Review: The Listener 1×1

He knows what you're thinking and he really cares

The Listener

In Canada: CTV. No airdate yet
In the UK: Sundays, 8pm, FX
In the US: Thursdays, 10pm, NBC. Starts June 4

This is all very bizarre.

Firstly, The Listener is a Canadian TV show about a guy who can read minds. What is it about Canada and mind-reading, particularly mind-readers with really odd blue eyes? There’s Scanners back in the 80s, with Stephen “Appropriately Named” Lack cast really only on the grounds of his odd eyes rather than acting ability; now we have this, starring Craig Olejnik, which looks like it’s Serbian or something for “has really odd blue eyes”.

So that’s bizarreness one.

Bizarreness two is that despite being a Canadian TV show, The Listener‘s been picked up by NBC for primetime airing over the summer in the US. NBC showing foreign shows in primetime? Blimey. It’s like the world has stopped turning on its axis and taken us back to the 1960s – it’s even bought in the BBC’s Merlin of all things, too. Still, that’s cost savings for you. TV drama: very, very expensive to make these days.

Bizarreness three is that despite being a Canadian TV show, it’s not being shown in Canada until later in the year. Instead, Fox International is showing it in 180 other countries, including the UK, first – a move that seems to have worked a treat in terms of ratings.

That last one was actually bizarreness five. Shall we have a look at the show itself to see why?

In The Listener, Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik, In God’s Country) is a young paramedic with the power to listen to people’s most intimate thoughts.

Our hero soon realizes: With great power comes great responsibility.

Still, he’s got to admit that this telepathy can be pretty cool. Aided by his paramedic partner Osman Bey (Ennis Esmer, host of The Toronto Show), Toby walks a dangerous line between his calling as a telepathic sleuth and his regular life as an urban twentysomething.

Toby’s adrenaline-fuelled job and his active social life complicate the hell out of his destiny – or maybe it’s the other way around.

The Listener was created by Michael Amo (Blessed Stranger: After Flight 111) and the pilot was directed by Clement Virgo (The Wire, Poor Boys Game).

Is it any good?
To be honest, it felt a bit insipid and “been there, done that”. I mean, essentially, this is what you’d get if you based a show about a slightly more sensitive, slimmer, Canadian version of Matt Parkman from Heroes.

Toby the hotter Parkman has been mind-reading almost all his life, just like his mum could, even since before he’d been called Toby in fact. But he’s just been using it for random odd deeds like knowing a homeless guy just needs a dollar – and giving it to him – knowing what his girlfriend would like to do that evening or letting his boss know he’s TiVo-ed the wrestling for him so he’ll be nicer to his best friend.

As I said: sensitive.

But one day he gets pictures in his head, rather than just voices, and discovers it’s from a woman in a car crash. He goes to her aid and before you know it, telepathic paramedic Toby is solving crimes and helping people in danger because he realises it’s his calling.

There’s not a huge amount of originality going on here, but it’s actually quite enjoyable for its niceness. Toby doesn’t run around with a gun or use his powers for evil. People, even vicious murderers, aren’t really bad but just found events spiralling out of control. Even the obligatory hot female detective, who has an entirely impractical hairstyle and wardrobe and who resents Toby’s interference – why do the police in these things never say “Ooh, ta for helping. I had a caseload backlog this big and now you’ve saved me some serious work”? – warms to him by the end and accepts his lame excuses for knowing things only God and experts with sodium pentathol should know.

There’s a little bit of a backstory going on with Toby and his assumed identity, including whatever happened with his mum and some dark mysterious past that even he couldn’t remember until he started getting picture messaging from hot blonde single mums in distress. But it’s not that interesting. There’s also some college professor (Colm Feore, the daft First Husband in the current season of 24) who knows his secret and bores students with pretentious waffle as he wanders round campus in a daft scarf.

Acting-wise, everyone’s either very, very serious or very, very over the top, and it’s hard to identify with the ultra-wet Toby, who’s so virtuous he seems to be channelling Jesus of Montreal at times. So it’s not desperately compelling and if it were just me, I’m not sure I’d bother watching the next episode, not even to find out what Toby’s big secret is – although I will for you guys. You can thank me later by explaining why its worldwide ratings have been so high.

Here are a couple of trailers for your delectation:


  • Rob Buckley

    I’m Rob Buckley, a journalist who writes for UK media magazines that most people have never heard of although you might have heard me on the podcast Lockdown Land or Radio 5 Live’s Saturday Edition or Afternoon Edition. I’ve edited Dreamwatch, Sprocket and Cambridge Film Festival Daily; been technical editor for TV producers magazine Televisual; reviewed films for the short-lived newspaper Cambridge Insider; written features for the even shorter-lived newspaper Soho Independent; and was regularly sarcastic about television on the blink-and-you-missed-it “web site for urban hedonists” The Tribe. Since going freelance, I've contributed to the likes of Broadcast, Total Content + Media, Action TV, Off The Telly, Action Network, TV Scoop and The Custard TV.