A Review of Casketeers | This Netflix Documentary Comedy Follows a New Zealand Mortuary
The Netflix documentary/reality show Casketeers chronicles the daily events at Tipene Funerals in Onehunga, New Zealand. The manager and focus of the show is Francis Tipene who is an exuberant and delightfully eccentric funeral director who loves cleaning, singing, and irritating his wife in that cute-angry kind of way. Casketeers follows his average funeral director life including leaf blowing his funeral home’s parking lot, removals, picking out a new mirror, and interacting with tragically-hurting families.
The show is over a year old, but I wanted to reflect on it because season 2 just started airing in New Zealand last week. We can expect to see it in the U.S. later in 2019 via Netflix.
I binged the entire 6-episode season with my (non-death care) brother last week and it was astonishing how entertained he was by what was one of the most unremarkable shows I’ve ever seen. His captivation highlighted an idea that I often forget… preparing our dead has been so far removed from modern life that any glimpse of it (even if it’s painfully mundane) can stroke an itching curiosity.
“There’s a dead person!,” my brother said when the sheet was removed to expose the foot of a decedent. All we saw was a yellowish foot from a distance and he had that entranced kind of excitement that exposed his level of captivation. I’m not poking fun at my brother here, he just happened to be the non-death industry subject in the room whose behavior I could observe…
When you pull back the curtain to a cultural taboo that is handled by an industry that strives to make everything feel like magic then pretty much anything you expose will be compelling as f**k. They could have spent an entire episode in an arraignment and achieved outstanding entertainment value (although to be fair that can lean more reality TV drama than a documentary comedy…).
I wonder if people will look to Casketeers to educate themselves about the realities of funeral care? This actually wouldn’t be so bad… Francis is incredibly professional during any family-facing interactions and his charming and light-hearted humor humanize funeral directors and staff at Tipene Funerals. This image leads the perception of the funeral director FAR away from the dark-and-morbid stereotypes and towards a far more relatable character with the same silly jokes, struggles, and insecurities as the average person. Francis is making funerals less scary.
The downside is that although Casketeers paints a friendly image of the funeral space… it isn’t actually how most funeral homes feel. Francis is a born showman (perfect for staring in a TV show), which he talks about in the show and, realistically, most funeral directors are not going to sing, play guitar, and dance at a funeral.
If you are in the death care profession I recommend you watch at least couple episodes of Casketeers. It’s a funny portrayal of funeral care that is relatable – there is a comforting feeling of camaraderie in that. The show also depicts New Zealand’s funeral traditions which are interesting. Their caskets are stunning and the casket preparation is fascinating to watch. Ultimately, though, for industry insiders, it’s a boring, sometimes painful, show to watch. Not everyone feels this way though, Casketeers won Best Original Reality Series at the 2018 Huawei Mate20 New Zealand Television Awards.
Following The Great British Bake Off, baking spiked in popularity and after The Great Pottery Throw Down, pottery classes all over England filled up. Maybe Casketeers will make funerals… cool?