This genre-bending show has imagined a world where men no longer exist

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Creamerie (new season)
SBS Viceland, Monday, 9:25pm and SBS On Demand

The first season of Creamerie kicks off in a men’s rugby locker room with a montage backed by a dreamy cover of What a Wonderful World. A single player’s bloody sneeze triggers a pandemic and within a couple of weeks the room is transformed into a charnel house, blood spattered across the walls and a stack of bodies burning in the field outside. Eight years later, every man on Earth is dead from the mystery virus and a matriarchal utopia has been built, women living under the peaceful rule of a group called Wellness that preaches abundance, gratitude and embrace of the divine feminine.

Pip (Perlina Lau), Alex (Ally Xue) and Jaime (JJ Fong) in Creamerie.Credit: SBS

Except, of course … not. As is quickly established, Wellness is a totalitarian cult keeping tight control over all its subjects and brutally punishing anyone who steps out of line. The truth is revealed to three friends: Alex (Ally Xue), a fiery rebel who rails against Wellness’ regime, having lost her brother to the pandemic and her mother to the rulers’ cruelty; Jaime (JJ Fong), Alex’s sister-in-law, mourning both her dead husband and the baby son who also succumbed; and prim and obedient Pip (Perlina Lau), who is fully on board with the Wellness message and therefore in for some major disillusionment. When they discover a fugitive man – ie, a member of the sex that is not supposed to exist – on their New Zealand dairy farm, the three women are thrown down a rabbit hole of danger and dark conspiracies.

The second season of Creamerie, airing now, opens where the first left off: with the three heroines and their male companion seeking to save their own lives and find a way to bring down the organisation that is enslaving male survivors of the virus in order to control the world’s fertility.

Creamerie has been a billed as a “black comedy”, but that suggests a cynicism and heartlessness that doesn’t fit here. Indeed, although it’s frequently very funny, this Kiwi gem is packed with tension, action and heartfelt emotion as well as mirth. When the comedy comes, it’s of a typically NZ flavour: deadpan and low-key, springing from the ordinariness of its human characters juxtaposed with the madness of the world around them. More importantly, the comedy is woven neatly into the fabric of the show, not by any means an easy trick to pull off: there are plenty of examples, some quite recent, of shows that haven’t so much blended drama and comedy as just slapped them together and hoped for the best.

The three leads, Alex, Jaime and Pip, who are also co-creators along with Roseanne Liang, play off each other beautifully, bantering and squabbling with the natural ease of a team that has clearly worked together long enough to develop strong chemistry. Thrown in the midst of this trio, one-time soapy heartthrob Jay Ryan is to be commended for holding his own as the grim, chisel-jawed Bobby. But the greatest scene-stealer is Tandi Wright, who as Wellness’ evil queen Lane creates a glorious monster, full of wispy affirmations and benedictions to the goddess while radiating irrepressible menace. By season two of course Lane is very much mask-off, which means a little more Bond villain-esque scenery-chewing from Wright: greatly enjoyable if lacking in the subtlety of earlier episodes.

Creamerie succeeds in part because of its refusal to define itself simply. On the surface it looks like both a comedy and a drama. Deeper down it opens itself up to all sorts of interpretations. Maybe it’s a cautionary tale about the false promises of charismatic leaders, or about power corrupting no matter who is in charge. Maybe it’s an allegory of misogyny by reverse example: a kind of inverted Handmaid’s Tale with jokes. Maybe it’s a musing on friendship and family and the nature of moral choice. Maybe it’s simply a ripping yarn of a sci-fi dystopia and brave heroes fighting tyranny. Maybe it’s all of these, or none of them.

What it definitely is, though, is a salutary lesson: that even in a little market like New Zealand, it’s still possible to create wildly inventive, original and gripping genre TV. Without eye-popping effects or a massive budget, a bona fide science-fiction classic – and much more besides – has come to life. With big ideas and big talent, anything is possible.

Creamerie (new season) is on SBS Viceland, Monday, 9:25pm and SBS On Demand.

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