camp instead. I’m 100% serious. That’s the kinghit to end it.

I didn’t review Golden’s pilot because there’s no scientific method in reviewing a pilot, the first shaky beginnings of a show before the creators and performers settle into a comfortable routine. Even HBO’s shows this year (Girls, The Newsroom) have had rough-as-guts debuts, and that thing’s meant to be a blockbuster televisual powerhouse. It’s not fair to judge an opening volley, really.

But there’s no excuse for a show like this to be halfway through and not have a clue. I’m still bewildered as to how this formless, two-set piece of leering chipboard rot sucked up over a million dollars. Its baseline standard of Carry On/fat jokes could have been aired on regional television in 1978, while its moments of unintentional absurdity are stranded, too fleeting to create some glorious, perversely enjoyable fever pitch of weird.

I’ll concede I’ve squandered some big chunks of my short life – the afternoon in 2008 I spent realphabetising my CD’s, the nineteen games of Words With Friends I’ve lost, the time I decided to walk an hour into town on a Saturday night when I was 17 and only texted my friends to ‘HANG OUT PLS’ (Alcatel) once I was already there. But it’s not often I actually think ‘I’ll never get this 20 minutes of my life back and now I am 20 minutes closer to dying’. Golden makes you think this – nay, makes you know it to the core of your being. For this, at least, it is extraordinary.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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