This summer the comedy geniuses behind cult classic vampire mockumentary What We Do In the Shadows debuted a new television series called Wellington Paranormal in New Zealand. It’s a spinoff of What We Do In the Shadows produced by the film’s creators, Taika Waititi, Jemaine Clement, and Paul Yates, the third member of their production company, New Zealand Documentary Board. Wellington Paranormal follows the lives of the two bumbling cops Waititi’s vampire character glamoured in the film, Officers Minogue and O’Leary, who have been assigned to the Wellington Police’s Paranormal Unit by Sergeant Maaka (Maaka Pohatu) to investigate the unexplained phenomenon in New Zealand’s capital city. It’s a spoof. And like any good spoof, it pays homage to some of the best bits of the crime shows that came before it by, Yates says, “taking the mickey out of” them. There are realistic Cops-esque shaky cam chase scenes and tussles with suspects, horror movie tropes galore, and ample dues-paying to The X-Files. “To put it in layman’s terms,” Officer Minogue explains, “we’re kinda like Mulder and Scully. She’s like Scully because she’s analytical, she’s got the brains, and I’m a man with brown hair.”
— Jemaine Clement (@AJemaineClement) June 28, 2018
1. The Format
The duo’s obvious lack of brain power isn’t the only difference between this series and its obvious progenitor, The X-Files. Given its short episode order of six 30-minute episodes, Wellington Paranormal’s creators made the wise decision to exclusively do monster-of-the-week episodes (which were inarguably The X-Files’ most entertaining episodes) rather than attempt to tackle a multi-episode mythology arc. This leaves room for the introduction of lots of new mythological creatures like zombies, demons, and sentient alien flora. Also, unlike other investigative shows before it, this show spends more time on character work and getting to know the monsters than worrying about the officers’ case solve rate which is a great change of pace for fans of the genre who would probably agree that finding out a werewolf’s favorite pizza topping is more interesting than seeing it get arrested. The creators of Wellington Paranormal set themselves up with the somewhat impossible task of putting a new spin on a cop show and actually succeeded at making something infinitely watchable and even rewatchable.
2. The Team
The X-Files paired an Oxford-trained psychologist with encyclopedic knowledge of the occult and an FBI-trained medical doctor, Bones had a former Army sniper link up with the world’s foremost forensic anthropologist, Castle paired a seasoned cop with a best-selling crime novelist. Wellington Paranormal has avowed skeptics and D-list cops O’Leary and Minogue whose idea of a major win is not getting stuck on a gate while trying to hop it in pursuit of a suspect. Unlike other male-female investigator partnerships, there is no unresolved sexual tension or genius-level analytical skill fueling the Paranormal Unit. They are two goofballs who are just trying to do their jobs well while they are on the clock and stay alive (not in that order).
The chemistry between Minogue and O’Leary is the heart of the show. Their interactions with each other and with the paranormal are defined by a baffling courteousness that suggests New Zealanders are Canadian-nice. When a woman begins to speak to them, or rather the deep-voiced demon possessing her begins to speak to them, Officer Minogue asks her in a very oblivious but sincere way if she maybe needs a throat lozenge. The officers’ easy chemistry will win over any fans of the recently-cancelled Fox comedy/sci-fi/horror mashup Ghosted who were rooting for Adam Scott and Craig Robinson to be the new, platonic Mulder and Scully but who could could never quite catch their footing (but that’s a story for another time).
Officers O’Leary and Minogue are the team you call when you inexplicably find a cow on top of a tree or someone attempts to open a Hellmouth in your city center. They might not solve the problem but they’ll definitely try really hard and that’s as much as you can hope for in 30 minutes.
3. The Humor
The show has the same comedic sensibility of What We Do In the Shadows; it’s self-aware, sharp, and unafraid of leaning into awkwardness. It also leans more into the documentary format than the film did with frequent talking head segments like gold standard workplace comedy, The Office. Basically, Minogue and O’Leary are two Kevin Malones; sweet, but due to their own incompetence, always covered in metaphorical chili.
Each episode they respond to normal police problems like normal police officers but are always turned upside down—in one episode it turns out the noise complaint they were asked to check out is coming from a house that’s been haunted by ghosts who’ve been throwing the same party since the 1970s. Much of what we’ve come to understand as Waititi’s humor, (but is no doubt also Clement’s and Yates’s), has been infused into the two leads. This is especially true of O’Leary whose straight-faced but sincere delivery of her lines is devastatingly funny. In an attempt to break up the ghost house party O’Leary solemnly turns to the room full of bell-bottomed ghouls and explains, “I must inform you that you’re all deceased.” The real treat is that the monsters-of-the-week aren’t exempt from the fun, they often have the same deadpan sense of humor. In this case, the ghosts didn’t realize they were ghosts and are super bummed to hear they’d been dead for decades without realizing it.
The show strikes an excellent balance between showing Minogue and O’Leary’s desire to do earnest police work and exploring their increasing fascination with the paranormal phenomenon they can’t explain or contain but somehow keep finding themselves drawn to like children chasing the string of a balloon that’s been cut loose.
4. The Representation
When Taika Waititi was tapped to direct the third Thor movie, it made headlines because he’s an indigenous director who took on a role Marvel had exclusively doled out to white men.
Then Waititi cast Māori actress Rachel House in the project as one of the first indigenous actors to join the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Her casting was part of a series of choices Waititi made that were intended to diversify the on and off-screen crew of his Hollywood blockbuster. This same mentality carried over to Wellington Paranormal where Sergeant Maaka is played by Māori actor Maaka Pohatu. From his very first introduction in the show’s trailer, Sergeant Maaka’s Māori identity is recognized and included in the storytelling. He intersperses the Māori language with English, greeting the viewer with a traditional “Kia Ora” (“hello” in Māori). This sets up something Waititi and Co. seem to want to reiterate through all their projects, that Māori people and their culture are a fundamental part of New Zealand culture and life and deserve to be shown as such. Sergeant Maaka is joined by other Māori actors including Waititi and Clement’s frequent collaborator, Cohen Holloway, who plays a werewolf opposite fellow Māori actor Ana Scotney. Waititi has previously spoken about why it is important for him to give opportunities to Māori entertainers. “I always want the best person for the job,” Waititi explained when The Verge asked him if he had a personal interest in getting more Māori actors on screen. “Luckily, I get the best of both worlds, because the best people for the job happen to be Māori as well.” This is in no small part due to Waititi’s conscious push for their inclusion in his television and film projects. “What’s cool is that if you look at box office statistics in New Zealand the most successful films are all Māori films,” he told The Daily Beast. “It makes our people proud and they realize, ‘Oh, shit—we can do this.’”
Wellington Paranormal occupies very desirable real estate in part of the ever-growing Taika-verse which is soon to include another What We Do In The Shadows spinoff (We’re Wolves) at FX, and an American adaptation of the original film. These are just four reasons why this half-hour paranormal buddy-cop comedy should earn a spot on your TV show roster if you’re lucky enough to live in one of the regions it’s currently being distributed in.