27 Sep 2020

The final series of Westside is a last goodbye to the Wests

From Standing Room Only, 5:47 pm on 27 September 2020

It's been a wild ride but New Zealanders' time with the notorious West family is coming to an end after 12 seasons. The final series of Westside, the equally successful precursor to the smash hit Outrageous Fortune, starts this week.

We've seen the law-breaking Westies through good times and bad, crime and incarceration, births, deaths and marriages. And the final season, starting on TV3 tomorrow night, revolves around the death of central character - matriarch, Rita.  

James Griffin, co-creator with Rachel Lang of both Westside and Outrageous Fortune talks to RNZ's Lynn Freeman about the birth of the disreputable West Auckland family.

Despite being dead, Rita West's impact echoed throughout Outrageous Fortune, leaving Westside to fill in the story of what had happened to this strong character.

"We did a little throw forward at the end of series five, we knew that this would be the last series, so dealing with the death of Rita - thankfully in Outrageous Fortune it's alluded to rather than defined, so it gave us a bit of wiggle room. It was a way of telling that story in an uplifting and enjoyable way...

"Writing Westside is weird, because you're writing the middle of something, you know where things are going to go, because Outrageous Fortune dictates that, so you can't kill off characters just because you don't like them, because they exist in the future, for example.

"But also, thanks to Outrageous Fortune and often little throw-away lines that have now become gospel you know the past as well. So you're always trying to join the dots, it was weird, but fulfilling. A very interesting way of writing."

During the last season's shooting, Covid-19 created a long gap part-way through their schedule where everything on set had to pause. But the cast and crew sprang right back into it once they resumed, he says.

Antonia Prebble as Rita West in Westside

Antonia Prebble as Rita West in Westside. Photo: http://westsidetv.co.nz

What's at the heart of the connection New Zealanders felt with the Wests, does he think?

"One of the most sensible things the programmers at TV3 said to me was 'don't bring me what I can buy elsewhere, bring me what I can't buy'.

"It turns out what only we can make, is stories about us, in all our faults.

"We charged into that with glee and joy, celebrating New Zealanders and all their mad glory and their passions and their little battles, and we channelled all that through the West family. I think that's why it took hold, because people go 'yeah, I can see us in there'."

However, in the current world of programming, Griffin says he doesn't think something like Outrageous Fortune would get the backing to get off the ground. Funding decision-makers are mainly interested in programmes with global appeal and could become the next big Netflix hit, he says.

Ironically, Outrageous Fortune led to duplicate programmes created in both the UK (Honest), and US (Scoundrels), but Griffin says it was always first and foremost about New Zealand-ness.

With Westside, they began to also connect the Wests to moments of New Zealand history. Main characters Rita and Ted's stories were touched by the Mr Asia syndicate, the 1981 Springbok Tour, and convicted murderer Ronald Jorgensen.

"We've played with all sorts of things, on all sorts of different levels. It makes it different from Outrageous, and it makes it enjoyable to do," Griffin says.


westside Photo: supplied

Everyday pieces of New Zealand's history are carefully included.

"One of my favourite things is every year we'd do a car call. And there are so many people out there absolutely proud of their cars from the 70s, 80s, and we end in 1990.

"They would come along to set with their vehicles and we tried not to wreck them and give them pride of place. It's celebrating the common things that make us, us."

A scene from TV3 show Westside, which has just received funding from NZOA for a second season.

Ted and Rita, played by David de Lautour and Antonia Prebble. Photo: Facebook

Writing the last episode and saying goodbye to the West family's story was tough at times, he says.

"There was a moment in the read- through for the last episode, where there's a very emotional scene right near the end. And... I'm thinking gosh, [actress Antonia [Prebble, who plays Rita] is putting a lot of effort into this, it really sounds like she's crying. And she was.

Then I noticed David [de Lautour, who plays Ted] was crying and the whole table was crying and it sets me off.

"So the emotion wells up from time to time. Because whether I like it or not, these people have been a very big part of my life for the last 15 years.

"But, I think we're ending at the right time."

Outrageous Fortune went to air first in 2005, and the final series of Westside starts tomorrow night on TV3.