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Tube Talk: The little strip show that could

TUBE TALK: A weekly TV review column
with John T. Forde

This is the tale of two new Kiwi TV comedies - both made in Wellington, both pitched at the urban youth demographic, and both currently screening on TV3. One is charming and shows promise; the other one stinks, and will hopefully die a quick ratings death before being sold to Lithuania.

Let's start with the trash. "LoveBites" is the bastard child of low-budget feature film "Hopeless". Obviously impressed by its forgettable box office tally, cliched characters and tired "slacker" mentality, some TV exec hurled money at "Hopeless"'s makers to come up with a sitcom. Ye gods!

The resulting series follows five 20somethings in a Wellington flat. There's the amoral yuppie prick, the feisty woman lawyer, the butch nurse, and the geeky guy from "Hopeless".

The verdict? Fist-knawingly bad dialogue, pancake-flat delivery and sluggish pacing that kills whatever lame one-liners manage to float to the surface. Amid a largely bored-looking cast, only "Stickmen" studlet Scott Wills redeems himself as man-slut accountant Phil. It's bland, unedgy material that wants to be "Seinfeld" but crash lands as "Men Behaving Tragically."

Understandably horrified, TV3 nailed the coffin closed by sitting on the series for ages, then releasing it quietly in a graveyard shift opposite "Sopranos" repeats. RIP and good riddance, boys.

By contrast, "The Strip" has risen above the obvious arse-humour of its setting - a Ladies Night-esque male strip club - to become a cheeky little Mars Bar of a comedy -- and already a ratings success.

The first two episodes were straight out of some "Ally McBeal" fantasy of corporate law - feisty lawyerette Melissa (Luanne Gordon) works too hard and neglects her husband and teenage daughter, while best friend Kathryn (uber-slapper Jodie Rimmer, living up to her surname as porn queen of New Zealand show business) clocks 10 hours a day, and still manages to dry-hump everything within a 2 metre radius.

When Melissa catches her hubbie in bed with his (male) personal trainer, she does what any self-respecting lawyer would do - moves her teenage daughter to Shitsville, opens a all-male strip club and starts shagging a cop!

It's this decided silliness - combined with crisp camerawork and editing, and an assured script - that makes "The Strip" a winner.

Luanne Gordon is an accomplished successor to whacky-but-loveable comic leads like Ally McBeal, though she could find more range than her current all-purpose "bug-eyed-with-surprise" look.

For their part, the boys are nice eye candy, even if you're not into that oil-smeared hairless beefcake look. Chief stripper is Robbie Magasiva, whose gorgeousness doesn't quite excuse his humourless, self-conscious screen presence. (Fortunately, he only gets one line per show.) Keep on workin' that ass, boy!

The show's real find is newcomer Renee Ellwood as teenage daughter Paige. Like all good TV teens, Brooke's the precocious savvy hipster to clueless mom Melissa. But with Ellwood's inner poise, effortless timing and sensible comic underplaying, Paige is the coolest TV character since the late, great Carmen of "Shortland Street". In an industry beset with, um...hopeless try-hards, "The Strip" proves that local TV comedy doesn't have to be a dog. Bravo!


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