Off the Beaten Path | Wellington Paranormal S1

Alright you ghouls! It’s October in a rather fucked up year, so it’s time I (further) cover television that revels in the spooky and the macabre here on Off the Beaten Path. So to celebrate the Halloween season as best we can during the Age of Covid, I found something a bit lighter – and shorter than Kolchak: The Night Stalker – to help us through these already weird-ass times.

So without further ado, let’s look at the 2018 New Zealand paranormal investigation mockumentary Wellington Paranormal S1, the first spin-off of What We Do In the Shadows.

If I had to sum up my thoughts on Wellington Paranormal S1, I would say that while it’s my least favorite part of the What We Do In the Shadows franchise, it’s still a fun property that earns its place in the canon.

How identity can Wellington Paranormal S1 earn its place in the franchise

Instead of talking about why I think Wellington Paranormal S1 is the worst property of the franchise so far first, I’m going to talk about the flip side of this coin. Namely, how and why it has earned its place in the canon.

If I had to pin this down to one quality, it’s that it has a distinct identity compared to the What We Do In the Shadows show.

The members of the Wellington Paranormal unit. From left to right: Officer O’Leary, Officer Minogue, and Sgt. Maaka

When you first watch What We Do In the Shadows S1, it’s easy to fall into the assumption that the crew behind the show – it’s pretty much the same crew as Wellington Paranormal aka Clement and his frequent collaborators – is just trying to copy the movie. Beyond the presence of Guillermo as a live-in familiar and switching out Petyr with Colin Robinson along with moving the setting to Staten Island, it was the same set-up.

As such, What We Do In the Shadows S1 had to prove it was a wholly unique property that could stand on its own. That it wasn’t just the movie copy and pasted to the tv screen. While I think it has since done that with aplomb, it still had that question of worth hanging over its head. 

Wellington Paranormal never had that issue. Right from the get-go, Wellington Paranormal S1 never felt like it was copying the movie. By simply not following a vampire flat, it could free itself from the shadow of expectations and direct comparisons to the movie and establish its own identity.

To be fair, the genres of Wellington Paranormal aren’t exactly unique. Mockumentaries are a dime a dozen, and paranormal investigative television has been a highly influential and prolific genre for decades. That, and seeing as the same crews have worked on everything in the franchise, the humor is exactly like you’d expect. It’s full of fish out of water goofballs who act deadpan as they bumble around the utterly fantastic. It’s just that now instead of a vampire flat we follow street police officers. In other words, Wellington Paranormal S1 runs the risk of feeling indistinct in its own way.  

That said, I was never worried Wellington Paranormal would feel like a hydrox version of What We Do In the Shadows like how I was worried What We Do In the Shadows S1 would be going in, or conversely that it would be a bland and toothless parody. Going in, I just figured Wellington Paranormal would be a fun spin-off that feels like a natural evolution while expanding the world of the movie.

And you know what? I’m not wrong.

In a similar vein, the show smartly strove to differentiate itself from the movie.

Other than the presence of O’Leary and Minogue (they’re the cops who are called in to investigate the domestic disturbance when Petyr was killed), Wellington Paranormal S1 didn’t touch upon anything related to the movie until The She-Wolf of Kurimarama Street, which is over the halfway point of the season.

Even then the connections to the movie were fleeting at best. There’s a sizable cameo in A Normal Night – I’ll get to that in detail when I discuss the episode – but by then Wellington Paranormal S1 is firmly established so it feels earned rather than like a crutch.

Characters helping build identity

You know what goes a long way towards establishing that identity? Just like the rest of the canon, it’s the strength of the characters. In this case, that falls squarely on the shoulders of the bumbling paranormal unit.

A promotional line-up of some of Season 1’s monsters

While it took me a few episodes to get fully on the wavelength of our bumbling cop heroes, once I did the show really shines.

It’s easy to see why Clement and Waititi decided the first spin-off tv show would follow O’Leary and Minogue. The duo is perfect for the improv-heavy comedy of this universe, what with their effortless rapport. They’re the bumbling yet surprisingly unflappable Mulder and Scully I never thought I wanted – or rather, the anti-Mulder and anti-Scully despite how much Minogue thinks – yet alone needed.

While it took me a minute to fully root for O’Leary and Minogue, Sgt. Maaka was easy to love from the get-go. He’s the perfect antithesis of Tony Vincenzo in Kolchak: The Night Stalker, a doofus true believer trying to wrangle his skeptic officers to investigate the paranormal while constantly charging into the fray.

Also, we can’t mention the strength of the characters without mentioning the side characters, especially when it comes to the monsters of the week.

If you’ve read my review for Kolchak: The Night Stalker, you’ll know one of my biggest complaints about the monsters is they can feel samey. There’s only so much you can do with supernatural serial killers, especially if they fall into one of three stock motives.

Here in Wellington Paranormal S1, every monster has some distinct personality and/or mode of action. The episodes may run on a loose formula, but the monsters never feel the same, thus keeping us on our toes. After watching not only Kolchak: The Night Stalker but watching all of Gravity Falls – fantastic show by the way, everyone should watch it – and restarting The X-Files in the last month, this variety is welcome.

But what about my saying Wellington Paranormal S1 is the weakest of the franchise earlier? 

Now, I did mention that out of the What We Do In the Shadows franchise Wellington Paranormal S1 was my least favorite so far. If you’re finding that surprising based on everything I’ve just written about, it boils down to three things.

Deadpan cops being deadpan

First is that while I like O’Leary, Minogue, and Maaka as the main protagonists, I can see people not gravitating towards them like the other protagonists in the franchise.

As charming as they are, our cop trio can have a hard time competing with the vampires and their inner circles. Especially as it can often feel like O’Leary and Minogue are only able to play a similar level of deadpan. Which after a while can get old. This is why it took a rewatch to fully vibe with the first few episodes, which I’ll address in greater detail below.

That said, their range and personalities grow with time, so this deadpan fatigue isn’t nearly as present later on. Plus, I often give a pass on this for character-based comedy shows since it takes time to flesh out a character. So here’s hoping Wellington Paranormal S2 builds on this potential.

On a related note, the second reason is that by nature of being a paranormal investigation show that deals with a case of the week, Wellington Paranormal S1 runs on a formula.

Normally, an episode starts with O’Leary and Minogue responding to a nominally normal call, which then turns out to be paranormal in origin. From there, the duo – more often than not with Maaka serving as the surprise cavalry in the field – bumble their way into solving the crisis, if they do at all. It’s not a bad formula, but it highlights the freedom a roommate-com has over a work-com if the roommate-com plays its cards right.

Lastly, the What We Do In the Shadows franchise has raised the bar very high in terms of my comedic expectations. So, to say Wellington Paranormal S1 just gets by the bar instead of leaping over it still means it cleared the bar. In terms of the live-action comedies I’ve covered, Wellington Paranormal S1 is easily amongst the top of the list, second only to Danger 5. So, you know, still really good.

In Conclusion

So that’s Wellington Paranormal S1. Just to recap my thoughts, I would say that while it’s my least favorite part of the What We Do In the Shadows franchise, it’s still a fun property that earns its place in the canon. It may have gotten off to a bit of a rocky start, it shows great promise for a second series. If you’re looking for something to watch between seasons of What We Do In the Shadows, or are just looking for an off-beat paranormal comedy, check Wellington Paranormal S1 out.

My Recommendation: Recommend

My Episode Recommendations

  1. Demon Girl: Recommend
  2. Cop Circles: Recommend
  3. Things That Do The Bump In The Night: Highly Recommend
  4. The She-Wolf of Kurimarama Street: Recommend
  5. A Normal Night: Recommend
  6. Zombie Cops: Recommend

In Case You’re Interested in Watching Wellington Paranormal S1

If you’re interested in watching Wellington Paranormal S1, you may have issues if you’re in the United States, since it isn’t available on any of the main streaming services. If you have a region free DVD or Blu-Ray player, you can get it on disc here.

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

Joseph MacMaster

Writer extraordinaire in progress who hangs out with the Chicago Film Scene crew. I screenwrite for my fellow CFS filmmakers. I also write TV and movie reviews, and am a co-host/main writer of the Chicago Film Scene: Live! podcast.

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