Review: Pure 1×1 (Canada: CBC)

Mennonite Breaking Bad

Pure (CBC)

In Canada: Mondays, 9pm, CBC

Everyone knows about the Amish, right? They’re the German-speaking, pacifist Christian fundamentalists who shun all things modern in an effort to be as godly as possible. You may remember them from a little known 80s film called Witness.

Less well known unless you watch a lot of reality TV are their neighbours, the Mennonites, an equally German-speaking, God-fearing group although they aren’t quite as strict as the Amish – they can own cars, go to High School on the school bus and mix with the Ausländer and everything.

But even less well known than them are the Canadian Mennonites, a bunch who fled to Ontario from the US when the War of Independence broke out. And oddly enough, they’re the stars of CBC’s new drama – a sort of Breaking Bad for Mennonites. It stars the ubiquitous Ryan Robbins (Continuum, Arrow) as the delightfully named Noah Funk, the newly appointed pastor of the (fictitious) Mennonite town of Antioch who has to work out how to deal in a Christian manner with what seems extremely unlikely to the casual viewer but turns out to be based on a true story – the Mennonite mob, a group of dangerous drug runners ferrying cocaine from Mexico to Canada and the US.

The mob have killed one family escaping from a Mexican Mennonite ‘colony’ and when Funk takes in the surviving young son, he ends up having to deal with both the mob and slobby cop AJ Buckley (CSI: New York), who’s after this previously unsuspected snake in the community. Also involved is Texan DEA Agent Rosie Perez (Do The Right Thing, White Men Can’t Jump), who’s well aware of what’s going on with the Mennonites, both in El Paso and on the other side of the border.

Watching Pure, it’s hard to know exactly how realistic the Mennonite side of things is. Show creator Michael Amo is the grandson of a Mennonite, for sure, but every bad accent and poor piece of German sets off warning klaxons, and the whole idea boggles the mind to begin with, let alone when the Mennonite kids are wandering around school, working out the intricacies of ‘Auslander’ (non-Mennonite) life and whether it’s okay to say ‘My God’ as an expletive.

The criminal side of things is a bit pedestrian, too. Buckley’s cop, intent on recruiting Funk to help him penetrate the close-knit mob, lacks any of the skills to do it yet still manages to accomplish it somehow. Surprisingly, for a godly man, Funk sure finds lying easy. And in general dramatic terms there are problem, too, with pretty much every Mennonite indistinguishable and undifferentiated from all the others, bar the nicely-hatted mob boss Peter Outerbridge (the original Murdoch in The Murdoch Mysteries, Blood and Water), who forces Funk to work for him to save his family.

But all those issues to one side, as with Blood and Water and Shoot The Messenger, Canada is at least showing that it can offer crime shows that aren’t just the same old formula and that involve different communities from those we’re used to. I probably won’t stick with it, but it’s nice to know that the show’s out there.