In the US/Canada: Fridays, 10pm ET/PT, CBS/CTV
Remember the writers' strike in the US? It seems so long ago now, yet it really did happen, honest. While curtailing the runs of many existing shows was its most obvious side-effect, it also killed off more than a few pilots, and stopped shows that were going to kick off in the Summer season.
While most US networks responded by commissioning easy-to-make reality TV shows to fill the gaps, some chose to think the unthinkable. CBS, as well as re-purposing Dexter for mainstream audiences, decided to look to other countries for some primetime programming.
Canada was the main port of call. That shouldn't be surprising as Canadian TV has come on in leaps and bounds of late. The Border might have been a natural choice as an import, given it's 24-esque qualities, and indeed some cable channels did look at it for a while. But the fact all Canada's ills turned out to be caused by Americans (and Muslims) put them off.
Now comes something more surprising: Flashpoint. It's set in Toronto, features Canadian actors playing Canadians and it's a co-production between CBS and Canada's CTV that's simulcast on both sides of the border - the first such show since Due South in 1994.
The Strategic Response Unit is a team of cops like no other - they're the elite, the blueblood of the force. High risk is their business, and life-and-death stakes are their world.
The SRU team is also unique; they rescue hostages, bust gangs, defuse bombs, climb buildings, see through walls and talk down suicidal teens. It takes years on the street, intense physical conditioning and elite marksmanship to qualify for the SRU. They have to prove that they're at the top of their game on a daily basis - because if they're not, there are hundreds of others willing to step in and take their place.
The team uses state-of-the-art equipment - sniper rifles, snake-cameras, robots, flash-bangs, night-vision and Tasers. But beyond all of the cool gadgetry, the most important weapons in their arsenal are human intuition, a gift for words and their ability to read emotion. Each team member is uniquely trained in negotiating, profiling and getting inside a subject's head. They stand out because of the rare balance between lethal hardware and people skills: pure muscle and pure intuition. They're the envy of law enforcement everywhere.
The stakes are always high in Flashpoint -- only here, the lives of the men and women on the team are also always on the line. That's the nature of the job.
The SRU may be heroes, but they are also human. At the end of the day, they each go home haunted by what they've seen, by what they've had to do - pursued by new demons which they cram into already bulging closets. They lock down emotion and they second-guess decisions made in the heat of the moment. These individuals are constant witnesses to the extremes of human distress. Not everyone is cut out for this.
If you're a cop, you're three times more likely to kill yourself than to be killed by a bad guy
Is it any good?
All things are relative. In comparison to Standoff, it's a work of art, a collaboration between geniuses.
In many ways, it's not bad at all. Whereas most of CBS's shows (for which read “US shows”) take reality, throw bits of it out of the window and then add stuff that's almost pure sci-fi to jazz it up, Flashpoint is at great pains to be as realistic as possible: it's a hostage rescue crime procedural to complement CSI's forensic procedural.
We see snipers strapping themselves to buildings in case they fall off; we have code words and people taking strict logs in case there's a later investigation; we have a forensic psychologist and oodles of hardware. It does at least make you think the show knows what it's talking about - which shouldn't be surprising given the advice provided by a member of Toronto's Emergency Task Force.
But - as I reach for my giant bag of unsupported stereotypes - it is quite Canadian. Yet it's also not Canadian at all. Here's why.
If this were a US show - he says, reaching for a side-pouch on his great big bag - the show would be all about the crazy hostage, his motivation and how necessary it is to shoot him in the head. If there were any problems, they might last an episode.
But being a Canadian show, it cares. Okay, not about the hostage at all, since he's another crazy Muslim and they're the root of all evil (cf The Border). No, it cares about the cops.
Killing people must be terrible. It must cut you up inside, make you cling to your family and worry about them and yourself.
So while we have the new-wave Canadian TV love of glossy camerawork, fancy camera angles and gritty realism, we also have a great big bucket of angst. The hostage negotiation only lasts a brief part of the programme - it's the investigation and guilt that form the bulk of the show.
But it's also not very Canadian at all. You'd be hard pressed beyond the accents and the uniforms to find any hints that this is about members of the Canadian police. In a sense this is good: you wouldn't watch an episode of The Bill and expect every line of dialogue to be about “our fine English weather” and the quality of the Yorkshire puddings of late. But if a special forces guy turned up, you'd expect a reference to the paras, SAS or the Marines. He wouldn't just be “special forces guy”.
It may be one of my conspiracy theories, but it does feel as though the Canadian references have been filed off to make it more palatable to a mainstream US audience, right down to the inclusion of an American actress in the cast (former 'Pink Ranger' Amy Jo Johnson). Certainly the CBS web site seems only to want to focus on Johnson and the famous Canadian (Enrico Colantoni) in the cast.
People and places
It's also not very interesting yet. There's some pretty excruciating dialogue and some really poor acting from some of the prettier members of the cast, although Colantoni (who's been in so much US TV and so many movies, you'd probably think he was American) does have star potential.
The characters don't really have much by way of personality yet, and the personalities they do have appear to have been stolen from The Border's big book of cookie cutter archetypes - in particular, there's the black guy who doesn't get much to do and the woman who has to prove herself to the men.
And this first episode's plot wasn't that interesting. We're expected to care about people we haven't really been introduced to and that's the bulk of the plot.
Nevertheless, this is the first episode and it's perilously close to intelligent drama. Given time, it may grow into something good once it's shed it's introductory baggage - provided it can avoid making every single incident a major trauma for everyone involved. One to watch, at least, if not set a date for.
Here's a YouTube trailer for the show and you can also see lots of little clips on the CBS web site (if you're American).
- July 28, 2008: Third-episode verdict: Flashpoint
The verdict on Flashpoint after three episodes
- June 30, 2010: Review: Rookie Blue 1x1
A review of the first episode of Rookie Blue