Created by and starring Rhys Darby – of What We Do In The Shadows and Flight of the Conchords fame – Short Poppies is a mockumentary TV series featuring entertainment reporter David Farrier meeting extraordinary New Zealanders who all live in the same town.
You have to ask yourself why something takes three years to get released. Made in 2014 and turning up just as Rhys Darby’s profile begins to get international momentum, Short Poppies is an odd fish. Guest spotting in everything from Jim Carrey’s Yes Man to an episode of the rebooted X Files last year, Darby has cornered the market in leftfield character interpretations. Working alongside Taika Waititi since Flight of the Conchords, Darby is currently riding the zeitgeist created around home grown Kiwi talent. With Waititi directing Thor: Ragnarok off the back of international hit Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Short Poppies is clearly trying to cash in on a cultural fascination with all things New Zealand right now.
What becomes apparent in this first season is Darby’s enthusiasm for bringing these characters to life inside a mockumentary environment. Introduced by Louis Theroux wannabe David Farrier and taking a leaf from League of Gentlemen as well as Spinal Tap, Darby works hard to build a believable world. But by using cameos from Stephen Merchant and Karl Urban along the way he creates a sense of tonal uncertainty, making Short Poppies feel in part more like a drama trying to be funny than an actual comedy.
For that reason there is an inherent disconnect between these characters and their audience. As a series it is funny in fits and starts but never really gets off the ground. There are quirky moments of invention but these are never really off-set by normality which undermines the intention. Bringing me to the defining problem here in that Rhys Darby is still developing and fine tuning his persona, hence that feeling of disjuncture.
What We Do In The Shadows and Flight of the Conchords are far better examples of what Darby is capable of than Short Poppies. It undermines any kudos he has built up and is like watching someone practice in front of a mirror. Not that the characters aren’t well developed just he seems out there on his own for most of it without adequate support. What becomes apparent is that Darby needs a specific foil for his comedy and Farrier falls short. He never holds the attention and for that reason you are witness to lots of scenery chewing. To be honest Short Poppies feels more like a series of extended sketches than a cohesive world of believable characters. That more than anything is why it should remain a curio at best, proof that even talented people are no strangers to false starts.
Written by Martin Carr
Directed by: Jemaine Clement, Michelle Walshe
Written by: Rhys Darby, Guy Roberts, Justine Smith, Grant Lobban, Rosie Carnahan Darby
Starring: Rhys Darby, David Farrier
Released: 2016 / Genre: TV Comedy
Country: USA/Denmark / IMDB
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Short Poppies was released on DVD, Sky Store and EST on May 29 2017