Archive | Canadian TV

An archive of blog entries about Canadian TV programmes and production.

October 21, 2016

Review: Shoot The Messenger 1x1-1x2 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on October 21, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Shoot The Messenger

In Canada: Mondays, 9pm (9.30pm NT), CBC

For ages, I was pining for a sequel to State of Play. I really was. It was just so bloody marvellous.

It didn't help that the movie adaptation was just so average, I'm still only halfway through it.

State of Play 2 isn't happening and never will. Sniff, boo hoo. So bless you Canada for trying to do your own (unofficial) State of Play. It's not the same, it's really not, but it touches me that you'd give it a go.

Shoot The Messenger has pretty much all the same plot threads as State of Play. It has street shootings. It has an intrepid reporter (Elyse Levesque from Stargate Universe) investigating a murder. It has an equally intreprid police department doing their own parallel investigation, with both sides feeding each other information to advance their own causes. The murder has political connections that might affect a certain big shot to whom Levesque has connections. It even has a plucky British newspaper editor (Alex "River Song" Kingston).

The big difference here is Levesque, who as well as being a cub reporter rather than a seasoned hack is also a bit of a shagger. She's shagging the head of the police investigation (Lyriq Brent); she's shagging her more experienced co-worker (Lucas Bryant). She also comes from a family of shaggers, since her sister is shagging said bigwig. And when Levesque isn't shagging, she's getting hit on the head or hiding under things. 

State of Play this is not. Sorry, Canada.

The show also lacks the journalistic verisimilitude of State of Play. While there are attempts to give both the police and newspaper sides of the plot a sheen of accuracy and Kingston's frequent words of advice to Levesque are frequently useful, The Guardian-logo nicking, serious newspaper 'The Gazette' appears to be equipped with neither copy editors nor fact checkers, there don't appear to be department heads, Levesque actually gets invited to the editor's daily content meetings, there appears to be almost no appreciation of the existence of a little thing called the Internet or social media, Levesque thinks it's okay to use a faux Google Images to check the spelling of names, and Kingston herself thinks it's more grammatically correct to say 'who is whom'.

Oh dear.

State of Play comparisons to one side for a moment, Shoot The Messenger does at least do something different from the usual CBC drama, even the ones that are supposed to be thrilling (eg The Romeo Section, Cracked), by having some action and excitment - its plot focuses on the Somali community and local gang 'the Mogadishu dogs', with Levesque witnessing the murder of the brother of one of the gang members, which sets off a chain reaction of violence (and misreporting). But while there is the occasional insight into that community, mostly it's all a lead in to corporate and political corruption and a Rob Ford analogy. 

But as a thriller, it's not very thrilling and spends a lot of it's time being apologetic for things and feeling sad about children getting killed in gang wars. There's an unnecessary side plot about Levesque's brain-damaged dad; with the exception of Brent, all the black characters are criminals or harbourers of criminals, leaving Bryant to be the implausible Somali expert at the paper; and Bryant seems like he's on quaaludes the whole time.

Levesque and Kingston make Shoot The Messenger pass a lot more agreeably than it should. I might stick with it, since the political side of things hasn't kicked in yet and it could well get better as a result. But more likely, I might just watch State of Play again.

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October 19, 2016

Review: Travelers (Canada: Showcase; UK: Netflix)

Posted on October 19, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share


In Canada: Mondays, 9pm ET, Showcase
In the UK: Acquired by Netflix

Given that Canada, Showcase and Brad Wright have been so central to science fiction television, particularly time travel shows, in the past few decades, we shouldn't be surprised that with the US lining up the likes of Timeless, Frequency, Time After Time and Making History, all three have decided to get in on the act to produce something similar but different.

Travelers flips most time travel stories on their head by having travelers coming from the future to our present in order to prevent a terrible disaster from occuring. So far, so identical to Showcase's own Continuum. The difference here is that the time travelers are (apparently) the good guys and they're from the far off future, a future so distant the human race is in danger of extinction, something they'd quite like to prevent by changing things now.

But most important of all, they can't actually physically travel through time. Instead, provided they know the exact time and place someone is going to die, they can project their minds back in time into the 'host' and take over their body à la Chocky and Quantum Leap.

Travelers' first episode, written by Wright, is mainly establishment of the lives and families of the hosts who are shortly going to die and be replaced by an 'elite unit' of time travelers. We have the learning disabled Mackenzie Porter (Hell on Wheels, Blackstone); douche high school quarterback and cage fighter Jared Paul Abrahamson (Awkward); abused single mum Nesta Marlee Cooper (Heroes: Reborn); and drug-addicted college student Reilly Dolman.

Chasing after them after he becomes aware of some 'odd traffic' on the dark web is FBI agent Eric McCormack (Trust Me, Will and GracePerception). 

Then, of course, the time travelers turn up and the show then becomes about the differences between the hosts and their new inhabitants, who can fight back, don't have an addiction, aren't learning disabled, aren't complete dicks and so on. And despite having done their research, the time travelers still have a huge culture gap to navigate, from the little things such as text message slang and not answering the front door naked through to quite big things like how people talk and discovering that people lie on social media and that maybe one of the hosts isn't who she claimed to be online.

Shot in the style of Wright's previous big offering, Stargate UniverseTravelers is an edgy and surprisingly intimate affair, trying its best to make all of this not ridiculous, something it does pretty well. To be fair, though, there's actually precious little about the time travelers' mission so it's hard to tell if something extraordinarily silly is round the corner. Instead, it's mostly about changing behaviours and what happens if someone starts acting very differently from how they used to behave - and whether other people will allow that or get suspicious.

Basically, it's a science-fiction spy show with a whole bunch of sleeper agents suddenly being activated. It's The Americans but with a different kind of time travel. Hopefully.

The characters and stories are engrossing, McCormack is as pleasing as ever and everyone, particularly Porter and Dolman, does well with what they've got. There's even an appearance by ubiquitous former Huck Finn and Continuum regular Ian Tracey.

There's a big twist at the end that will be entirely ruined if you watch the trailer below, but Travelers is definitely a very promising first start to a series that's also got a big chunk of Netflix co-production money behind it. I'm hoping for great things, but we'll see how it goes.

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October 14, 2016

Review: Kim's Convenience 1x1-1x2 (Canada: CBC)

Posted on October 14, 2016 | Post a comment | Bookmark and Share

Kim's Convenience

In Canada: Tuesdays, 9/9.30NT, Canada

It's not often that stage shows get turned into TV shows, but Canada works a little different to the US. Kim's Convenience was a gentle comedy about a Korean-Canada convenience store owner and his family that won Best New Play at the Toronto Fringe Festival back in 2011. Now adapted by the play's writer and starring most of the same cast, it's become a 13-part CBC series.

Stereotypes abound, not just about Koreans but also about convenience store owners, and most of the show's humour involves playing with those stereotypes. The first episode sees a Gay Pride parade going past Appo Kim (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee)'s shop and how he deals not only with gay customers but also accusations of homophobia. While Appo is indeed as you might expect 'not quite sure about the gays' ("where have they all come from? And what's the difference between transgender and transsexual"), his response is not prejudice but to offer a 15% gay discount and to quiz transvestites about whether they simply like wearing women's clothes or are sexually attracted to men - so he can decide whether they deserve the 15% discount. 

Similarly, the photography-centric episode two, in which you expect him to be conservative about some art students' naked shots instead reveals he's a failed photographer himself and is more critical over the choice of model in the shots than the choice of subject matter. And then he gets into a competition with his arts school daughter Andrea Bang over who's a better photographer.

That subversion of stereotypes continues with his wife (Jean Yoon)'s ongoing efforts to marry off Bang to a good, 'cool, Christian Korean boy', with Bang protesting that no such thing exists:

Meanwhile, Appo's happy with anyone his daughter's happy with, provided they know the date of Korean independence.

While most of the action takes place in the Kims' shop, there's also a couple of side stories. The first involves estranged son (Simu Liu), who works at a car rental shop where the manager (Nicole Power) has the hots for him.

The other involves Yoon's volunteer work down the church, where she gets into the traditional passive-aggressive competition with other mothers over whose kids/lives are better. Except the show again tries to subvert stereotypes and everything works out far nicer than you'd expect.

It took about 15 minutes or so for the first actual laughs to turn up, I found, but after that, Kim's Convenience because a lot better. It's never riotously funny and often is at its best when it's more of a sketch show, with brief scenes involved new customers to the shop, rather than when it's dealing with its series arcs. But compared to the horrors of say Four In the Morning, it's head and shoulders above the crowd.

Give it a try if you enjoy good-hearted shows and that rare thing indeed - a funny Canadian sitcom.

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