It used to be that horror was considered a genre explicitly and unapologetically for nerds who live for things that go bump in the night — the freaks who get off on jump scares or the low-key scaredy-cats who push themselves to the edge. But with the popularization of horror in recent years has come a shift toward making it as accessible for everyone as possible. Meaning, even if you’re not exactly into horror, maybe you’ll like it with gnarly humor at the forefront. That’s where The CW’s new “Wellington Paranormal” sits.
Co-creators Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s horror comedy, part of a subgenre that has risen in recent years much to the frustration of horror purists, first aired in New Zealand for three years beginning in 2018 before The CW acquired it in partnership with HBO Max. It’s a paranormal police procedural that primarily follows officers O’Leary and Minogue (Karen O’Leary and Mike Minogue, evidently using their real names for their characters in a very see-what-I-did-there kind of way) patrolling the streets of Wellington, New Zealand, for crime like two stragglers from “Cops.”
And like the officers in that twice-canceled reality series, they don’t often know what they’re doing. For example, they think they’re sweeping the streets for crime when they’re actually encountering large, mysterious outbreaks of the demonic, ghostly or creature variety. That includes the female werewolf whom O’Leary attempts to govern by using her police voice and commanding her to sit down in her own home, or the men dressed as clowns charging toward a panicked O’Leary and Minogue’s cop car, or the alleged dogs in human clothes.
“Anything else you can tell us about this dog?” O’Leary asks a witness. To which he responds, “Yes, he was wearing pants.” “Wellington Paranormal” is delightfully deadpan, adhering to a sense of mystery and suspense while poking fun at it at the same time. Theoretically, there’s nothing exactly hysterical about two cops unwittingly putting themselves in a type of danger that can’t even be explained. But the actors O’Leary and Minogue totally sell you on the idea with their wide-eyed yet determined reactions to the strange circumstances they encounter.
Their seriousness, coupled with shaky cam effects (another nod to the documentary style of “Cops”), puts audiences on the ground with them as they unsuccessfully try to sort out what’s happening around them. But it’s impossible to get too anxious for them as the makeup on each grisly “criminal” is straight out of a D-rated ’80s horror movie. In other words, it looks like cakey film splattered onto their bodies.
Waititi is certainly no stranger to blending genres, especially after earning an Oscar for writing “Jojo Rabbit” as well as writing and directing “What We Do in the Shadows,” created by Clement. But while “Wellington Paranormal” has the veneer of satirizing the law enforcers like those on “Cops,” ripped off the airwaves last year in the wake of #BlackLivesMatter protests, it doesn’t really have much to say about their miscarriages of justice.
But “Wellington Paranormal” does successfully lampoon the idea of authority. Even O’Leary and Minogue’s superior, Sergeant Maaka (Maaka Pohatu), is a condescending nitwit who follows dogs wearing jeans on Tumblr while zombie-infected cops, vampires and specters befall Wellington. It’s silly, fun and occasionally astute, even when it isn’t trying.
“Wellington Paranormal” premieres on July 11 at 9 p.m. ET on The CW.