It's been quite some time since a Canadian made drama series became "must watch" TV. So better prepare for the stunning success of the new police series The Line.
The first hour of the 15-parter premieres Monday March 16 at 10 p.m. on The Movie Network (and at 9 p.m. on Movie Central). If you catch the first hour you won't be able to tune out, it's that terrific.
Shot entirely on location in and around Scarborough, the story sports a grittiness not seen on any U.S. cop show.
This is it, the genuine article. The police portrayed here are stretched to the limit in their efforts to stem the flow of illegal drugs. The dialogue snaps and crackles with authenticity and the shots of seedy strip malls, decaying public housing apartments and discount stores make us believe we're watching real people.
I was lucky to spend the last night of shooting on the Scarborough set. The filming stretched into the night in a suburban home set back in a ravine. Present were the two script writers, playwright George F. Walker (This Is Wonderland) and partner Dani Romain.
I noticed how both followed their scripts most closely --they wanted the actors to say the lines as written. On many sets where I've been watching actors like to rewrite dialogue as they go but this was not permitted on The Line and rightfully so.
"It's so easy to learn the lines here," enthused Ron White who co-stars as Max, described as a morally ambiguous cop. "The dialogue has a rare rhythm. Scenes can be confrontational but it plays like actual life. It's an actor's dream to get such a part."
During a break Walker who has long been fascinated with police procedure said he wanted to move on from his often brilliant CBC series This Is Wonderland (2004-06). "CBC told us it was a 10 p.m. show and we had to run at 9 (because of The National). Just briefly there was an idea of shopping it around. Then this one came up and we wanted to look forward."
Walker says he wanted to portray the police "as they truly are, how compromises have to take place, how they are fighting within a system."
White and Daniel Kash (as Donny) are partners trying to keep their neighborhood functioning but not having enough staff or resources to do a complete job. So they may try unconventional methods. At times Max seems unhinged while Danny is sinking into alcoholism.
It all sounds so depressing but Walker's ability to get inside his characters produces moments of black comedy that will have you laughing out loud.
The story looks at their dealings with convicted drug dealer Carlos who is simply struggling to survive. As brilliantly played by Cle Bennet, Carlos has a wife ((Sarah Manninen) and daughter who are alienated from him. He's suspected of having killed Lucie's brother in a difficult drug heist.
American imports Sharon Lawrence (NYPD Blue), Ed Asner (Lou Grant) and Linda Hamilton (Beauty And The Beast) are also featured and all give strong performances. In addition their marquee value ensures U.S. sales.
Veteran Debbie Nightingale made it for the Nightingale Company in association with Astral Media and Corus Entertainment.
I watched as veteran director Gail Harvey (Metropia) shot in controlled bursts of activity. In outdoor scenes and inside the mall she uses available light to create a sense of reality, There isn't a glossy close-up to be seen.
White has always been an effective actor in both features (Cowboys Don't Cry) and TV work (Plague City) but he says "I think this is something special. We all felt it was going to be superior, a real break through."
Other actors you may recognize include Wes Williams (Instant Star) and Von Flores (Earth: Final Conflict).
The Line is unlike any other TV series and that may be a problem. Some sex scenes are almost X-rated. This isn't the kind of feel-good drama where you root for the good guys. There are no good guys, only cops trying to keep it together any way they can.
The lack of cliches and Walker's penchant for memorable dialogue should keep viewers on the edge of their seats. A few sample zingers: "Just because you're a whore doesn't mean you can't be a bad mother." Or: "You want me to give into the dark thoughts."
Challenging and provocative, The Line is every bit as good and maybe even better than most of those U.S. cable TV dramas critics rave so much about.
THE LINE DEBUTS MONDAY MARCH 16 AT 10 PM ON TMN (AND AT 9 PM ON MOVIE CENTRAL).