Monsters mess with New Zealand in ‘Wellington Paranormal’

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Americans will soon learn there are more creatures in New Zealand than just hobbits.

Thanks to the expanding cinematic universe of Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, the list now includes vampires, werewolves, zombies, disco-era ghosts and projectile-vomiting demons.

The “Flight of the Conchords” star Clement and the “Thor: Ragnarok” director Waititi co-wrote, co-directed and co-starred in the 2014 film about a group of New Zealand vampire housemates, “What We Do in the Shadows,” and co-created the U.S. TV series of the same name on FX.

Now, they’re bringing their New Zealand TV show, “Wellington Paranormal,” to the U.S. with a premiere on The CW on Sunday.

A comic mockumentary with echoes of “Cops” and “The X Files,” “Wellington Paranormal” follows a pair of uniformed police officers, played by Mike Minogue and Karen O’Leary, in the title city as they investigate monstrous happenings with bureaucratic banality.

“The way that the characters react to things are quite New Zealand, the way that people either are understated or they don’t know what to do,” Clement said with a laugh in an interview with The Associated Press via Zoom from Wellington.

The show is a spinoff of the “What We Do in the Shadows” film, with Minogue and O’Leary reprising their roles.

But unlike the New York-set “Shadows” TV series, which was made for an American audience, U.S. viewers will see the same episodes that first aired in 2018 in New Zealand, where the show’s third season just aired and the fourth is in production.

Clement isn’t worried about the jokes getting lost between hemispheres.

“We try to cram it with jokes so that you won’t really notice if you don’t get a specific cultural reference,” he said.

A more significant difference may be the countries’ police cultures, and the prevailing attitudes around them.

“I know that this comes at an odd time for America and the image of police in America,” Clement said. “There’s a different feeling around the police here. There’s some crossover and some of the same issues, but because they don’t carry guns, there is not the fear of the police.”

And some of the jokes might play a little differently in 2021 after major U.S. protests of police violence than they did in 2018 when the first season of “Wellington Paranormal” was made.

In one episode, Minogue has blood all over his police uniform after trying to empty a pint into an evidence bag.

“I didn’t brutalize anybody!” he feels the need to tell the people who see him.

“There’s a few jokes like that that we did three years ago that I wonder if we could make today, because it’s changed so quickly,” Clement said. “I hope people still find that funny, but it feels more probably on the nose than it was at the time.”

It was an easy call for Clement and Waititi to give these characters their own show, and to have O’Leary and Minogue play them, though both were basically beginners when they appeared in “What We Do in the Shadows.” Their gifts for comedy, and for the improv that “Wellington Paranormal” relies on, were clear.

“We just put them together and instantly they had a chemistry like a great comedy duo, and we were just lucky,” Clement said.

He and Waititi had a hard time keeping it together when they watched the two in the monitors as they directed the film, and an even harder time acting alongside them.

“You can see it in the movie if you watch the scenes where they’re on and we’re on, Clement said. “We’re all hiding our faces and scratching our noses, covering our smiles.”

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Follow AP Entertainment Writer Andrew Dalton on Twitter: https://twitter.com/andyjamesdalton

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