Tuesday, January 08, 2008

The Border: Is Canadian Television Back?

The WGA strike -- a righteous one, if there ever was one -- may just be Canadian television's saviour. I had thought Canadian TV dead, buried, and gone to heaven with a few straggling excellent shows left to soothe the sensitive. Yet suddenly there's a resurgence of outright Canadian stories; no more occasional not-for-the-mainstream made-in-Canada-set-in-the-US-or-some-anonymous-place dramas and sitcoms devised to appease the CRTC gods. Television broadcasters and producers have become brave and are now courageously showing Canadians stories set in their own country right smack dab in the middle of primetime of all places. (Da Kink in my Hair should be after The Simpsons not before, but then that would be put it in prime primetime territory. Too bad Global doesn't have the balls to do that.)

Last night saw the opening salvo in this resurgence. The Border on CBC started its action in Pearson airport, tracking a terrorist. It has all the hallmarks of successful American dramas: a conflict between agencies, in this case ICS (which I've never heard of) and CSIS; a power-hungry bureaucrat played by a veteran TV actor; the requisite sexy military backstory for the main character, in this case he's ex-JTF2, a branch of the armed forces Canadians only learnt about a few years ago and which elevated our views of ourselves as being in the same league as the Americans with their black hawks and marines (of course, anyone in the know always knew our forces were superior anyway, ironically due to poor funding); the reference to big news items of the day, but done in a much more subtle way than I've seen on Law & Order, which basically bangs you over the head with its moralistic take; a conflict in the main character's family; sex between opposing characters; and to my delight, two of my fave actors from Forever Knight. I see Nigel Bennett is playing evil, as the CSIS guy, just as well as he did in Forever Knight. It remains to be seen how Catherine Disher will fill her role, but she already looks natural in it.

Using the devices Americans do to make their series successful doesn't make it American in tone or content. All stories, no matter where they're told or to whom, share universal features, things like conflict and climax and relevance to our lives today. The only difference here is that Canadian creators are getting better at understanding that and incorporating them into their own stories. Next week they'll introduce an American character, played by a CSI: Miami alum if I'm not mistaken.

The sharpness of the photography and the concrete and steel and glass sets work well in The Border. But the jerky camerawork annoys me. I want to reach through the screen and grab the camera to steady it. That style is so passé and overworked. I also had trouble keeping track of the characters as there are many in this ensemble cast. That should ease up as I watch over the next few weeks. Aside from those quibbles though, I enjoyed the show. The hour flew past. It was original, entertaining, and fun. And I totally related to it because it reflected my news, my culture, my country.

Tonight, JPod debuts on CBC, tomorrow Little Mosque on the Prairie has a new episode and Sophie premieres. Global now has da Kink in my Hair, and on the 22nd it debuts The Guard, starring another familiar face. Rather interesting how I'm recognizing actors from previous Canadian shows, actors I enjoyed watching before and am glad to see back again. Rather smacks of a burgeoning star system, eh? But I'd never want them to be subject to the same celebrity hell as Americans and Brits are. CTV is MIA, preferring to go the American reality route with some new eps and some old of American shows. And aside from Canadian Idol, they can't even make Canadian reality shows, unlike CBC and Global. Boooorrrring. Anyway, I feel positively inundated with Canadian shows, and it's a very nice feeling.

4 comments:

CQ said...

"camerawork annoys me"
Thank you for saying exactly what I thought! Looking for a synonym I thought of "epileptic". Everything else (IMO) about the episode, okay - the first 15-20 minutes, last night was solid... but that camerawork wouldn't hold position for even 2 'mississaugas'. It just kept pointlessly jittering, moreso than the bits of Intelligence I previously tuned into.

In a similar elsewhere vein, I don't like watching the NFL on FOX for all of its, action missing, non-stop motion angles either - but I'll watch any game sourced from CBS or NBC.

talk talk talk said...

You're welcome! "epileptic" I like! There was another show so obsessed with that technique I had to stop watching, it made me so dizzy. Can't remember what show it was...

I'm not an NFL fan, now the CFL -- good camera work there, and, of course, a far better game. ;D

Saskboy said...

All this good Canadian TV, and me the leader of the Teleban :-) What am I to do, except ignore it for blogging and other pursuits of happiness?

talk talk talk said...

You'll have to get the DVD when it comes out! Just don't tell anybody. Last night's ep of The Border was FUN. After enduring years of Law & Order nattering about "those Canadians," it was nice to see the tables turned for once. Plus the zingers and one-liners were even better than on L&O. Waaaayyyy better than what I've heard in a long time. This series is definitely a keeper.