Karl Puschmann: Is TVNZ’s new America’s Cup comedy a winner?

OPINION:

America’s Cup fever is yet to infect the nation. There’s been a bunch of boat racing going on but I haven’t seen anyone wearing red socks, singing Sailing Away or taking much of an interest at all in the world’s oldest international sporting trophy.

Fair enough. Until it gets down to crunch time the Cup’s not particularly engaging for people outside its bubble.

This general indifference will of course swing about faster than an AC75 hydrofoil monohull tacking round a marker – a little America’s Cup reference there for sports fans – when Team New Zealand finally hits the water to defend the Auld Mug against whichever mugs think they’re in with a chance of sailing away with it.

So while our national Cup temperature is currently tepid it’s only a matter of weeks until it ramps up to boiling point as our sense of national pride kicks in and everyone starts huddling around their tellies to see which way the wind blows when the boats start racing for realsies.

With all this in mind, you can understand why TVNZ thought a sitcom centered around the Cup was a winner of an idea.

But why they also thought it was a winner of an idea to launch it long before anyone gives a crap about the Cup is a mystery as deep as the ocean. It’s like if Team New Zealand decided the best way to speed up their boat was by punching a hole in it and flooding it with water.

It’s a real shame they jumped the gun with Last at 11. If they hadn’t approached the starting line so aggressively the show wouldn’t be sailing under the radar as it is. Especially as in a few short weeks it’s going to be topical in a way that only news broadcasts will be.

This does somehow feel appropriate considering it’s about a late-night news show haphazardly scrambling to put together their first night’s coverage of the America’s Cup.

It centres around Kimberley Crossman’s junior reporter BJ Benson, an ambitious go-getter assigned to cover the big event when the show’s senior reporter calls in sick. It’s the big break she’s been waiting for but she quickly finds herself well out of her depth mere minutes after arriving at Team NZ’s viaduct HQ.

The show splits its time between Crossman’s increasingly frazzled and desperate attempts to land an interview or find a story and the action back at the station as they prepare for the broadcast.

Chaos behind the curtain is a tried and true comedy formula in everything from the early 90s pioneering mockumentary series The Larry Sanders Show, through to Australia’s hilarious current affairs spoof Frontline and even the madcap pandemonium of The Muppet Show.

Where Last at 11 differs is that each of its eight episodes only runs somewhere between six to 10 minutes each. For such short running time, it’s admirable how much plot they’ve packed in.

The ensemble cast is great but Last at 11 really flies when Crossman takes the helm to bumble her way around Team NZ’s base with her equally hapless cameraman and the show’s intern.

Whether locking herself in the carpark, stealing lunch from the team’s kitchen, ambushing exercising sailors in the team’s gym or muscling her way into a rival’s interview in an attempt to secure “almost exclusive coverage” she’s a pink-clad laugh generator.

“I just want to talk about pirates and sailors and the spectrum when one becomes the other,” she asks sailor and coach Ray Davies thrusting her mic into his face and exposing her complete lack of America’s Cup knowledge, before following-up with the equally hard-hitting, “Sails; do you scrunch or fold?”

As she’s being escorted out she reprimands his answer with her bewildering claim that, “scrunching is better for the environment!”.

Made by the same crew behind TVNZ OnDemand’s other web hit Educators, Last at 11 follows the same improvisational format, letting the actors wing their way through the situations and allowing zings to flow naturally.

“What does New Zealand love most out of anything?” one character asks to the immediate response of “pies”.

It’s a fun little show that manages to pack in plenty of Team NZ cameos – although like Crossman’s reporter I had no idea who any of them were – plenty of small gags and at least a couple of big laugh out loud moments into each bite-sized episode. Because they’re so short I crossed the finish line on the series in one enjoyable sitting.

So even if you don’t know your stern from your starboard I’m confident you’ll get a lot of laughs out of Last at 11. Because right now it’s certainly more entertaining than whatever’s happening out on the water.

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