Review: Northern Rescue 1×1-1×2 (Canada: CBC Gem; UK: Netflix)

Makes 800 words look like a Ken Loach documentary

Northern Rescue

In Canada: Available on CBC Gem
In the UK: Available on Netflix

There’s something about ‘family drama’ that brings out the fantasy in writers. I don’t mean elves and Thorin sitting down and singing about gold, here. I mean implausibility, silliness and cliché.

Of course, a lot of that is true for CBC (Canada)’s shows, too, so maybe it’s the fact that Northern Rescue is a family drama co-produced by CBC and Netflix that makes it so daft.

It stars the scary doppelgänger of Alec Baldwin – his brother William, who has slowly over time converged with Alec to become almost physically and audibly identical to him – as a Boston fire fighter, husband and father of three irritating teenage children. One day, family matriarch Michelle Nolden (Burden of Truth, Saving Hope) keels over at home and is subsequently diagnosed with fourth-stage cancer. A quick flashforward later and they’re at her funeral and unsurprisingly not very happy as a family.

Then Nolden’s sister Kathleen Robertson (Boss), who still lives in the remote small town that Nolden and Baldwin grew up in together, learns that the local Search and Rescue commander is looking to retire and she has a cunning idea. What if Baldwin were to take over and bring the family up north for a new start? They could even come and live with her!

The Fates then conspire to destroy Baldwin’s hopes for career advancement in Boston and with his savings all gone from medical treatment, he decides to grab the lifeline offered to him by Robertson. After taking a secondary kicking from the Fates, who decide it would be a cracking wheeze to burn down Robertson’s home just as Baldwin and co arrive, things soon take a turn for the better. Can the whole family be ‘rescued’ by their northern relocation? And will reality as we know it survive the process?

Northern Rescue

Northern revulsion

Whether they do get rescued by small town values and clean fresh air in Obviously Canada But Supposedly The US, I honestly couldn’t care less. In comparison to the nearly identical Australian drama 800 words (widowed father takes his family away from the big city to a small town so they can make a clean start), everyone is pretty charmless and annoying; the first episode is also pretty miserable.

Although “wife dying of cancer” is a plot thread not exactly geared up for excessive yucks, it’s all pretty bleak stuff, as the family have to prepare themselves for her impending death. And then her death. And then her funeral.

However, interspersed with that, we have the antics of elder daughter Amalia Williamson. Her bad behaviour and general bitchiness to all and sundry – including her father and dying mother, whom she seems to think deliberately chose to die of cancer – makes 800words’ Melina Vidler seem like Confucius crossed with Gandhi. It seems the one group left on Earth it’s safe to slander with bad characterisation are teenage girls.

That, of course, leads to endless number of scenes in which Baldwin has to stand around taking ‘your career is crap, you’re a crap dad and a crap husband who didn’t know your wife and you can’t handle the truth ‘ insult after insult. It’s a good job he seems to have taken enough Xanax to pacify a herd of rhinos, judging from how little he reacts to anything anyone says, even her.

Episode one ends with their new house burning to the ground, which is when you think to yourself, “Surely this can’t get any more miserable.” And you’re right. This is the point at which the drama taps out and decides it’s had enough of realism for a while. Because our entire family get to live in the town aquarium! Yay! It’s got an old arcade machine to play in and they even get a stray penguin to look after. Apparently, someone overlooked it when they moved out a few months earlier and it’s just been surviving. Somehow.

The rest of the episode is then more of the same cloying, vomitous silliness, cut between more scenes of Williamson being bitchy – although there’s an ‘origin story’ for that, which the entire family will Have to Deal With. It’s a Very Important Secret. And a miserable one.

Implausibly, in his new job, Baldwin is ‘too technical’, which apparently is a synonym for ‘sociopath’ (good job he’s on Xanax, hey?) and ‘lacking in empathy’, so despite the fact he’s told from the beginning that he only has a team of volunteers to work with, he proceeds to run them through Marine Corps training drills. Guess what life lesson he needs to learn by the end of the episode.

If you guessed ‘to drink the milk of human kindness and become a better man and father’, you’ve watched a clichéd family drama about redemption before, I’m betting.

William Baldwin


Episode one does at least have some moving moments, but it’s a real plod, nevertheless. I did begin to hope that random meteor strikes would take out the whole ungrateful family, leaving the typically excellent Robertson to realise what a close call she nearly had.

Episode two is a more enjoyable affair, but so far from reality, it made me suspect it was actually a short story written by 800 words‘ columnist hero as a satire of family dramas. Certainly, having Baldwin wobble around the training course while his 20-year-junior, buff man-god second in command supposedly flags 20 seconds behind him could only be taken to be the work of a Charlie Brooker-esque TV critic, rather than a sane TV writer.

But any more than that and I’d have begun to wonder if I was actually the bearer of the One Ring, so simply for my mental health, I’ve had to give up on Northern Rescue. I really wouldn’t advise letting it get that bad with you.


  • 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.