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Wellington Paranormal Finds the Funny in the Supernatural

The arc of the new comedy “Wellington Paranormal” is indicative of the fractured landscape out there for TV watchers. Originally broadcast in New Zealand in 2018, the show is a spin-off of the hit film “What We Do in the Shadows,” which has already been turned into an amazing series on FX, although that technically happened after this show. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi first created "Wellington Paranormal" for TVNZ 2 in New Zealand and it has taken this long to be imported to the United States, but even that part of the journey is a bit odd. It won’t appear next to the FX hit but on The CW on Sunday nights, starting July 11th, and then it will appear on HBO Max the next day. Got that? Because it’s worth tracking down this goofy delight.

Mike Minogue and Karen O’Leary first appeared as a pair of bumbling officers in the 2014 original film and they reprise their roles here in a mockumentary-style comedy that pits their inept detectives against one of the most monster-infested places in the world. Over six episodes, stories of possession, zombies, aliens, and more unfold, barely fazing the two people who bumble through the cases. Minogue is the more deeply inept of the two—an amazing bit involving a psychic and Minogue’s grandpa is worth getting a Season Pass for this show on its own—and O’Leary typically balances out his idiocy with her actual technique. Rounding out the main cast is a great turn from Maaka Pohatu as the captain, a man who seems more excited than scared by the unusual happenings around town.

Each of the six episodes of “Wellington Paranormal” sent for press, four of which were directed by Clement himself, has essentially the same structure as O’Leary and Minogue investigate reports of strange things around town. In one, cows are ending up in trees—it leads to an amazing scene in which Pohatu explains his theory that alien tractor beams are running out of strength and leaving the bovine halfway up—and, in another, a house seems to be plagued by a neverending ghost party from the ‘70s. The set-ups are clever through all six, but it’s the deadpan humor from the cast that really makes it work. At 22 minutes, “Wellington Paranormal” is refreshingly silly and never pretentious. Get in, make some dumb jokes about the supernatural, and get out. It’s that simple.

If there’s a complaint that American audiences are likely to have it’s that “Wellington Paranormal” isn’t as ambitious or consistent as “What We Do in the Shadows,” but that’s not exactly fair. Yes, the FX show is better, but that program is one of the best comedies on TV. This is more of an appetizer for that full meal. It may not fill you up as much, but it’s still totally worth ordering.

Six episodes screened for review.

Brian Tallerico

Brian Tallerico is the Editor of RogerEbert.com, and also covers television, film, Blu-ray, and video games. He is also a writer for Vulture, The Playlist, The New York Times, and Rolling Stone, and the President of the Chicago Film Critics Association.

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