Review: Hulu’s ‘Deadbeat,’ Netflix’s ‘Short Poppies’

Deadbeat Short Poppies TV Review

Similar in tone to the late lamented “Pushing Daisies,” “Deadbeat” promotes Tyler Labine from the sidekick role he’s seemingly played in a half-dozen shows — including the cult favorite “Reaper” — to leading man. However familiar, this Hulu original series is also disarmingly funny, conjuring quirky moments as it channels the comedic side of “Ghost.” In this week’s digital showdown, it also happens to tower above “Short Poppies,” a Netflix acquisition from New Zealand that essentially serves as a showcase for “Flight of the Conchords’ ” Rhys Darby, but feels like another mockumentary rehash from the Chris Lilley school of role-playing shtick.

Labine’s Kevin can see and communicate with the dead, specializing in “finishing unfinished business” — that is, allowing the uneasily departed to conclude some unresolved matter so they can move on into the light.

Unfortunately, he hasn’t quite determined how to cash in on this power, instead sitting around smoking a lot of weed and usually struggling to pay his rent. In that regard, he’s a stark contrast to TV psychic Camomile (“So You Think You Can Dance’s” Cat Deeley, unexpectedly effective), who is of course a charlatan but suspects Kevin might be the real deal.

In the premiere of the 10-episode run, Kevin seeks to help a soldier who died before losing his virginity (the ghosts can inhabit Kevin’s body to fulfill their objectives), setting up a fairly predictable but still quite funny (and lewd) scenario. The second finds him assisting a hot-dog-eating champion who wants the person who inherited his prize organ (in this case, his stomach) to enter one more contest.

Kevin’s bickering yet lustful relationship with Camomile provides a modest throughline to the series, but creators Brett Konner and Cody Heller (working with director Troy Miller) mostly focus on the corpse of the week, pretty consistently finding amusing situations in Kevin’s plight, inasmuch as almost nobody believes him.

Admittedly, it’s a slim construct, but still better than any number of sitcoms currently playing in higher-profile venues. By that measure, it still might not be too late to bring “Deadbeat” into the linear-TV light.

As for “Short Poppies,” the series was clearly conceived as a vehicle to capitalize on the versatility of Darby, who created the show (he’s also credited with writing it, despite the improvised feel) and plays different characters each week.

The conceit is a documentary filmmaker (David Farrier) traveling around to small towns, doing features about the quirky characters he encounters. All of them are played by Darby, including a lifeguard who prides himself on being a “sexy league competition” winner; and in episode two, a local woman (Darby in drag) who is an avant-garde artist and something of a cougar.

Other than Farrier’s pained (and frequent) reaction shots, though — and cameos by the likes of Stephen Merchant and Sam Neill — the series relies too heavily on Darby’s mugging. He’s a formidable talent, but unlike his lifeguard alter ego, there’s nothing here worthy of a prize.

On the plus side, these services continue adding to the overflowing content pool, either by greenlighting projects like “Deadbeat” that might not have found life elsewhere or by bringing a wider variety of international material to U.S. shores.

As with everyone else, though, it’s a hit/mostly-miss proposition. And this time, anyway, Netflix and “Poppies” come up on the short end of the shtick.

 

Review: Hulu's 'Deadbeat,' Netflix's 'Short Poppies'

(Series; Hulu, Wed. April 9)

(Series; Netflix, Thur. April 3)

Production

Filmed in New York by Dakota Pictures and Plan B in association with Lionsgate.

Filmed in New Zealand by Augusto.

Crew

Executive producers, Troy Miller, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Little, Brett Konner, Cody Heller; co-executive producer, Sarah Esberg; supervising producer, Tally Barr; producer, Don Poquette; director, Miller; writers, Heller, Konner; camera, Trevor Forrest; production designer, Timothy Whidbee; editor, Jim Towne; music, James Iha; casting, Cindy Tolan, Adam Caldwell. 22 MIN.

Executive producers, Rosie Carnahan-Darby, Leon Kirkbeck; producer, Cass Avery; series director, Michelle Walshe; writer, Darby. 22 MIN.

Cast

Tyler Labine, Brandon T. Jackson, Lucy DeVito, Cat Deeley

Rhys Darby, David Farrier

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  1. Maggie says:

    it is the “sexy leg competition”, not league, an amusing mistake in light of the New Zealand accent where “leg” is pronounced “league”….

  2. Asashii says:

    Deadbeat is censored for language, I will wait for DVD version that doesn’t bleep, I don’t watch tv shows that annoyingly bleep or censor content!!!!

  3. Hayley says:

    I just don’t think he gets the kiwi sense of humour at all. Its not the in your face humour we get shoved at us from the US, in a way its more delicate and you have to understand the New Zealand culture to understand a lot of the funny parts. I think its a nice light hearted series that allows you to pick out whats funny and whats not, and the cameos (like Karl Urban as a gay hair dresser) were quite funny. However, thats just my opinion.

  4. Harry says:

    It is hard to take a columnists opinion seriously when they get key facts about a show wrong. It’s a sexy leg compiteion and the artist appears in the 6th episode. I know the accent is sometimes hard to understand but perhaps you could pay attention to this show before you condemn it.

    • Reese says:

      I absolutely agree with Harry. I suggest Brian Lowry remember what he learned in school, I also suggest, he grow a sense of humour. Typical.

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