Monday, January 28, 2013

Generation Jobless: Must-See TV

Generation Jobless is the sensational new documentary about how so many Canadians under 30 can't find permanent jobs despite being the best educated bunch in history.
Brilliantly written and conceived it seems like it was torn from today's headlines.
But Sharon Bartlett (co-director with Maria LeRose) says it took a full year from the initial research to filming and editing for it to appear.
"In that time the problem  just became larger."
Every year Canadian universities graduate some 254,000 talented students. But good jobs are drying up at an alarming rate and by 2030 only half as many good jobs will be available compared with today.
There was a chance Generation Jobless might have deteriorated into another talking heads project leaving the poor viewer overwhelmed by the dire statistics.
But Bartlett and LeRose wisely personalize the problem.
We see individual cases --an urban geography grad who must wait on tables because there's nothing available for newcomers in her specialty.
We see a young boy proudly framing in degree in civil engineering and then going off to a job in construction with his father.
"The jobs pool is drying up at a shocking rate," Bartlett says. "And it's right across the boards. Boomers are delaying retiring --often because they accumulated debt getting these kids through college. Many kids graduate with no job strategy skills --they just assumed there would always be jobs out there."
Today's college grads are more in debt but better educated than any other generation in recent history. But the jobs for which they've been trained just aren't there.
One girl tells us "I'm a serial intern". Like many others she has taken an unpaid internship to get her foot in the door. At one company Remote Stylists we see that few of the consultants are paid and only a handful ever get offered full time jobs despite accumulated experience.
"As we progressed we discovered parents need to be aware it's a different world out there than when they graduated," says Bartlett.
Automation and outsourcing to foreign countries mean Canada is losing good paying jobs faster than new jobs are being created.
"It's not going to get better,"Bartlett cautions. "We talk about driverless cars which means few jobs left for taxi drivers and delivery van drivers. We talk about 3D printing which Google is preparing."
And I added in my talk with her the disappearance of reporting jobs at the daily press, the loss of projectionists in cinemas, the closing of corner DVD outlets and neighborhood book stores.
The documentary is devastating in analyzing why Ontario still graduates hordes of teachers who will never get work. High school career counsellors just aren't with it.
We listen to individual cases: of the Ontario teacher still supply teaching after nine years in the system. This is contrasted with the retired teacher who still supply teaches because he's good at it. He doesn't feel he's manipulating the system at all.
That's the downside.
"We had to choose between Germany and Switzerland for a solution.We show Swiss kids can chose an apprentice program as early as 15 and after they do that for three years they can switch to the university stream because they're still young. And unemployment is very low compared to the 67 per cent of young Canadians unemployed after university and in debt that averages $27,000 a person.
This is the third in a trilogy of thought provoking similarly themed docus: Hyper Parents And Coddled Kids (2010) and Generation Boomerang" made by Bartlett and LeRose for Dreamfilm Productions.
Biggest problem was boiling it all down to a compactly edited 42 minutes making Generation Jobless a model of its kind in combining brevity with stark visuals.
And just Google CBC Doc Zone Generation Jobless for even more information.
MY RATING: ****.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dallas Season 2: Coping With A Big Death

I'm not afraid to admit it --I simply couldn't see the reboot of that old favorite Dallas making a big comeback.
But I reviewed the new Dallas if it were the old show. And its not.
The new Dallas could never be as big a hit on cable as the original was on CBS. But it nevertheless is a hit by cable standards.
But its return for a second season is marred by the death of Larry Hagman who passed on during filming of the sixth episode.
Hagman looks horribly drawn in the first two new hours which I've previewed. But he still sports that malicious gleam in his eye and effortlessly steals the few scenes he's in.
The younger cast members must deal with the usual amounts of outrageous melodrama including love trysts, a missing daughter who appears 20 years later and various boardroom machinations.
Then there's the strange spectacle of Sue Ellen (Linda Gray) running for governor of the Lone Star state. Until ----.
And what about Chris's bride Pamela who turned out in last year's finale to be Cliff Barnes' daughter. And, yes, vengeance is on her mind.
But it's J.R. who gets off the best line here: "You're not the first Pam to flush her way into the hen house."
Which is why the new version constantly reminds me of another TV family --The Borgias.
To me it seems the new show is handsomer than the original just because most scenes are now shot on actual locations rather than the old standing sets in a TV studio complex.
And the dialogue certainly is crisper than once permitted by CBS which always kept a network censor on the set to complain about lewd language and Sue Ellen's cleavage,
This time out Christopher (Jesse Metcalfe) calls J.R.'s boy John Ross (Josh Henderson) a "douche bag" right to his face. Times certainly have changed!
Hagman expired late November and months later the cast assembled for a TV reunion. The cast included Cliff Barnes (Ken Kercheval), Gary and Lucy Ewing (Ted Shackeford and Charlene Tilton), and Ray Krebbs (Steve Kanaly). How's that for familiar faces in unusual places?
In 1980 the cliffhanger "Who Shot J.R.?" created additional popularity for the show as will this similarly titled cliffhanger.
For J.R. to simply die of natural causes simply would not do --an elaborate murder mystery will follow.
And fresh villains have been imported including Judith Light as the manipulative grandmother of the abducted baby now full grown. And there's the wonderfully oily Mitch Pileggi playing Harry Ryland first husband of Bobby's second wife Ann (Brenda Strong). Are you still with me?
To me it's problematic whether Dallas 2 can survive Hagman's death over the longer run. J.R. was  always the soul of the show even though his appearances were brief.
Surely the highlight of the first two hours is the tentative reconciliation between J.R. and the fragile Sue Ellen.  Now that I think of it a lot of characters depended on their interaction with him.
But as far as Dallas 2 goes I have been wrong before, haven't I?

Friday, January 25, 2013

Spartacus Back For A Final Season

When Star Andy Whitfield announced he had non-Hodgkin lymphoma after the first season of the surprise TV smash Spartacus many of us assumed the show could not come back.
Whitfield had attracted quite a following --he was both good looking and sincere. Producers rushed in a six episode substitute as Season Two hoping that Whitfield would somehow recover but he relapsed and had to resign.
The hunt was on for a new sincere hunk and Liam McIntyre was hustled onstage --he talked to Whitfield on the phone but the two never met.
With Whitfioeld's shocking death it was plain McIntyre had quite a job in persuading the fans to stick with the series.
Taking over from a deceased star is mostly unsuccessful. But McIntyre soldiered on --he wasn't as heroic as figure of Whitfield but he could perform the battlefield stuff with ease.
The result was a third season titled Vengeance that some of us felt faltered in the story department while remaining visually splendid.
Critics have called it a low rent sex 'n scandals epic and that's precisely who so many fans are tuning in.
Battle scenes open this latest season with lots of simulated gore. Each time a Roman centurion gets decapitated the blood spurts right at the camera.
But success on the battlefield means Spartacus has now gotten 30,000 rabid followers who must be fed three times a day. And what about shelter and other needs such as sex?
The spectacle is a feast of special effects that take up where the film 300 left off. And many viewers see it all as post-apocalyptic --in the story Rome is burning because of over commitments just as America is struggling in the present to maintain its world order view.
In the first new episode Spartacus continues to attract a growing army of rebels --the Senate decides only wealthy Marcus Crassus can stop him at this stage. The new season is titled War Of The Damned.
Although the U.S. originating cable network Starz announced cancellation after this season already there are press reports about a possible sequel of some sorts.
Creator Steven DeKnight says the decision to end it was thought out and based on a desire to end on a high note.
And about the last story arc DeKnight says "The scope of it multiplies many times as Crassius battles Spartacus across the country."
In the first new hour I was struck by the brilliant acting of  Simon Merrells as Marcus Crassus and lean, young Christian Antidormi as his son Tiberius Crassus  -- together they join the seasoned cast of Manu Bennett (Crixus), Dustin Clare (Gannicus), Dan Feuirregel (Agron), Cynthia Addai-Robinson (Naevia) and Ellen Hollman (Saxa).
The key scene has Crassus killing off his most loyal servant to prove he is ruthless in his desire for victory. But Crassus also respects the other side. While his son rants that all slaves are unworthy Crassus does not make the mistake of under estimating his foe.
The first new hour called Enemes Of Rome makes us wonder if all Romans can possibly be completely terrible. And how has success changed the rebels --at what point in their carnage do they become equally uncaring killers?
Airing in over 100 countries, this one has been a huge moneymaker spawning off a global frenzy in prop replicas, comic books, even trading cards.
I kept watching and wondering how it can possibly end.  But I'm also remembering the huge contribution of original star Whitfield which can never be surpassed.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

I Remember Susan Douglas Rubes

"Will you please stop phoning me about The Guiding Light," Susan Douglas begged in mock indignation.
I had the Toronto Star's crack telephone operators track her down to her Florida condominium where she was vacationing with her long time husband Jan Rubes.
And Douglas was right --every time another milestone was reached with The Guiding Light I'd phone her up to get background.
Douglas died this week, aged 87, a delightful friend to those who knew her and the founding mother of Toronto's YPT theater group.
Douglas debuted on the soap opera when it was still on radio. It had started on NBC in 1937 as a 15-minute daily dose of kindness, created by soap maven Irna Phillips.
Douglas who was a refugee from Hitler had started in 1944  (TGL had switched to CBS) when she was just 19 and she lasted a decade playing the same character all along --Kathy.
When the soap moved to TV as a daily live event Douglas was one of the radio veterans invited along.
In fact when she debuted her English was still tentative --she'd learned her English by watching three movies a day and on radio sometimes gave off  bizarre interpretations of words new to her.
One bizarre historical note: Douglas's acting partner on TGL was a dark haired, thin actor named James Lipton.
These days he's more famous as host of TV's  long running hit Inside The Actor's Studio.
And the last time I chatted with Douglas it was a sadder occasion.
The little blonde girl named Robin Lang  who was Kathy's daughter had been originally played by Zina Bethune. She died in a car crash in Los Angeles on Feb. 12 2012 and my chat with Douglas a few days later was very teary indeed.
Douglas also enjoyed a brief movie career starting in 1947 with the feature The Private Life Of Bel Ami opposite George Sanders and Angela Lansbury.
"I can only report my part was small and I hated working with George who was a very nasty man."
In 1949 she made the ground breaking film Lost Boundaries cast as Mel Ferrer's daughter. "It was about a family that passed for white and was a very controversial indictment about race discrimination. Many theater owners simply refused to book it."
In 1951 she starred in Arch Oboler's film Five cast as one of only five survivors of a nuclear holocaust. "I had shivers making it. Audiences were properly terrified. Even today most TV stations will not show it."
All the while Douglas continued her daily appearances on TGL.
Douglas met and married tenor Jan Rubes while working on TGL which irritated her mentor Irna Phillips to no end.
Her first pregnancy caused tension on the set with Phillips writing her out of the cast for a bit but the second caused real fireworks.
"Irna was very displeased. She said she had made me and now she was going to break me." And 10 days later the character of Kathy died when she fell under the wheels of a bus.
Douglas had already moved to Toronto with Rubes (she commuted to New York for her soap appearances) but expected parts on Canadian TV did not come easily. "I was considered the foreigner. And that really hurt me."
Eventually she did act on such  Canadian TV series as Royal Canadian Mounted Police (1960), Seaway ((1966), Norman Corwin Presents (1972) and in such Canadian films as Face-Off (1971) and Adderly (1987).
In 1965 she founded the Young People's Theater and in 1979 she became head of CBC Radio drama.
When I jumped from The Spectator to the Toronto Star in 1980  as TV critic she was the first to phone and congratulate me.
She remained married to Rubes until his death in 2009 and awards such as the Order of Canada (in 1977) came her way as well.
Warm and witty, she claimed I was the only one out there who remembered her Guiding Light stint. Not so I always used to say. A lot of us first met her on that long running soap which lasted a record 72 years on radio and TV.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Remembering Conrad Bain

In my 38 years as TV critic for three Canadian newspapers I was always after that elusive angle.
Shuttling to L.A. for the TV Critics' tour twice a year produced rare opportunities to chat up various Canadians who had made it big down there.
Let's see,  I caught up with B.C.'s Alexis Smith at her luxurious Hollywood home (with husband Craig "Peter Gun" Stevens in the background).
At one ABC Hollywood party I managed to sit next to Arthur Hill of Owen Marshall fame --he talked about why Canadians made the best Abraham Lincolns (sorry about that Daniel Day-Lewis).
And an accommodating NBC flack got me at Conrad Bain's table during one network salute to its stars.
Bain died this week at his L.A. home just short of his 90th birthday.
I found Conrad to be a delightful dinner companion and an actor who truly enjoyed his TV stardom.
"I had many years of anonymity before this," he joked. "Fame is better than being unknown I can tell you.
He was born Conrad Stafford Bain in Lethbridge, Alberta, on February 3, 1923.
"I was a twin --my identical brother is Bonar Bain who became a lawyer."
Indeed Bonar once appeared as Conrad's evil twin on an episode of SCTV and Bain joked "If ever I'm sick we can call on Bomar to come rescue me."
Bain said he caught the acting bug in high school "which I took in Calgary. Then I went to the Banff School of Fine Arts. But war duties with the Canadian army intervened. After I was discharged I studied at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts starting in 1945. There was no place for a young Canadian actor so I became a U.S. citizen in 1946."
In 1947 Bain made his professional debut in a touring version of the Broadway hit Dear Ruth. "I didn't get to Broadway until 1956 in a revival of The Iceman Cometh with Jason Robards. I 'went home' to the Canadian Stratford Festival in 1958 and appeared in A Winter's Tale and Much Ado About Nothing."
Bain's TV work began on the live New York based series Studio One in 1952. "I played a doctor and the cast of unknowns included Nancy Marchand . It was all live even the commercials with Betty Furness."
In 1966 Bain joined the original cast of Dark Shadows as Mr. Wells the hotel clerk at  the Collingsport Inn and in 1970 he joined the cast of the daytime soapera the Edge Of Night.
Bain explained the fate of Wells as "He was eaten by a werewolf, poor man."
After roles in such movie hits as I Never Sang For My Father (1970), Bananas (1971) and The Anderson Tapes (1971) he joined the original cast of Maude (1972-78) --and stayed for 118 episodes.
"I had to test with Bea Arthur as my character Dr. Arthur Harmon was to the the conservative opponent to her liberalism. She is a consummate comedienne and we got along wonderfully well."
Bain then jumped to another sitcom Diff'rent Strokes which  ran eight seasons (1978-86) and 179 episodes on NBC.
Bain had several seasons under his belt when I first met him. He was very careful to say he played with the three kid stars as actors only and never tried to usurp their parents' roles.
Well, maybe he should have --he later admitted as much to me and was shocked by their unhappy fates.
 Dana Pluto died of a drug overdose in 1999 aged only 34.
Star Gary Coleman whose growth was stunted by liver disease died of a brain hemorrhage in 2010.
Third kid star Todd Bridges wracked up arrest records before turning his life around.
Bain also played his character of Arthur Drummond on other series: Different Strokes in 1979 and Fresh Prince Of Bel Air in 1990.
And he tried for a third sitcom triumph on the series Mr. President (1987) opposite George C. Scott but it did not return for a second series.
Bain told me "My career is an example of trying and trying and only later succeeding. I thought I'd have a career in drama. But comedy made me a star. In short a lesson for all young actors to just keep at it."

Sunday, January 20, 2013

David Tucker's One Way Ticket

I'm about to warn you never to sit beside David Tucker on the GO train going to and from Oakville.
For years Tucker has been telling me he actually enjoys the long commute --at one time he pretended to me he was reading Tolstoy to while away the 45-minute journey.
Now it appears he was into something else --observing fellow passengers.
And all this accumulated observation has resulted in a must read book of short stories called One Way Passage.
The best one and the last in the book concerns a hapless older salesman making futile call after call on his cell and talking so loud ever other  GO passenger can hear him.
The tale is deliciously rich in irony although the reader will also get involved in the plight of the man who can no longer even sell himself.
I don't think Tucker could have written it if he hadn't put in so many hours riding GO --the feel of the situation is pitch perfect.
Now let me back up and explain I first met David Tucker in those long ago days when I was the kid TV critic for The Hamilton Spectator, then (the early 1970's) the most profitable newspaper in Canada.
Radio was also tagged on to my beat and in the era before cassettes that meant I'd have to venture into CBC's crumbling Jarvis street building to listen to them and interview the talent.
Tucker had just been parachuted into the PR department to liven things up --he knew everything about new media but CBC was not a place where anybody ever lightened up.
A CBC co-worker was publicist Linda Litwack and she was promoting the latest radio documentary by Glenn Gould --Toronto critics and I got shuffled into a darkened room and told Gould might appear at the end or maybe he would not.
In the dark I thought I felt somebody breathing on my neck. When the curtains were raised there was a tossed chair behind me. Had I actually have been in the presence of Gould, I wondered. Nobody could tell me.
Tucker I would meet in a tiny room in one of the back turrets with a window that led out onto the gabled roof --he used this as a quick get away on some occasions.
So far Tucker has not fictionalized any of the stories I'm sure he heard about very odd CBC happenings. Some are so strange probably nobody outside the Corp would ever believe them.
Tucker went off to Sheridan College to teach the art of film making and become associate dean.
Later he switchedto Ryerson University as dean of TV Radio Arts and Media faculty.
He got a deserved sabbatical before returning to teaching duties and just to see if he could he turned out these stories.
Also along the way he had made a string of incisive documentaries mostly for CBC's The Nature Of Things that I wish were still available for public viewing.
Amanda's Choice examined the dilemma of a young woman who carries the gene for early Alzheimer's and her decision whether or not to have her son tested.
"I 'm still hearing from her on occasion," Tucker told me.
Another looked at four desperately ill heart patients at Toronto General Hospital as they await for transplants that may never take place.
It's strange but when I was watching these hours on cassette to preview I was involved in the human angle. I forgot the high editing and directing skills necessary to make the whole story seamless.
In a sense Tucker has always been a steady  story writer.
The first story in One Way Ticket, really it's a novella, is a look at a hapless guy born during Hurricane Hazel --the references are all Southern Ontario in the Fifties and Sixties.
Maybe that's why I couldn't stop reading this one. As one who remembers the horror the night Hazel struck --albeit from a little boy's perspective--I felt this one had real movement, texture.
And  that's why Tucker is already involved in drafting a screenplay, it's so cinematic the sparse use of dialogue is startling but effective.
But you don't have to wait for the film. One Way Ticket, published by Bookland Press, is best purchased from or a neighborhood book seller.
And, yes, Tucker, Litwack and I still meet for lunch.
At a restaurant very near Union Station where Tucker can sprint to the GO train and possibly plot the much needed sequel to One Way Ticket.

Friday, January 18, 2013

I'm Justified In Praising Justified

The talk among TV critics these days is all about how the best talent has migrated from old line TV networks to the cable weblets.
And the often sensational series Justified is a case in point.
Season Four starts up on Super Channel Wednesday January 23 at 9 p.m.
In fact I should have interviewed the executive producer Graham Yost when I met him last year at Toronto's Royal Theatre when we honored his father the late great Elwy Yost.
Graham Yost started off big in movies with the smash Smash (1994) followed by the equally fine Broken Arrow (1996).
He then migrated to TV for NBC's L.A. cop saga Boomtown (2002) and then was co-executive producer of the mini-series The Pacific (2010).
Which brings me to Justified (2010) which Yost created from Elmore Leonard books as executive producer and sometimes writer.
But when I chatted up Yost I had yet to screen Justified --it had fallen off my personal radar for some reason.
Having now spent several days playing catch up I'm very enthusiastic about this one.
Timothy Oliphant is merely sensational as the ironic U.S. marshal Raylan Givens.
Also appearing in the first two new episodes are Patton Oswalt as a pudgy and bumbling small town sheriff named Bob Sweeney.
Then there's Walton Groggins's Boyd Crowther as an over-the-top drug dealer whose rages are simply fascinating to listen to.
And there's the slightly creepy itinerant preacher Preacher Billy played wonderfully by Joe Mazzello.
In the second episode Billy and Boyd engage in an over-the-top rant as they match Biblical quotes --Boys is convinced the illegal demand for oxy among his customers is due to Billy's preachifying.
Yost actually wrote the season premiere and has an ear for catching the resonance of Leonard dialogue which can be menacing and comical all at the same time.
I have also met star Olyphant when he was in Toronto promoting his first great TV series: Deadwood which got an early cancellation slip simply because it was too expensive to make.
A modest guy Olyphant has that unique ability to sink right into a character. His Raylan with his stetson and accent is a fully realized character.
First of all there's the series title which suggests Raylan was sent back to Harlan County, Kentucky as punishment by the law for shooting the guy who tortured his partner. And indeed we saw the act which happened in Miami and ended his career there.
I really enjoy the tortured father-son relationship between chief deputy Art Mullen (played by Nick Searcy)  and Raylan. It works for me. And there's Rayan's relationship with his con father who is behind bars. But the central one it seems to me is Raylan and Boyd --both had gun toting fathers, absentee mothers and both graduated the same high school and originally worked in the mines.
Raylan chose law and order, Boyd theft and disorder. After a bullet from Raylan Boyd has turned  into this highly vopcal right wing Christian.
The first two new hours take their time in getting to the plot. I suspect Yost just plain likes these Kentucky people so much he dawdles wonderfully over the way they converse and view the world.
One small cavil: I thought I glimpsed the Santa Monica mountains between two Kentucky buildings, a slight hint the series is mainly filmed in L.A.
In a telephone interview with critics Olyphant explained he uses a subdued accent because his character has been away from Kentucky for a long time. One theme he said predominates: Leonard's insistence on a moral code among thieves.
And the fact Rayan is a becoming a father doesn't mean we'll ever see the child. Olyphant who has three children explained: "Little kids on the set, they tend to be a pain."
All the plot I'll reveal is that in the season opener Raylan wanders into a 30-year old murder mystery that just may be traceable back to father Arlo after all.
In Justified every Kentuckian around from U.S. marshals to hookers seems in an odd way interconnected by the struggle to simply survive.
MY RATING: ****.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Bring Back The ACTRA Awards!

I'm being perfectly serious in suggesting all  Canadian TV viewers coalesce as a force to bring back the beloved ACTRA Awards!
But first you have to remember the ACTRAs.
They were Canadian TV's very first awards and first came out in 1972.
And I was there as a very young TV critic for The Hamilton Spectator then the most profitable newspaper in Canada.
I know it all seems crazy but there were no TV awards of any kind in Canada until the labour union, the Association of Canadian Television and Radio Artists moved to present trophies or the Nellies as they were called.
In 1987 the Canadian academy of Film and Television moved in and revamped the whole thing into a competitive race that made no sense whatsoever.
I mean the winners of best TV actor and actress were frequently announced after their shows got cancelled. Because the commercial TV networks only did the bare minimum in terms of Canadian content.
So what good did it do to salute talented Michael Riley for Power Play when that wonderful series was already cancelled to make way for another U.S. import?
The Gemini nominations never did make sense.
Because the two executive producers of Queer as Folk were American the Gemini committee dictated no one from that Toronto made show could even get a nomination.
The series ran five seasons and 80 hour episodes and pumped over $100 million into the local economy. Dozens of brilliant Canadian designers, costume makers, cameramen, directors were excluded from consideration.
At the same time another imported show Nikita did get nominations because its executive producers were Canadian. Even Australian star Peta Wilson got a nomination while none of the exceptional Canadian actors on QAF were eligible.
I went to the very first ACTRA awards at the Park Plaza hotel's grand ballroom. I remember my table mates included announcer Bruce Marsh and acting veteran Jane Mallett.
And what a time we had. The party was wonderful, the dancing great --I did the twist with Adrienne Clarkson who kept calling me "Charles".
There was live TV coverage with Helen Hutchinson and Lorraine Thomson doing interviews.
Kowlton Nash I remember being there. Juliette was there and so was Al Waxman.
It was all very jolly, very glam, no tension about winners and losers.
Wish I could recall who won what. But that's the wonderful thing about the ACTRAs: it was a joyous celebration and not an Americanized.
One big award was the Earle Gey award for lifetime achievement. And do you know what --I even met Earle Grey who had flown over from Britain --he'd had a great Canadian career on both CBC radio and TV.
Plopping the Geminis and Genies together makes absolutely no sense.
Quick now! How many Canadian films have you trekked out to a local bijou to watch in the past year?
None is the count most people have been telling me.
In its last few TV outing the Gemini awards were all over this country and still nobody watched.
My remedy is simple: stop with the competition and turn the show back into a celebration of all that is great about Canadian TV.
 Only then will viewers turn away from their simulcasted American fare to watch with awe and delight.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Ripper Street: Must See TV

TV's latest hot  trend?
I'm saying it's nineteenth century detectives.
Like Inspector Murdoch as impersonated by Yannick Bisson on CBC-TV's Murdoch Mysteries just starting its sixth season.
Then there's another detective saga called Copper set in 1864 New York city and starring Tom Weston-Jones. It is also being filmed in Toronto.
And  now let's welcome Inspector Edmund Reid (Matthew Macfadyen) in the new eight-part BBC series Ripper Street.
As the title suggests here is the sort of slice of British history you'll never see on  Masterpiece Theatre which prefers its dramas to be of the teacup variety.
But in Ripper Street we are shown 1889 London as a sweet cesspool of poverty and prostitutes for hire.
The setting is East London just after Jack The Ripper's reign of terror. And as we see the tabloid press is given to promoting any murder as the expected return of Jack.
Denizens of Whitechapel are naturally nervous and then one night on a tour of Jack's haunts the guide stumbles upon the freshly mutilated corpse of a girl of the streets and the public frenzy begins again.
In sort order we are introduced to Inspector Reed (Matthew Macfadyen) who understands quick thinking is needed to avert scenes of mass public hysteria.
His sergeant Bennet Drake (Jerome Flynn) is first glimpsed scoring a knockout in a boxing match.
And we see the medical backup is former Pinkerton detective and U.S. army surgeon Homer Jackson (Adam Rothenberg) who willingly performs autopsies with none of the modern tools to aid him.
I'm not the only critic who has noticed similarities between Copper and Ripper Street. In Copper a freed ex-slave (Ato Asandoh) proves forensic skills much like the army surgeon.
And both heroes feature taciturn heroes who have lost daughters and are haunted by memories.
In the case of Reid and wife Emily (Amanda Hale), their collective feelings of loss are slowly driving them apart.
The Victorianism of Ripper Street includes one of childhood poverty and outbreaks of cholera which ravaged whole sections of the population.
The lavishness of this production certainly the recreations in Murdoch and Copper. It's a surprise to learn the series was made in Ireland --apparently there are simply so many examples of urban Victorian architecture still standing in and around Dublin.
The seedier side of Victoriana has bare knuckle boxing and dens of prostitution to service wealthy clientele. In one scene (remember it's 1889) there's an attempt to record a violent sexual encounter between a dissolute toff and a poor girl who is almost strangled to death. And all in the same brothel frequented by Dr. Jackson.
Despite the title Ripper Street has nothing much to do with Jack. There were so many Whitechapel murders at the time that a fresh murder crops up every week.
MY RATING: ****.

Bachelor Canada Will Return --In 2014!

The news has been trickling out that Rogers Media has picked up The Bachelor Canada for another season.
But not next year! In 2014!
It's hardly a solid vote of confidence considering all the hoopla invented in this the latest Canadian spin off of an American hit.
Well, CTV once gave Canadian Idol the same treatment and that hunk of unreality TV has never come back at all.
CBC told me Hatching, Matching And Dispatching was going off for a spot of re-tinkering. It will never be seen again.
In the case of The Bachelor Canada one has merely too look at the ratings as the cause. Rogers plowed a lot of dough into this one and the average weekly audience was about 700,000.
Like all such series the show can't be rerun because we all know the outcome.
Foreign sales are dubious because many other countries have their own Bachelor franchise up and running.
Rogers is just discovering how expensive it is to make a Canadian series. After all a U.S. pickup can be purchased for something like $100,000 an episode --it is then simulcast for a double rating what with the Buffalo station blacked out and it also comes with tons of free publicity courtesy of all those U.S. entertainment series Canadians love to watch.
Cost is the reason Rogers already cancelled its dramatic hit Murdoch Mysteries --after five seasons this one found a second home on CBC. But that seems unlikely for The Bachelor Canada --CBC has its own reality outings like Dragon's Den.
And I'm willing to bet Rogers goes right out and purchases the next season of the American original --The Bachelor provided it gets an ABC pick up. Ratings are really drooping as the format becomes overly familiar.
Don't forget the Big Three commercial TV networks in Canada : Citytv, Global and CTV are all mere parts of larger conglomerates of various cable channels.
The ratings on the old line networks are slowly but surely ebbing away.
Talking to a Grade 6 class recently I was told they rarely watch TV anyhow --they download everything to other devices and watch later on with friends.
The TV universe I originally covered for The Hamilton Spectator starting in 1970 was a 10-channel universe.
Today there are hundreds of channels with the old networks experiencing the same problems print newspapers are having. Viewers are fleeing and so are advertisers.
I certainly wasn't among the admirers of The Bachelor Canada. It seemed so very pre-planned to me. Bachelor Brad Smith was very much in the mold of a nice, inoffensive guy and the long stemmed lovelies he supposedly romanced looked more than a little desperate at times.
But the accoutrements were lavish.  I'm not talking about the roses but the stretch limousines, the clothing, the makeup contingent, the luxurious  hotels. It's just that Canadians were watching American fare simulcasted on the competition, CTV and Global.
CBC is also sitting out Battle Of The Blades this year for financial reasons.
Times remain tough for all networks. And things certainly won't get better in the near future.
I can only wish Bachelor Canada's Brad Smith the best of luck. I hope he got to keep his wardrobe. And maybe he can get his job back in the CFL?

Monday, January 14, 2013

A Royal Feast

On the surface John Curtin's latest documentary on the Royal family, Serving the Royals, plays nicely as a bright splash of naughty tales told out of school.
But this is more than a scissors and paste pastiche of some of the scandals which have played the House of Windsor in recent years.
Already the Montreal based Curtin has become a sort of unofficial biographer of what ails the monarchy in two previous TV outings: After Elizabeth II: Monarchy In Peril (2010) and Chasing The Royals: The Media & The Monarchy (2011).
But Curtin's thesis remains constant --either the royals must change and rapidly or they risk becoming obsolete.
This time out he looks at the servants to Queen Elizabeth and her troubled children all of whom are now deep in middle age.
And he starts off by showing that when it comes to social behavior this brood are rather like the toffs in Downton Abbey.
Of course I knew the Queen had scores of attendants at her beck and call but I wasn't aware the staff was anywhere near 1,200.
They are poorly paid and forced to sign confidentiality agreements. One who did not was the Queen's original
They are called upon to perform such tasks as drawing her bath every morning --the water must be tepid and there's even a temperature reading --and the water must be exactly seven inches.
Thankfully Queen is relatively civil to her servants. One remembered waking Prince Andrew up at the required time and being told to "Fuck off!".
When Prince Charles mistakenly tossed a letter into the waste basket he ordered a lackey to come over and fetch it for him.
That excess of servants has resulted in offspring who are to the Palace born and seemingly indolent about every detail of real life. There's a telling news shot of Charles kidding son Harry for polishing his own boots.
The docu really works because Curtin has gotten  Paul Burrell to sit down and chat about his years with the Queen followed by years as personal assistant to Princess Diana..
He talks about arranging assignations for Diana and having her driven home discreetly.
There was a stand off with the family after Diana's tragic death that resulted in a trial called off when the Queen suddenly remembered he had told her he had been given some of Diana's possessions for safe keeping.
The sad story of the Queen Mother's head butler William Talon is also told. He covered up for the old queen for decades but when he allowed an ailing Princess Margaret to make an appearance in public shortly before her death he incurred the wrath of Elizabeth and was promptly retired.
What is most interesting is the struggle of the latest royal couple, William and Kate to maintain a near normal existence. In Wales they have a small house and just one housekeeper.
As they move into their own spacious country house all that must certainly change. Kate cannot do the washing up and increase her royal appearances but William is determined to break free from past traditions.
Or will they wind up like the Dutch royals pedaling around on bikes to show they're just plain folks?
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Hooray For The Golden Globes!

We're awash in the silly season of dubious awards shows. It's been said that Hollywood's "B" list celebrities will even attend the opening of a new parking lot just to collect an award, any award.
The Golden Globe Awards are in that category.
They're set up by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. All 93 members, that's what I said 93. A waiter at the Century Plaza hotel once told me he was a voting member.
So did a taxi driver in Burbank.
The GG members vote all kinds of awards and are considered the low trash alternative to the high and mighty Oscars.
I mean these awards are beyond hilarious --they're simply fun of a wild and crazy kind.
First of all there's the setting as celebs sit around tables and dwink and dwink. Some look smashed on air. Others totter up to the mike and totter off.
And as for the awards.
Remember Pia Zadora once won one of these as best newcomer. And whatever happened to her?
Other past winners include Esther Williams (for best Australian crawl I wonder), Jayne Mansfield, Karen Sharpe, Tippi Hedren, Marianne McAndrew, Carrie Snodgress, Stathis Giallelis, Desi Arnaz Jr.,  Joseph Bottoms and John Kerr.
Whew! You see what I'm getting at.
Then there's the "scandal" that erupted when it turned out you had to attend to win or somebody else would step forth to nab the statue.
From 1968 to 1974 NBC refused to telecast the event  --I was then at the Hamilton Spectator and remembered CHCH used to show the event weeks later after midnight (the tapes were literally bicycled around).
And then there are the winners. One of my all time faves Rosalind Russell won five of them although she never garnered an Oscar.
 Another perennial Oscar loser Angela Lansbury has six wins while Barbra Streisand has nine of them (and only one Oscar).
One good point about the Globes: acting nominations are divided into comedy/musical and drama.
So in 1983 Ben Kingsley won for drama (Gandhi) against Dustin Hoffman for comedy (Tootsie) while Metyl Streep won for drama (French Lieutenant's Woman) while Julie Andrews won for comedy/musical (Victor/Victoria).
But the real reason I watch is because viewers can get up close and personal with the stars whereas at the Oscars we can only see the first few rows in the cavernous Eastman theater.
Here we see them joking around, looking lost, desperately searching for a way to get out. In other words behaving more or less like ordinary people.
And by the next day you'll have totally forgotten who won or lost anyway.

Monday, January 7, 2013

CBC's Arctic Air: Back For A Second Season

Quietly, insidiously, CBC has been re-establishing itself as the place to go to for Canadian TV drama.
For years it was a stretch because of multiple budget cuts but this season CBC's top programmer Kirstine Stewart (head of English services)  has finally cobbled forth a drama sries schedule she can be proud of.
At the midseason mark CBC has been unveiling a new season of Republic Of Doyle, a new cop show Cracked starring David Sutcliffe, Murdoch Mysteries grabbed from Citytv and finally the second season of Arctic Air which returns Wednesday January 9 at 9 p.m.
Missing, of course, are the challenging Canadian TV movies which have become too expensive to make in any quantity.
And completely gone is any attempt to recognize that the high arts from ballet to opera need TV exposure too --for that you'll have to turn to PBS.
May I here offer Ms. Stewart a convenient out: when CBC-TV was in a similarly financial challenge in the 1970s it came up with a Sunday afternoon show called Rear View Mirror.
Classdic ballets and musicals from the CBC archives were telecast complete with a pert hostess in Veronica Tennant and high arts patrons were satisfied.
Why not revive Rear View Mirror next season?
As far as drama goes Arctic Air falls so very much within CBC's mandate to promote regional programming.  Doyle is made in Newfoundland, Cracked  and Murdoch in Toronto and Arctic Air looks to the Canadian north, the first successful Canadian series to do so since North Of 60.
Adam Beach (Law&Order SVU) came "home" to star in it as Bobby Martin, a crack venture capitalist from Vancouver searching for the meaning of life as a pilot for a struggling regional airline.
I spend some time at the CBC fall launch chatting up the always amiable Beach.
I reminded him when I interviewed him by phone during his Law And Order run he was less than enthusiastic about that series.
For one thing the situations seemed similar week after week, hardly the challenge a young actor needs.
Beach also said going through a divorce was also weighing on his mind.
Here Beach is nicely paired with Pascale Hutton who is Bobby's childhood friend and romantic interest  --as Beach explains it their fathers originally founded the airline, Arctic Air and then he went away and became fabulously successful in high finance.
Beach says the series shows Canadians parts of their country few will be unfamiliar with.
Beach says inhabitants of the far North are a diverse group not just First Nations and whites.
Kevin McNulty co-stars as the feisty old codger running the airline and if Adam DiMarco looks familiar as young mechanic Kirby Nystoruk --well, he co-stars in those Rogers cable TV commercials.
Added to the mix there's Stephen Lobo (Godiva's) as Indian flight school graduate DevPanwar, Timothy Webber as Nova Scotian geaerhead Cece Cooper and Kandyse Mcclure as former U.S. Air Force pilot Shontal Hicks.
Beach says bigger social issues do get explored but "This is not a documentary. We have to get people wanting to tune in every week. The stories have to interest everybody."
The first new episode is of the cliffhanger sort with a raging forest fire threatening lives and making an air rescue next to impossible. It's all fast paced and exciting and should keep you on the edge of your seats. And ready to tune back next week.
Arctic Air is well made --and it's completely undisguised all-Canadian.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

CBC Nabs Murdoch Mysteries

The rule on Canadian TV used to be so certain.
When a TV series got cancelled its chances of bouncing to the opposition were considered a long shot at best.
OK, so it did happen to Don Messer's Jubilee when CBC-TV cancelled the series in 1969 after 12 season. It was promptly picked  up for four more seasons by Hamilton's feisty CHCH.
And CHCH also revived the old Nathan Cohen CBC show Fighting Words in 1970 and after Cohen's sudden death the next year kept it going with a new host, Peter Gzowski.
But I remember in 1972 when the new TV network Global suddenly collapsed and all its big new shows were cancelled.  CBC would have nothing to do with  any of them.
The same thing happened when Citytv killed off its lively series about twenty somethings called Godiva's in 2006. No other Canadian network would touch it.
So three cheers to CBC for promptly picking up The Murdoch Mysteries for a sixth season after it got dumped by Citytv.
You can judge for yourself by watching the first new episode Monday at 9 p.m. on CBC.
The star is Yannick Bisson who is now a strong enough actor he can carry a series as demanding as this and all with seemingly effortless ease.
I first interviewed him in 1984 when he was a callow 15-year-old who got the slot opposite Megan Follows in the Canadian TV movie. He played a character named Spear Kozak and was pretty terrific. It was his quietness on and off camera that impressed me.
Unlike other teen heart throbs I've interviewed over the decades Bisson persevered. He wisely built up a block of credits and simply kept at it.
There was the TV movie Brothers By Choice (1986), the weird wrestling sitcom Learning The Ropes (1989), another series called High Tide (1994-97) opposite Rick Springfield, the western show Nothing Too Good For A Cowboy (1999) replacing Chad Willett who pulled out after doing the TV movie, Undergrads (2001), Soul Food (2004), Sue Thomas FB Eye (2005).
Then Bisson replaced Peter Outerbridge when Murdoch Mysteries morphed from occasional TV movies to series form in 2008.
Whew! And the guy's still only 43 with a great acting future ahead of him.
In fact I was the first TV critic on the set when MM was still shooting in its original east end studios--the TV movies were done in Winnipeg.
I came to marvel at the huge set for the police station but also hang out for the umpteenth time with Bisson who is always the hardest worker any set he's on.
In fact I still can't figure out why CBC didn't snap this one up originally --except that the original TV movies were running on CTV.(made by Shaftesbury Films).
I also met Maureen Jennings who wrote the original novels --weeks later while vacationing in Florida she was swept out to sea and barely survived.
Now I'm watching the first new CBC  episode which zings right along.
Part of its success is due to the seasoned cast: Bisson, Thomas Craig (Inspector Brackenreid), Jonny Harris (Constable George Crabtree), Helene Joy (Dr. Julia Ogden).
The yarn concerns a flying machine built to compete in an upcoming air show with one made by the Wright brothers. Remember --this is supposed to be 899!
And the subplot looks at the strands of patriotism for the British Empire with the Boer War raging in South Africa.
 I can't divulge plot details but the special effects at the end involving flight over Niagara Falls are terrific.
Period dramas are often musty things where the decor threatens to overwhelm the story.  Here the story zips right along aided by such guest villains as Peter Keleghan. And tying the whole thing together is Bisson 29 years after his acting debut in Hockey Night and still going strong.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Republic Of Doyle Is Finally Back

I seemed to spend last fall fielding questions from readers of this column about the sad and sorry state of Canadian TV.
"I just don't see much Canadian TV on Canadian TV," wailed one elderly lady behind me in the grocery line.
And she was right: Global had zero scripted Canadian series and CTV had but one --the series finale of Flashpoint.
But be of good cheer for 2013. Help is on the way.
First up there was the return of the very fine all Canadian series Bomb Girls starring Meg Tilly --on Global.
And CBC retorts with a bevy of watchable Canadian hour dramas starting Sunday night at 9 with the fourth season premiere of Republic Of Doyle.
Let's see how this good hearted Newfoundlander show fares smack dab against PBS's heavily hyped return of Masterpiece Theater's Downton Abbey.
For years CBC had this thing of trying to jump start a show from Newfoundland --all justified because of its national mandate.
Sometimes the results were painful --I'm thinking back to Hatching, Matching And Dispatching.
But Republic Of Doyle is never less than watchable.
Allan Hawco is very winnable as private eye Jake Doyle and the plots exploit the eccentricities of living on the rock.
I had a chance to chat up Hawco at last fall's CBC launch and he's very personable as well as multi-talented --he co-created the show and was then involved heavily in writing this season's episodes.
In content the show sports the same insidious humor evident in Due South and such U.S. shows as Simon And Simon and Harry-O. Meaning it doesn't take the sometimes convoluted plots seriously at all.
And while Hawco is winning he often yields the spotlight to his equally personable co-stars including Sean McGinley (Malachy Doyle), Mark O'Brien (Des Courtney), Lynda Boyd (Rose Miller).
The accents are all there and completely unfaked and the writing plays up the geniality of these folk without turning them into obnoxious caricatures.
The pacing is right on and never was St. John's presented as beautifully starting with the rolling introductory shots of those colorfully painted row houses and winding streets.
Last season there even was the guest appearance in the first  new episode of Robin Hood's Russell Crowe, Kevin Durand and Scott Grimes.
There's just no way Hawco can come up with another lively threesome like these guys.
Hawco was telling me he'd had this idea along with writing partner Perry Chafe for more than a decade and the model was always a kind of Rockford Files set in St. John's.
Hawko says he wrote Jake to show his great confidence --"it's something that I really lack which is why it's such a joy to play him."
In the first new episode Sgt. Leslie Bennett (Krystin Pellerin) goes missing from headquarters--she gone undercover and Jake must try to find her.
Also Tinny Doyle (Marhe Bernard) enrolls in the RNC cadet program --she's still coming to grips with the knowledge Kevin Crocker (Paul Gross) is her father.
And there's a new face in Officer Monica Hayward (Patricia Isaac)--other new faces include Angus Macfayden, Erin Karpluk and Robert Joy as guests.
And if the first new episode (titled From Dublin With Love) plays so effortlessly remember the director is respected veteran Stefan Scaini.
MY RATING: ***1/2.


Thursday, January 3, 2013

Massive Moves: A Massive Hit

I started watching Massive Moves on HGTV in the middle of the night when I couldn't sleep.
After an episode of seeing an entire house get moved across a busy city or over a giant body of water and I really was awake.
It's good news Massive Moves is now back for a second season of massive moving --there are 26 new episodes packaged as two half hours every Sunday night at 10 on HGTV.
"We've really been startled by the reception so far," Clare Fisher of London-based Windfall Films is saying on the phone. "It all started with a previous series called Monster Moves which entailed moving an entire library or the last great batch of Spitfires.
"And then we wondered about humanizing the project. Why not the excitement and the sheer fear of moving one's own house. And all seen through the eyes of the owners. That added a different element, I feel, and the only problem seemed to be finding enough owners in this situation."
Fisher says the culture of moving a house is unique to certain sections of North America and Europe and  not to others. She lives outside London where it simply is not done much.
But the first three episodes which I've screened all take place in western Canada where that kind of super human project doesn't seem to faze people.
I mean why wouldn't someone simply build a new home from scratch?
Fisher points out in some situations it actually is cheaper to move an existing home.
Take the first new episode titled Lottery Home. An Albertan farmer has won the lottery and wants to build his family a new home.
Trouble is there's nothing actually wrong with his rambling home so he sells it for $25,000 to a charming young couple, the McKeens, who have been living in a trailer on a 20 acre spread a fair distance away.
Every hiccup along the way gets laboriously documented --you'll be on the edge of your seat with every lurch and unanticipated twist. And all the while CGI animation  from Fluid Pictures is showing the conceivable ways the house could be smashed to smithereens.
By the time the house's foundation has been dug up, the entire building placed on a lumbering truck bed and carted across the province and gently deposited on the new foundation the total bill is still only $130,000, far less than it would cost this family to build from scratch.
In the second episode, Titanic Townhouse, a 3,200 square feet home has to get trucked across Calgary because the previous owners have built a newer structure next door and need the land for a garden!
Think busy city traffic, agonizingly low power lines, tight city streets where the room for maneuvering is at a minimum. And watching tensely all along the way there's the nice couple hoping their new dream home doesn't wind up as a patch of match sticks.
Aren't viewers secretly hoping for that great catastrophe? Fisher says her four-year-old nephew claps when the animated shots of destruction come popping up.
The third episode, Coastal Cruise, takes a 100-year own beautifully crafted cottage and sees movers transport it through Vancouver and out over the water to Vancouver Island. The ferry captain has three located homes on his barge that day and he's fighting a huge wind problem from the get go.
Fisher says the first season one mover bet the owners he could place a glass of water in their kitchen and after the move it would still be standing. "And it was!" In another home the builder said to leave the cats inside and "they were fine except a bit put out by the motion."
Fisher says she wound up with a data base of 700 movers to rely on and it's ever growing. "They are telling me they can even move brick homes provided the foundation is strong."
This season MM will also follow the meanderings of a church and a historic house.
You want human inters?
 In Episode 3 a vigilant old doll stands by her twisted tree on her lawn and just dares the movers to cut it down --the moving home needs a few more feet of space to ease down the street.  Finally there's a compromise: some branches are sawed off but the tree and its protector are still standing.
The project is a Windfall Films/ Cineflix (Massive Moves 2) international co-production with Shaw Media.
Already a hit in Canada, Australia and France, Fisher says MM has "so far" has eight offers from U.S. networks. British TV prefers massive episodes--with the number now at 26 there might be movement.
"We get to know the movers, they are certainly characters, nothing fazes them. Their language is something else.
"Basically these are stories of how to overcome great obstacles. My background was nature series. Here I am dealing with a different form of wildlife."
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Supervolcano Uncorks A Hit

I've been so enthralled previewing TV's midseason shows that I almost forgot to screen Supervolcano, the new and very scary "what if" documentary premiering on CBC-TV's Doc Zone Thursday January 3 at 9 p.m.
Maybe it's just that time of the year when I begin to worry about all the possible scenarios that could go wrong. Heck, being a confirmed pessimist I even watched the U.S. Congress lurch toward a fiscal cliff with some trepidation.
But Supervolcano: Yellowstone's Fury (the full title) is extremely chilling because it is all so very true. And there's nothing much anybody can do except wait and prepare for the worst.
Yeah, I know the thought of Old Faithful bubbling forth into a killer volcano seems rather silly.
But there are signs the volcano rumbling deep inside Yellowstone National Park could erupt --or it could still send out earthquakes for thousands of more years before another world shattering eruption.
The volcano erupts every 600,000 years or so --the last one hit well before recorded civilization but that could have been about 620,000. years back.
But there have been signs of late: bison suddenly dying from gasses percolating up from the underground crater, an increase in seismic activity.
What is certain is that when it does erupt it will be a very big one.
By contrast the April 2010 volcano on Iceland was a relatively small affair. However, it disrupted air travel for weeks with its flow of ash over western Europe.
In 1980 Mount Saint Helen's erupted and blew a mountain top off and was considered relatively minor to what Yellowstone is capable of producing.
This time scientists are fearlessly predicting an eruption with the capacity of 100 nuclear bombs. The crater alone would build to about 2/3 the size of Prince Edward Island.
Not only would the American Mid-west be affected so would such Canadian cities including Regina and Calgary and even Toronto.
The ash would stifle food production for up to six years and cause a lowering in temperature by as much as 10 degrees Celsius.
Producer -writer Dave Brady  and writer-director Maryanne Alton have done a superlative job of assembling the experts and marshaling their clips to build the case in an entirely persuasive manner. One survivor of the 1959 Yellowstone quake says he wakened up to see a gigantic boulder flatten the tent where his parents were sleeping.
One big plus: cinematographer Damir Chytil's gorgeous photography which captures the sheer beauty of the park --underneath there lurks this incredible force of energy that one day will surely blow sky high again.
If you believe the possible scenario outlined here you should immediately begin stockpiling food for the anticipated six years of famine. Or you could pray the quake doesn't hit until the time of your great grandchildren,
MY RATING: ***1/2.