Mary Kills People
Canadian TV

Review: Mary Kills People 1×1 (Canada: Global)

In Canada: Wednesdays, 9pm ET/PT, Global

Euthanasia doesn’t seem like the best subject for a comedy drama, even a dark one. In fact, it isn’t, judging by Mary Kills People, in which Caroline Dhavernas (Wonderfalls, Hannibal, Off The Map) plays a doctor who somewhat illegally helps the terminally ill to end their lives even sooner in exchange for a big pile of cash.

The easy flame against Mary Kills People would be that watching it makes you want to end your own life, it’s so dull. Easy, but true, unfortunately, since the opening episode that introduces us to Mary, her family, her partner in crime (Richard Short) is something of a slog that makes you long for the sweet release of death.

The opening is a misjudged failed euthanasia of 19-2‘s Adrian Holmes that ends with Dhavernas smothering him with a pillow then leaping out of a window. That’s still more exciting and better judged than anything that happens afterwards, which is largely about the logistics of Dhavernas’ operation, how she keeps it secret from her daughter and the fact she might be attracting the attention of some people she really ought to be avoiding. Attempts to forge a buddy-buddy relationship between Dhavernas and Short are stilted and lamentable, largely being discussions about which of their patients they’d have sex with.

The show wants to think it’s starting a conversation about the morality of euthanasia, but has nothing much to say on the subject having started the conversation. Is what Dhavernas doing right or wrong? Is it ethical to have a relationship with someone you’re about to murder at their own request? Big shrugs from Mary Kills People, but isn’t Dhavernas pretty? Ooh.

To the show’s credit, it is at least exploring a novel and bold idea from a novel and bold direction. But by the end of it, you feel that the whole thing is an attempt to redo Weeds in Canada with a slightly different ethical issue, rather than to do something genuinely groundbreaking.

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Cardinal
Canadian TV

Review: Cardinal 1×1 (Canada: CTV/Super Écran; UK: BBC Four)

In Canada: Wednesdays, 10 pm ET/PT, CTV
In Canada (en Français): Thursdays, 10pm, Super Écran
In the UK: Acquired by BBC Four for broadcast in 2017

Nordic Noir has been a staple of our airwaves for almost exactly a decade now  – ever since Forbydelsen (The Killing) hit our screens in 2007, in fact. What exactly makes something a Nordic Noir? It seems an obvious question – a Noir-esque drama made in the Nordic regions – but if you Theseus paradox the whole situation, suddenly it’s not quite as clear.

For example, can a country outside the Nordic regions make a Nordic Noir? It seems so. After all, UK made its own version of the Wallander stories, and we’ve gone on to make Fortitude, The Tunnel (Tunnel) and Y Gwyll (Hinterland), all of which seem to be as close to Nordic Noir as you can get without everyone speaking a Scandinavian language – at least before Fortitude went a bit bonkers and sci-fi.

However, The Killing (US), Those Who Kill and The Bridge (US) were almost identikit versions of the originals yet still didn’t have the feel of Nordic Noir, so clearly there’s something in the country of origin and the US doesn’t seem to have it. But how about Canada, which like the UK and the Scandinavian countries seems so lovely and calm and dull on the exterior but is possibly a seething mass of darkness underneath all the bad weather? 

Enter Cardinal to help us test the paradox further.

Based on the first of Giles Blunt’s six ‘John Cardinal Mysteries’, Forty Words For Sorrow, the series stars Billy Campbell (Helix, The Killing (US), The Rocketeer) as the eponymous Cardinal, a Canadian police detective in the fictional Algonquin Bay, who investigates the disappearance of a young girl. Unable to find her, he goes off the rails and is demoted, but a year later, the body of the girl turns up and he is reassigned to what is now a murder case, working alongside new recruit Karine Vanasse (Pan Am, Revenge).

It would be tempting to think of this as a Canadian version of Forbydelsen (The Killing) and the rest of its ilk, since many of the hallmarks of the genre are all present and correct: troubled investigator; cunning serial killer; general sadness, isolation, coldness and gloominess; and a thorough mining of the emotions of death, particularly the death of a child, and its effects on a community.

But I think comparisons would be misleading since although it is still a Nordic Noir, this is very much a show creating its own sub-genre: Canadian Noir. Beautifully shot in the Ontario winter, this is clearly a Canadian show with Canadian concerns. The police are obviously Canadians, not Americans in disguise, right down to the RCMPs. The Québécoise Vanasse not only is allowed to keep her accent, she is actually playing a Québécoise rather than a French woman for a change. The missing girl is a First Nation child and some of the first episode is dedicated to whether she receive a traditional First Nation or a Christian funeral or not.

The show’s attempts at accurate depiction of Canadian police work also place it in the same court as the outstanding 19-2, which might now perhaps be considered a prototype of Canadian Noir. As well as being directed by Podz, who directed both the French version of the show, as well as the outstanding single-take tracking shot in the English-language version…

…19-2 has a similar, major theme: (spoiler) an internal investigation of the lead character by the partner. Whether that’ll become a defining feature of Canadian Noir remains to be seen.

The show’s high production values, general timbre, decent acting, beautiful direction and beautiful location filming do go a long way to cover up the fact that the plot itself is a bit hackneyed. Sure, there are variations from the standard clichés, with Cardinal’s deep dark secret involving his wife turning out to be unique for a detective show. But it’s a serial killer being chased by an obsessed, unhappy cop, rather than a content family man tracking down a white-collar fraudster between the hours of nine to five on weekdays. It’s not that innovative.

All the same, Cardinal is the best new drama out of Canada since 19-2 and a worthy addition to the Nordic Noir catalogue. Fingers crossed for a UK airing.

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Take a look at the upcoming Canal+ shows, including Spiral, The Bureau, Versailles, Kabul Kitchen and Guyana

Canal+ is my favourite (and the best by a country mile) of all the French TV channels and although it’s having a bit of a problem at the moment with subscriber numbers and is cutting back quite severely, it is at least still producing a fair old number of top notch shows. Evidencing that is the channel’s trailer for its upcoming TV schedule, which has something of the Beeb’s “Original Drama” vibe to it.

Most of the shows will be familiar to British viewers or at least visitors to this ‘ere blog, since it features season 6 of Engrenages (Spiral) (BBC Four) and season 3 of Le Bureau Des Légendes (The Bureau) (Amazon), as well as season 2 of Versailles (BBC Two) and season 3 of Kaboul Kitchen (Kabul Kitchen) (Channel 4).

But new to the pack is Guyane (Guyana), an eight-part “modern Western” lavishly filmed in the country of the title and which started a couple of days ago. Here’s a synopsis:

Twenty-year-old Vincent Ogier (Mathieu Spinosi) is a Parisian geology student who has come to Guyana for an internship at a gold mining company: Cayenor.

A thirst for danger and a foolish mistake will push the young engineer to team-up with the “godfather of gold” Antoine Serra (Olivier Rabourdin from Spin and The Last Panthers), who reigns over the lost village of Saint Elias. Vincent believes he has found a mythical gold mine: a mine abandoned for 120 years, named “Sarah Bernhardt”. Serra has the skills to operate it. Seemingly paternal and friendly, Serra embarks with Vincent into the depths of the Guyanese jungle…

In a few weeks, Vincent will pass from trainee to adventurer…

No, I’m not quite sure about the Sarah Bernhardt thing, either. Here’s the trailer and you can have a much longer Guyane trailer, too, you lucky people: