From 2005’s Wayne Anderson: Singer of Songs to new Tom Sainsbury comedy Sextortion, via a dead peacock, a trio of escaped circus lions and a sentimental wrist wallet: Calum Henderson pays tribute to the unique oeuvre of television creator Orlando Stewart.
Orlando Stewart has never made a hit TV show.
What he has done, dating all the way back to 2005’s Wayne Anderson: Singer of Songs, is make a string of what might be described as cult classics, hidden gems or forgotten masterpieces.
For 15 years he has made the kind of shows Evan Dando was talking about in The Lemonheads cover of ‘The Outdoor Life’, when he sang: “I can’t go away with you on a rock climbing weekend / What if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again?”
Many of Stewart’s TV shows were never shown again. Rough-as-guts mockumentary Rural Drift, for example, aired on TV2 at 10.30pm on Wednesday nights in 2011 and that was it. No repeats, no on demand, just episodes two and three uploaded to the production company’s Vimeo account if you look hard enough.
This elusiveness is part of the magic of Stewart’s TV oeuvre. Most of his shows now exist mainly in the hazy and probably little bit rose-tinted memories of the handful of people who saw them on TV.
It feels like a throwback to a pre-broadband New Zealand, where if you wanted to see or hear something you had to put in the hard yards at Real Groovy or make a dub of your mate’s copy, and where a K Road slacker could make not one but several oddball series and have them shown on mainstream television channels.
Wayne Anderson: Singer of Songs (2005)
First airing in 2005, Wayne Anderson: Singer of Songs stood on the line separating documentary and mockumentary then scuffed it up so badly that nobody watching could tell what was real and what wasn’t. Either way, it was incredible television, and stands as a bona-fide Kiwi classic.
Stewart was a writer on the show and appeared as a washed-up Video Ezy employee turned hapless manager to Wayne Anderson, a four-octave singing sensation from Manurewa whom John Rowles allegedly called the greatest voice in New Zealand. The series followed Anderson’s journey to break out of the rest home circuit and find the fame that had eluded him, and/or $50 a week.
In the first episode, Wayne gets a perm to help him look more like his idol Tom Jones, goes shopping for baked beans and performs an audition a capella after Orlando brings the wrong CD.
The first episode of Wayne Anderson: Singer of Songs is available to stream at NZ On Screen; most of the other episodes can be found on YouTube
Rural Drift (2011)
Accurately described by NZ Herald critic Deborah Hill Cone at the time as a kind of Kiwi Withnail & I, it’s remarkable to think something as grotty as Rural Drift could have ever been broadcast on New Zealand TV. Stewart again played a fictionalised version of himself, this time a Pakuranga Hell Pizza employee who had moved to a rundown inherited property in Northland with his mate, where they fucked about, alienated the locals and attempted to start a pig farm.
The Dump (2011)
For short film The Dump, Stewart teamed up with Northland primary school teacher and film-maker Hamish Bennett, who he would go on to help make 2014’s award-winning short Ross and Beth and the 2019 feature film Bellbird.
Here he plays a washed-up bloke who runs a rural dump, which his estranged son comes to visit for the day. “When my mates ask me what my old man does, I just say he’s on the dole,” the kid (Reiki Ruawai) explains in a deadpan voiceover. “I get less shit for that.” Orlando gives him a tour of the dump, and gives him a wrist wallet he found there.
Deane Waretini: Now Is The Hour (2012)
The third part of a TV triptych about New Zealand singers attempting to make a comeback (there was also an hour-long documentary, The Secret Life of John Rowles), Now Is The Hour followed 1981 chart-topper Deane Waretini and his “Russian best mate” Andre on a road trip from Christchurch, where he lived and worked as a taxi driver, to his hometown of Rotorua for a gig that he hoped would reignite his career.
Deane Waretini: Now Is The Hour is no longer available online
Who Killed Lucy the Poodle (2019)
In 1986, three lions escaped from the Whirling Brothers Circus and ran free on the Rotorua waterfront for 45 minutes. In 2019, Orlando Stewart helped his friend Kent Briggs make a true crime documentary series about the incident he witnessed first-hand as a six-year-old boy.
Mentored by former Police 10-7 host Graham Bell, Kent’s amateur investigation centred around claims the lions had been whipped into a frenzy after they were fed the circus’s performing poodle earlier in the day. The result was a phenomenally good yarn, with Stewart’s unique comedy-documentary fingerprints all over it.
If Colin Craig ever decides to try and launch a political comeback, we can only hope Orlando Stewart is there with a camera to capture the ups and downs and unbearable pathos of it all. In the meantime, we have the new comedy web series Sextortion, in which noted political impersonator Tom Sainsbury plays the Colin Craig-adjacent conservative Christian party leader Darren Bellows, who gets blackmailed with incriminating footage in the middle of an election campaign.
Also featuring the acting talents of Natalie Medlock as his long-suffering wife and Mark Mitchinson as his evangelical father, Sextortion (a show whose title alone will likely prevent it from becoming a hit) is the first fully fictional TV series made by Stewart, but in a lot of ways it’s also the most believable.