The biggest mystery in New Zealand television? How TV One can remain the flagship channel in the country; the ratings winner, when it consistently offers up a diet of programming fit only for the mentally feeble.
A quick analysis of their daily fare following the evening news and current affairs shows reveals a line-up of breath-taking banality; the sort of pap most people could surely only watch if they were strapped into a straight-jacket and threatened with menaces.
On Saturday we’re offered reality shows and old movies, on Sunday, wall-to-wall crime drama; Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday bring more reality programmes and crime dramas, Thursday is much the same and on Friday it’s two solid hours of ancient British comedy.
Only on Thursday evening, where an exception could be made for This Is Not My Life, could I find a reasonable excuse to think about switching over to the government broadcaster.
But if anyone hoped the advent of the new local cooking show, Annabel Langbein, The Free Range Cook (TV One, Saturdays, 7pm) would help redress the imbalance, they might have been a tad disappointed after watching the debut episode last week.
Don’t get me wrong. Langbein is clearly a talented chef and the success with her internet site and her latest book speaks volumes about the traction she’s gained in the industry.
The revelation that her new show has also been sold to Australia, France, Italy, Japan, Poland, Britain and Southeast Asia is also a triumph for Langbein, albeit a bit of a cringe for the rest of us.
Because the plain fact is that Langbein has a voice for writing, in much the same way as your television correspondent has a face for radio.
No matter how beautiful the scenes from her family’s lakeside retreat in Wanaka, and how worthy her dishes, it’s almost impossible to get past her grating Auckland twang, complete with vowels as flat as her short-crust pastry.
It wouldn’t be a surprise to find the producers may have harboured similar concerns, for the opening episode had very little audio from Langbein in action; it was dominated by scenes of her toiling away with a voice-over script, in which her enunciation was very deliberate, at times almost at Sesame Street level.
When not reciting from the script, she talked about everything being fubulus, dulucious, s’perb and p’fect, apart from the times (and there were many) when things were “rilly” tender, “rilly” fun, “rilly” mild and “rilly” sweet.
It did seem a shame, as well, that the first episode was recorded in summer yet televised in early spring, at a time when many of Langbein’s central ingredients: cherries, lettuce, fresh corn, new potatoes and cherry tomatoes, were out of season.
To top things off, the lakeside “friends and family scene” at the end of the opening episode was wooden in the extreme, so full of nervous laughter it was embarrassing to watch.
It’s true, any programme with background vistas as beautiful as the southern lakes cannot be too bad. But this one is almost the exception.