‘Short Poppies’: a one-man mockumentary

A wildlife director, an amateur leg model, a lovable conspiracy theorist and an artistic single mother are just some of the characters all played by the same man in the new series, “Short Poppies.” 

Created by comedian Rhys Darby, the show is quirky and entertaining, yet lacks the easy, off-the-cuff humor of other mainstream comedies to come out of New Zealand over the past decade.

The show, in its mockumentary style, has David Farrier acting as its host and, subsequently, as a straight man to the over-the-top characters performed by Darby. 

Farrier, a famous entertainment reporter from New Zealand in real life, leads the program and gives it a better basis in reality by perfectly pretending to do the job he does in his actual career.

“Short Poppies” takes place in a small fictional New Zealand beach town full of an eclectic and eccentric group of citizens all played by Darby, with each individual character acting as the main subject of each episode. The show is supposedly destined to be a public interest piece for the New Zealand television station.

“Short Poppies” includes characters such as Mary Ledbetter, an older woman with no short of helpful “criticisms”; Ron Taylor, a young hopeful whale watcher; and Rhod Gainer, a public defender with illusions of extreme masculinity, to name a few.

Darby has clearly worked hard to create individual mannerisms and affectations for each character. Yet many times the secondary characters, as well as the town itself, steal the show.

Each episode follows one of Darby’s characters through a few days of their lives, and delves into their particular behaviors, personal relationships and all of the quirks that make small-town New Zealand life so intriguing.

The people that make up the town are thankfully consistent, including Colin, a local fish and chip restaurant owner; Jason, a lovable local; and the town’s police chief, plus several others all appear in multiple episodes and help bring a sense that Darby’s characters are connected by township, which also lends itself to the opportunity of these citizens crossing paths.

Farrier is the representative for the audience, and often gives “can you believe this is happening” glances, which has become a staple in mockumentary filmmaking.

Each episode creates a caricature of the type of person one might find in small-town New Zealand, much like how “Portlandia” gently pokes fun at very specific type of people in hipster-America. 

Yet not everything translates to an overseas audience as well as Darby had most likely intended.

While most episodes succeed in finding the hilarity of these societal archetypes in a relatable way, the show sometimes falls into the realm of silliness and even an occasional feeling of pity, for just how hard Darby is trying.

Darby, a New Zealand native and former member of its national army, is best known for his role as band manager Murray, in the HBO iteration of “Flight of the Conchords,” a critically acclaimed musical comedy show named after the band by which it was created. 

One of these bands members, Jemaine Clement, acted as director for the pilot episode.

The episodes are not necessarily ordered in a specific manner, and viewers can skip around, which could be useful if audiences find one of the characters isn’t as relatable to their own lives as others may be.

For fans of “Flight of the Conchords,” New Zealand or those who just need another offbeat show to watch on Netflix, “Short Poppies” is a lighthearted program that at many times manages to find the hilarity in the minutia of everyday life, even if it’s halfway across the world.