A Crock-pot of Crack-ups: On Aroha Bridge

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09.09.2019

A Crock-pot of Crack-ups: On Aroha Bridge

I have an uncle who cemented his signature look sometime in the late 80s. He still gets a flat-top fade, carries all his necessities in a bum-bag, wears tapered, mid-rise jeans (with a more diluted acid-wash these days) and wears sleepers in one ear. Fashion is circulatory, but style is forever. 

He is a mean cook, too. Housing in New Zealand lacks insulation, but if you clog the draught with the smell of pork bones and a ruckus fire you can’t tell the difference. It’s a distinctive warmth you can’t replicate anywhere. He gifted my brother his secret bacon-and-egg pie recipe, and keeps his fridge stocked with pineapple lumps and fizz for his moko. He rides a motorbike, drives a flash car and runs marathons. 

I see him in Uncle Noogy’s fits and Aunty Winnie’s athleticism. I hear him in Whaea Bubbles’ jokes. 

My cousin’s pseudonym – on Bebo and IRL – was DJ Kritakool. He introduced me to OutKast’s ‘The Whole World’ feat. Killa Mike, for which I will love him forever. He drove an Evo which, in my memory, was yellow and fast. He wore a Yankees visor and let me play PlayStation way past my bedtime. 

I see him in Monty’s laissez-faire love of chips. In Ira’s work ethic, and Tapi’s hustle. 

There’s never been a TV show that can both reflect and deny those buzzy idiosyncrasies in a whānau dynamic, at least with some grain of accuracy. It’s kind of disarming and affirming at the same time. 

My youngest sister must be Angeline though. Maybe without the Hollywood blockbusters, but all the star-power Libra energy and IG followers. Kowhai feels like an amalgamation of my older sister and me. Between the two of us though, I reckon I’m more like Monty. But maybe Monty is a Frankenstein of my brother and me. 

It’s unfamiliar to have the power to ascribe fictional characters to certain people. There’s never been a TV show that can both reflect and deny those buzzy idiosyncrasies in a whānau dynamic, at least with some grain of accuracy. It’s kind of disarming and affirming at the same time. 

Aroha Bridge – the places, people and experiences – is an assemblage of real and unreal. It is here, in this messy concursion, that Aroha Bridge thrives, where all the complexities that contour our weird existence manifest and contradict each other in hyperbolised and oddly comforting ways. We are all, I think, a bit magic and a bit ordinary. However, the show’s creator – Jessica ‘Coco Solid’ Hansell – is pretty much all magic. 

The third season concluded on Māori Television last Thursday. As with previous seasons, relative to my personal maramataka, I am experiencing that post-series melancholy. The second season punctuated a sustained, depressive lull in my life – I had every episode on rotational viewing schedule for weeks. I don’t know if it’s filling a void I didn’t know I had. But it does give me a lift in ways I don’t anticipate, and sometimes can’t explain.

Perhaps it is the format. Humour and animation aren’t mutually exclusive. Aroha Bridge isn’t divorceable from the whakapapa of Māori and Pacific ‘adult’ animated humour. But the marriage of the two in Aotearoa – from the perspective of a bloody talented, multi-disciplinary, SaMāoriDeutsch, Capricorn wahine – is novel and under-exhausted. The intersection of the two allows for those gnarly politicised punches to land. It hits like a delayed concussion – the introspective ruminating comes later. To be fair, we all know New Zealand is overdue a collective HIA. 

In the same breath, the show demonstrates the entanglement and nuance of diversity and representation, in ways that kind of shit on that nonsensical, good-bad Richter Scale.

I don’t want to wax lyrical about representation and diversity either. Those terms have become so diluted they mutate into the cringy and corny. They have become emblematic of white women climbing the corporate ladder. Nor am I advocating for a forced influx of positive images of Māori, dressed-up self-tokenisation to counter the distended ratio of bad-to-good. That isn’t to suggest those representations aren’t irrelevant, disconnected or unimportant. They are. I think it’s critical that Māori and Pacific people, particularly those ensconced in the margins of our communities, continue to interrogate those terms for ourselves. Aroha Bridge navigates that successfully in the first episode. In the same breath, the show demonstrates the entanglement and nuance of diversity and representation, in ways that kind of shit on that nonsensical, good-bad Richter Scale. The intent is there in code-switching, paradox and accuracy. 

Those things transgress the characters, dialogue and relationships, too. Without music, clothing, environment and voices to house those signature elements, the show would be in freefall. The use of DIY and punk music is critical for both young audiences, in the process of cultivating their identities, and for older audiences unpacking that residual trauma. Kowhai and Monty’s band, Hook Ups, experiences failure in a triumphant, resilient manner that does a lot to parry that whakamā. Aroha Bridge itself resembles Māngere Bridge. Even Ira’s dairy is modelled on Mojo’s Superette. Kowhai’s wardrobe is enviable (that last-season flammable jacket is flames, and my boyfriend and I can’t figure out if those are Jordan 12s or 21s, but they are mean), and everyone should have two pairs of jandals – formal and informal – like Monty. However, I think it is the collectivisation of recognisable voices – Hansell, Madeleine Sami, Rizván Tu’itahi, Matai Smith, Frankie Stevens, Rachel House, Filisi Crichton, Julian Dennison, Ra Pomare, Oscar Kightley and Scotty Cotter – that gives Aroha Bridge a pulse. If there was a cap on how many funny people you can have in a room, regardless of peak or off-peak time, Aroha Bridge would well exceed that. 

We don’t need to fast-forward a decade and romanticise how the show is ahead of its time, nor should we be rushing to dissect it. Each season of Aroha Bridge – like Rihanna’s highly anticipated new album – arrives precisely when it means to.

This latest season aired at the same time as the ongoing movement to protect Ihumātao. It was a psychic convergence – a chicken or the egg of art imitating life. When I FaceTimed my mum about that last Kamo Kamo episode we were in hysterics. I was cracking up, trying to explain how Monty’s was thrust into activism because of a trade embargo on Brorito’s. Between her giggles, she pointed out that people only respond politically when it affects them, or the things they care about, personally. In that moment, my mum – a Pākehā woman married to my Māori father for nearly 40 years – cracked open a Pandora’s box for me. Not in terms of Jacinda’s abysmal (but predictable) inaction, and the parallels between Ihumātao and Aroha Bridge. But more so in recognising the potential of animation, humour and art more broadly, when someone who understands that responsibility can drive the boat.

That is perhaps why Aroha Bridge is so significant. We don’t need to fast-forward a decade and romanticise how the show is ahead of its time, nor should we be rushing to dissect it. Each season of Aroha Bridge – like Rihanna’s highly anticipated new album – arrives precisely when it means to. It funnels complex, brave and funny narratives from a throng of organic experiences and influences into a crockpot, simmering since ages ago, and on the stove for ages more.

You can watch the latest season of Aroha Bridge on their website, or over at Stuff.co.nz

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