Monday, September 30, 2013

Republic Of Doyle Back For Season Five

As far as Canadian series go Republic Of Doyle which starts its fifth season Wednesday night on CBC is positively ancient.
It's usually a cause for celebration when a  home grown series gets to season two or three.
But this rollicking Newfoundland-based caper has kept growing in popularity by the season.
Star Allan Hawco is a sort of Newfie Orson Welles --he created the show, stars in it, picks the directors, is in on every facet of editing and for all I know makes the coffee and sandwiches.
And this time out he's armed with new credentials --the show has just been sold for syndication on U.S. TV.
I can remember the days when CBC was a true national network and agonized over making shows in every region of the country.
Remember the Montreal made Urban Angel starring Justin Louis?
Well, that was an attempt to have something in English from Montreal.
Also from Montreal there was a talk show with Alan Hamel. I remember being on the set the night Janet Leigh was the lovely co-host.
Newfoundland also contributed show after show which just did not make it.
Remember Hatching, Matching And Dispatching?
CBC tried several times to turn that sitcom into a winner but the ratings remained dismal.
And then along came Republic Of Doyle.
It wasn't an instant hit but the emphasis on true Newfie characters sort of grew on viewers and after just one season it merged as a bona fide hit.
When I talked to Hawco at the CBC fall launch he was most excited about the time change.
Last season ROD slugged it out in the trenches --Sunday nights in the roughest, toughest night of the week in terms of competition.
CBC's tag line was "Sundays Just Got More Exciting" but that wasn't the way Hawco saw it.
"CBC owes us one!" Hawco laughed and he was right. Ratings were not as high as expected  but the series survived to fight again and it's back on Wednesday nights  (at 9).
And it's also on in the fall because CBC upped the episode order to 16 new hours.
When I told Hawco season four's finale was one of the best ever I've seen in terms of cliffhangers he simply said "I think we did a lot."
Two big Canadian stars --Gordon Pinsent and Paul Gross--made time in their schedules to do it.
"Paul knew what it's like from Due South. Gordon has always been my biggest inspiration."
It was supposed to be a two part finale but CBC liked it so much the yarn ran as one big two-hour fstory and really worked.
Then there's the other business --some nit picking by critics who say the show is too centered in Newfoundland.
So to assuage those carping critics the first new show dramatically starts way south of the border and has more action and cartoon violence than I've ever seen on the show.
A new love intersst might well be emerging in a pert Latino. that's all the plot I'll give away.
Hawco gets a chance to segue into the location work back home and reintroduce characters we've grown found of at a leisurely pace.
They include father Malachy (Sean McGinley), step-ma Rose (Linda Boyd), niece Tinny (Marthe Bernard) and her dim-witted boyfriend  Des (Mark O'Brien).
I'm told one guest star this season will be Shannon Tweed who also hails from "The Rock".
And I can hardly wait.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Yannick Bisson Back Again As Murdoch

So there I was at the CBC fall TV launch chatting up Yannick Bisson, the engaging star of the long running Inspector Murdoch Mysteries.
And I naturally asked him "Do you remember the first time I interviewed you? It was for the TV movie Hockey Night and you were all of 17."
"Actually I was closer to 15," Bisson  cooly replied.
But unlike other teen stars I was profiling in 1984 he didn't let popularity bother him.
He stayed steady to his course of becoming a fine leading man and now three decades later he makes an ingratiating Victorian era detective.
The series which is shot mostly in Toronto and Hamilton revs up for a record seventh season Monday night at 8 on CBC-TV.
For its first five years Murdoch was a staple of Citytv but new management found it a bit too pricey and dropped out.
Perhaps it has always deserved to be on CBC --at any rate the Canadian Television Fund bent its rules forbidding financing after more than five seasons.
The season opener is exciting, one of the best ever installments titled Murdoch Ahoy and cast and crew got to sail on the historic SS Keewatin.
I'm not giving away too much plot by explaining there are two explosions an board the pleasure cruiser and the ship seems in danger of sinking.
And did I say this is a Victorian melodrama?Make that Edwardian.
The great old queen-empress expired on January 22 1901so this is the first Victorian Day without her -- so honored on her behalf to mark her birthday. Hence the holiday outing which turns deadly.
In fact Bisson is the second Murdoch --Peter Outerbridge played the detective in a series of TV movies shot in Winnipeg.
But when a series was ordered up by City in 2008 Outerbridge was otherwise occupied as the star of the futuristic series ReGenesis.
Bisson plays the character of William Murdoch completely differently--he's far more suave and diffident although still a Roman C
Among Canadian series Murdoch must be the most expensive to shoot --all the accoutrements of another age have to be used, The day I was on the set I spent some time with wardrobe who had to make many costumes from scratch. Everything else from 1900 typewriters to appropriate furnishings comes from antique dealers.
After CBC jumped in ratings have gone sky high and the network has ordered 18 episodes this season compared to last year's 13 making it more competitive with the U.S. opposition.
Some home grown networks have actually cancelled popular Canadian dramas for failing to land a lucrative sale to a U.S. network.
Murdoch is popular in many markets but has yet to be seen on a big U.S. network --it ran instead first on Netflix and then Ovation.
Murdoch Ahoy is well directed by Laurie Lynd and the special effects are handsomely mounted. And Bisson told me he'll once again direct another episode (titled Murdoch Of The Living Dead).
And if ratings continue to expands I'll even predict a season eight.
MY RATING: *** 1/2.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Living Dolls Is A Gem

Awhile back at a journalism class I was teaching a student asked me for a definition of "Counter Programming".
Well. the best example I can think of is the fine new documentary Living Dolls which premieres on Global Saturday October 5 at 9 p.m.
See, Saturday nights on Canadian TV is owned by CBC's NHL hockey.
And there are no American series for Global to buy and simulcast --U.S. networks have virtually given up on low rated Saturday nights.
Which means Global is showing Canadian documentaries.
Living Dolls really works on several levels.
On the surface filmmaker  Maureen Judge has made a pleasant  enough documentary about four obsessive doll collectors. Three of them are men. All four collectors are adults.
But Judge digs deeper than that and this hour turns introspective. The end results are often sad and deeply moving.
I'm not sure how she settled on her four subjects but I'm sure it must have taken some time to get the right four.
Then there's her camera technique --she gets the four to comfortably address the camera when talking about their private lives --obviously the questions Judge has thrown at them have been edited out. The revelations that flow forth are often startling admissions of loneliness and the compulsion to find companionship with their dolls.
On the surface all four seem "normal".
David is a pleasant enough man first glimpsed on the Pennsylvania turnpike. In his early sixties he is traveling with a gorgeous companion Bianca.
Everything about him seems quite unremarkable. He is soft spoken and Bianca never speaks --that's because she is a human sized doll. And, yes, they apparently have sexual relations of a sort.
David is dashing to the annual Doll Lovers convention to mingle with other doll collectors. His wife never appears on camera but David assures us she does not feel at all jealous of his real love.
Then there's Debbie who is a twentysomething British mom with two adorable children. Her husband seems nice too but laments Debbie's doll collecting compulsion which means she neglects him and their two young children. They live in semi-poverty because all their money seems to go into buying new frocks for the dolls.
Mike is a grown up still living with his parents --his partner has also moved in. Mike collects only Barbie dolls and has his own museum. Too busy with his collecting he can only afford the time for a part time job. He says he kept his doll collecting a secret as a boy for fear he would be outed as gay.
The most interesting is Mike who collects and refurbishes robotic dolls --complete with private parts. Disheveled and rambling Mike is summed by by a friend of over 40 years as both eccentric and possessing sparks of genius. But he lives in squalor surrounded by thousands of robot dolls he struggles to repair.
Judge has this ability to bond with her subjects, accepting them for what they are. Living Dolls is filled with revelatory moments and well worth taking an hour away from hockey to enjoy its quiet . reflective charm.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

On TV Is It Content Or Time Slot?

Big collision of the new TV season was supposed to be the battle between CBS's NCIS, the top rated series and newcomer S.H.I.E.L.D.
In one corner there was the highly publicized new series featuring a plethora of super heroes.
And in the other there was steady NCIS which rarely gets even an Emmy nomination let alone a win.
And so what happened in the U.S. (Canadian ratings don't matter when it comes to cancellation or pick-up).
Well, the first night out NCIS took 19.5 million viewers against ABC's Marvel's Agents Of S.H/I.E.L.D which garnered 11.9 million viewers . NBC's The Voice got 14.1 million and Fox's Dads got 1.5 million.
So is this a victory of  content or time slot?
Well, I could see it all happening. Because this ratings game has played out similarly in seasons past.
Let's go all the way back to 1985 when Steven Spielberg made a much ballyhooed entry into TV with the series Amazing Stories.
NBC figured it could pick off Angela Lansbury in CBS's top rated Murder, She Wrote.
In fact Lansbury was so scared she even flew to the TV critics convention in Phoenix to tub thump for her show.
She should have stayed home in L.A. because Murder, She Wrote was a perfect fit for Sunday nights at 8.
In this case the time slot was Angela's for as long as she wanted it.
Case number two involves the super silly but very sexy Charlie's Angels which debuted on ABC in September 1976.
Creator Aaron Spelling told me the time slot was his --Wednesdays at 10 because ABC provided not one but two Top ten hits as lead-ins: Bionic Woman at 8 and Baretta at 9.
CBS had four comedies starting at 8 including All In The Family at 9 but Blue Knight at 10 didn't fit in with CBS's more mature viewers.
And NBC had a quality western The Quest with Kurt Russell at 10 but nobody watched with weak lead ins.
Sometimes a turkey can become a hit because of the time.
Brooke Shields' series Suddenly Susan was never a good series.
But NBC positioned it Thursdays at 9:30 Behind red hot Seinfeld and it was a hit. When NBC tried to move it later on the lame comedy sank like a stone.
Here the time slot was all important.
Having a great show means nothing if the time is wrong.
One of my favorite ever legal dramas 1978's The Paper Chase debuted on CBS to rave reviews but it was up against both Happy Days and Laverne And Shirley.
Nobody watched it and it quickly expired.
But sometimes fate steps in.
I was in the office of Earl Hamner in August 1972 and he showed me a letter from the CBS president which simply stated "Make Us Proud".
Hamner's show, The Waltons, debuted opposite two big hits, ABC's The Mod Squad and NBC's Flip Wilson which was the number one show.
After the first season The Mod Squad was killed off and Flip Wilson only had one more season before being consigned to the rerun market.
The Waltons came along just as these two Top Ten hits were starting to show their ages.
So while I wish S.H.I.E.L.D. all the luck in the world my memo to ABC is to move it quickly.
Because NCIS looks to have several more seasons at the top before syndication.
ABC loses this one on the basis of both content and time slot.

Monday, September 23, 2013

How Do You Spell Emmys? B-o-r-i-n-g!

How can a show like the Emmy be so boring and patly predictable?
I haven't seen the ratings as yet but this snore fest meandered on for hour after hour of Dale Carnegie speeches and self promotion.
The tributes to the dead just didn't work.
Why salute Jonathan Winters, Jean Stapleton and Corey Monteith without showing any clips of their greatness?
And talk about TV icons --why the exclusion of Larry Hagman and Jack Klugman from tributes?
I couldn't understand why the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK was acknowledged at all.
Am I getting cranky or has Neil Patrick Harris emceed one two many awards shows?
The presenters were often paired in weird combinations which made no sense.
And most of the awards given out were patly predictable.
However Breaking Bad did win for best drama series --the first such award.
But I'm thinking it only reminded viewers that a new episode of BB was running directly against the Emmys. I wonder how many fans tuned out to catch it.
When I phoned one TV fan for her reaction she said she was  busy watching a new episode of Foyle's War on PBS's Masterpiece Theater.
Even the audience seemed collectively bored with the whole thing.
But the biggest problem is an Emmy award means nothing.
I dare you to remember the top ten awards winners from last year.
Winning an Emmy never saved a show from rating extinction did it?
My solution: get a comedian up there as host. Will Ferrell brought out his kids and was hilarious.
Thank Harris for his past contributions and retire him immediately.
Now let's look at the biggest trends.
1. The Academy's love affair with Mad Men is over. Jeff Daniels beat Jon Hamm as best actor which was a big surprise.
2. The fact Boardwalk Empire's Bobby Cannavale whipped BB's Aaron Paul and Homeland's Mandy Patinkin for best supporting actor was also a surprise.
3. Netflix garnered its first Emmy for direction of a drama series: House Of Cards.
4. I thought no one could be watching but this bloated spectacle notiched its highest ratings since 2007.
And as they always say that's show biz.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Naked Reality TV Is Here

Let's just say all the long stemmed anchors on Naked News are cheeky devils and be done with it.
In fact I was unaware that Naked News was still functioning.
Fourteen years ago it was a true novelty --a Toronto based news feed where all the female hosts wound up starkers.
I thought the show had atrophied years ago because these days nudity on TV is no longer a novelty.
Daytime soap stars have stripped and there are fleshy glimpses on many network evening dramas as well.
And my feeling Naked News had its day is well shared by the long time employees.
They've banded together to make a subversive reality series about their plight --it's an eight parter titled Naked News Uncovered which debuts Monday September 23 on Super Channel.
What has emerges is a surprisingly funny take on the perils of nude anchoring.
The denizens of this world including the producers, the crew and the adorable talents all act firmly tongue in cheek. Oops, maybe I shouldn't have said that.'
They work in standard offices that might otherwise pass for insurance brokers or accountancy firms.
They're not consciously trying to be funny but it's their dead seriousness as they pursue their craft that is frequently hilarious.
Heading the operation is the owner "Peter" who we never see on camera at least in the two preview segments I watched.
We only hear him on the office speaker bellowing such Goldwynisms as "This isn't going to be a cake walk in the park."
But the undoubted star is legendary chief anchor Victoria Sinclair who still doffs her atire with professional aplomb.
You'd think along with the requisite TV studio there'd be an exercise room.
Because one ounce of unwanted fat and the starring careers of these lovely ladies would be over.
I mean would you ever want to see Barbara Walters or Bill Reilly in the altogether. Ugh! Right!
As on employee blurts out:"We're like a family ...the family you don't want."
But why just nude news?
What about a cooking show? Or maybe the cooking oil might splatter?
Or a pets' show? Or would pet allergies cause the nude hosts to sneeze?
The first episode is all about cast and members trying to come up with some variants like a noon time effort to be called Naked Lunch.
One of the male employees says he really has becomes blind to all that nakedness. Yeah sure pal.
Another loves it when a co-host passes by his cubicle and flashes her boobies his way. He says it makes his day.
In fact the shenanigans here are practically of the PG variety.
Two of the anchors dwink a bit too much wine and then one of them can't say the word "eviscerate" on camera.
Heck, I can't say it right now and I'm stone sober.
Episode Two titled "Who Screwed Halloween" looks at an inappropriate outfit worn by one gal but as she says she gets made up before she knows what she's going to say that day.
Sinclair has said she went to U of T and was in marketing when her career changer happened. At 47 she's lovely and could have a TV career even if she kept her clothes on.
Anyhow Naked News Uncovered is welcome relief in a sea of badly made reality epics.
Right now I'm suffering from a bad head cold so I'd like to ask how the girls manage to stay free of drafts as they report on the serious events of our time.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Next Step Is Already A Hit

Mt taxi speeds through the busy streets of Scarborough as I'm trying to explain to the taxi driver why I'm going to a recently shuttered high school.
"It's for a new TV series shooting there," I explain.
No response.
"The title is The Next Step," I say and the car practically screeches to a halt.
"That's my grandson's favorite show," he hollers. "Say can you get me some autographs?"
I had the same reaction from a doctor friend who told me her preteen son was glued to the set watching this series.
"Now he wants to be a dancer," she screams. Obviously she was hoping for med school.
Once there I wander through the strangely empty corridors of Timothy Eaton Technical School, a massive complex that catered to kids who couldn't make it in regular schools.
"Where are they now?" I ask a lonely janitor.
"Shipped to composite high schools where they flunk out" is his terse reply.
The huge classrooms are all deserted --the catering school, the small engines complex. But as I wander deeper into this bunker I'm hearing singing and dancing.
And as I turn a corner I see a TV crew hurrying about shifting giant lights and an assistant director bawling "Quiet!"
I'm deep in the heart of The Next Step which last year was Canadian TV's most unexpected new hit.
It's not a major network show but instead runs on Family Channel.
And most kids in a Grade Six Class I was speaking to a few weeks ago seemed acutely aware of every plot development.
First though: these dancing teenagers are really teens and not the thirtysomethings who populate similar U.S. network efforts
Season One revved up on Family on March 2013.
"Suddenly everyone at my school wanted to say hi and talk about the show," laughs Victoria Baldesarra (she plays Michelle).
"It hadn't hit me until I walked down the school hall and every body nodded and smiled."
The second half of season one which will run 16 half hour episodes premieres Friday September 20 at 7 p.m. on Family.
In the mid-season finale Baldesarra replaced Alexandra Beaton (as Emily) as dance captain.
Yet here I was chatting up both of them and they smiled and giggled as each other spoke.
Beaton thinks she has the best role on the show --and she's right. She's stunning as the conniving, devious Emily but already such a good actress she can make us understand Emily's ups and downs.
"I don't consider her a nasty person. I'm trying to make viewers understand her. She's a controlling person because she feels insecure. And remember she has a lot of talent."
Unlike many of the other regulars Beaton considered herself more an actress than dancer. "I'd danced earlier but then I got Emily and I'm back dancing trying to get back on track."
The plot follows the regulars at the fictional Next Step Dance Studio --members of both the "A" troupe and "B" troupe.
After the first season was filmed Brennan Clost (Daniel) enrolled in prestigious Julliard School in New York city.
"My dad drove me down, it was a great first year. I feel I'm more challenged by this second year and I certainly am better in the acting."
Clost jokes that people from his old high school are now texting him all the time to get together. "But I remember who was friendly and who was not."
Isaak Lupien (Eldon)  says he had struggles early on in his desire to be a dancer.
"Maybe I was a bit immature when I started out but I've really grown into it. I had a back injury early on and it was suggested I might take a lighter load in the dancing. But I danced through the pain because this is what I wanted to do."
Says Lamar Johnson (West) : "I thought I was moving into acting before this part came up. Now I'm back dancing and trying to keep up. My role might be described as comedy relief. It's what I'm good at."
"Now we're all better," says Trevor Tordjman (James). "We're more focused and more at ease with the acting. At least I am."
During luncheon break I watched the young cast whoop it up.  They all ate huge portions because they're at it almost continually --besides strenuous dance routines there are rehearsals for the next routine.
I was also privileged to watch one of the new episodes containing surprising revelations about the romances between the dances. But I'm honor bound not to reveal plot points here.
Incredibly as it seems an entire episode is shot every 1 1/2 days. It's a one camera show and when I chatted up director Frank van Keeken he said working with an extremely young and inexperienced cast was "A real challenge. They don't need to be energized, they have all the energy in the world. "
Although each cast member plays a character with a different name van Keeken says "They are essentially playing themselves. It's not scripted, the interviews,  we stick these into the stories. I try to make them feel at ease and I'll go multiple takes until we all are satisfied."
"Those interviews, it was difficult for me at the beginning," agrees Beaton. "I think I'm learning from it. And it really makes the show, helps the story."
Plot details hone in on the obsessions of teens: how are they interacting with peers, how competitive should they be, are they liked by others.
The themes seem to touch raw nerves with the young audience. All the dancers/actors say they've been overwhelmed by the fan reaction. The day I visited several youngsters had gotten on set and were awe struck at meeting their heroes.
BBC World Wide has picked the show up for syndication and an American sale seems imminent.
Executive producer David Fortier  says The Next Step is in line with other series his company Temple Street Productions  has made including Queer as Folk and Being Erica.
Already a hit with kids The Next Step is growing into a show for the whole family.

MY RATING: ***1/2.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Legendary Motorcar Debuts On BNN

A classy new Canadian reality TV series is all set to debut Thursday Sept. 19 at 9 p.m.
It's an extremely well made show following respected classic car collector Peter Klutt around as he hunts down and bring back to past glory some of the greatest automobiles in history.
So what channel would you expect to see Legendary Motorcar?
On OLN perhaps? Nope!
Well, what about Slice? No again!
Give up? It's on the formerly staid financial new channel BNN.
And do you know what? It really fits right in as BNN makes a seismic shift from foxating on stock markets to actually exploring how supremely businesses work.
In Klutt's case he has almost 30 years invested in a company that is respected and still growing.
"When you say classic cars that's a very wide band," Klutt tells me on the phone. "We try to appeal to people on a wide variety of cars. It can be a classic car one family has to have  and that will be their only buy.
"And then there's the case of a buyer who has no limit and must have the 1955 Aston Martin profiled in our third episode and here we're talking over $3 million."
For some reason I got a preview copy of the Aston Martin episode which will be the third episode of the series.
First impressions? The series avoids the phony cliff hangers which infect the American competition.
And as far as facilities go Klutt's is far more impressive with a long history of accomplishment.
The episode revs up as Klutt lands in Oklahoma to chat up a wealthy collector who has a whole high rise filled with classic cars.
For some reason he may want o sell his 1956 Aston Martin which has only had two owners and seems in mint condition.
"It's the right time," says the enigmatic owner who acquired it in 1991. It's up to Klutt to fully win him over to the idea of selling it.
We then get a full history of the marvellous car including vintage photos and footage and a complete check over that indicates all parts are mechanically and  aesthetically sequential. The original numbers match everywhere and outside of a few dents. the car is in mint shape.
Taking a drive is a real treat --for this armchair viewer.
I'm not going to mention the actual price--you have to watch the half hour to assess the astronomical amount demanded --and received.
But "the deal" is something else and must be negotiated after a grudge ping pong tournament. Guess who's the winner?
Other cars to be featured: a vintage Packard, a Ford Mustang Boss 302, a 1957 Mercedes Benz 300SL.
I know I'm already hooked and as far as I'm concerned Legendary Motorcar fits snugly into BNN's business oriented mandate.
MY RATING: ***1/2

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

New U.S. TV Season May Be Doomed

Check out the semi-brilliant article in this week's New York Magazine about the new incoming American TV season.
I've been viewing most of the new pilots and all I can say is there isn't much out there to excite any one.
But Josef Adalian's article "On The Eve Of A New Season, Network Execs Fear A Premiere Week Ratings Disaster" has set alarm bells ringing in the Manhattan sky scrapers.
Adalian forcibly argues that the safe, secure days of network fall launches are a thing of the past what with the advent of DVDs, cable hits and the Internet.
And I happen to think he's right.
Last season ratings were down by as much as one quarter at some of the old line networks. NBC's plunge was so precipitous there are doubts the peacock proud network can ever come back.
Already NBC's Million Second Quiz and the return of Fox's The X Factor have opened to disastrously low ratings.
Every season more viewers are figuring out they no longer have to stick with network schedules. They can program their own faves and watch when they feel like it.
And Adalian makes the point the overnight Nielsen ratings no longer can tell who is watching --it may take weeks for all the figures to be compiled.
When I started out as TV critic of The Spectator a mere 43 years ago it was all so simple. I worked in a 10-channel universe.
NBC would have a hit like Seinfeld and viewers stayed glued to NBC for the night even sticking with such dogs as Suddenly Susan.
Now viewers are all over the map and ditching mediocre series like crazy.
Canadian networks have wound up buying practically every American series for big bucks and ignoring their Canadian content responsibilities.
Unless they switch to more quality Canadian fare they could wind up as the TV season's biggest losers.
In the new TV world content will be king.
So let the 2013 TV season begin and be on the lookout for shows quickly crashing and burning.
It's going to be one mean, nasty shoot out I'm predicting with the very existence of some networks on the line.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

You Can Watch CTV's The Goldbergs Now!

Now available ahead of the new fall TV schedule:  The Goldbergs and Trophy Wife
Both new U.S. sitcoms are getting the preview treatment by CTV which understands a new show needs all the hype it can get.
Now you can watch the pilots on and hopefully if you like them you'll tell your friends and create some buzz.
The Goldbergs is definitely a reworking of The Wonder Years with added twists.
Creator Adam F. Goldberg goes back to the 1980s when as a little kid he'd record all the mad antics of family which he recreates here.
Young Adam who is the family video diarist is played engagingly by Sean Giambrone in a pretty wonderful way.
The parents are meddling mom Beverly (Wendi McLendon-Covey) and grouchy dad  Murray (Jeff Garlin), older brother Barry who is all of 16 (Troy Gentile) and the one invented character sis Erica (Hayley Orrantia).
And there's even a sexually active grand dad Pops (George Segal).
The line readings by the youngsters are especially funny. When mom says that one day she won't be here to dress him for school Adam shouts "You keep saying that but when."
Big item in the pilot has Barry deciding he's old enough to drive and then crashing into everything in sight.
The Eighties references are fun from  Mom's bouffant hair style to the pretty awful interiors of the home. The music references are also right on.
The pilot does need some work but has most of the attributes for a hit. Perhaps the actors yell a bit too loud but chalk that down to youth full exuberance. Yes the actors try too hard but when they get the hang of the characters that will surely change.
Meeting the young stars at the CTV fall preview was great and the kids already knew that there was another sitcom way back at the dawn of TV called The Goldbergs so they've done their homework.
The show already has a lot of heart. Now it needs a dab of understated humor.
The other new series Trophy Wife is far more challenging.
Malin Akerman is pretty funny as the show girl who becomes the third wife of a much older man played engagingly by Bradley Whitford. Marcia Gay Harden nicely plays the original wife.
This is hardly a traditionally family sitcom. Instead it's an often bizarre take on the realities of contemporary marriage --the creators are Sara Haskins and Emily Halpern.
Direction from Jason Moore (Pitch Perfect) manages to blend realistic touches with elements of absurdom.
Akerman aces all the big comedy moments  and it will be interesting to see which way this one goes.
By watching in advance you can become your own TV critic and spread the word to others. At least that's what CTV is hoping.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Finally Red Green Listened To Me

So there I was in Steve Smith's dressing room talking to the talented comic about the last ever episode of The Red Green show.
Let's see now that would be in the spring of 2006.
"We've been through a lot together," smith said.
And boy was he right.
I first met him and his talented wife Morag when they were starring in the successful CHCH-TV series Smith And Smith.
It was 1979 and I was still the youngish TV critic at the Hamilton Spectator.
The next year I defected to The Toronto Star as TV critic but I still journeyed back to Hamilton to interview the Smiths who kept at it until 1985.
People don't realize it but Steve then wrote exactly one episode of Check It Out titled imaginatively enough "Dog Day After Dark".
Then came the series Me And Max. The wonderful CHCH veteran director Larry Schnur was there, I remember, and Morag was there as well as Max Smith and David C. Smith.
I can't remember why this only lasted one season but next up came Smith & Smith's Comedy Mill.
I loved that one, went on the Hamilton set several times.
The cast for this sketch comedy was marvelous: Peter Keleghan, Linda Kash, Mag Ruffman.
Schnur directed again but it only lasted two seasons as far as I can recall.
All this was a mere prelude to the incredible success Smith enjoyed as Red Green on The Red Green Show.
The Red Green Show started on CHCH before that station faltered.
Then it was shipped to London's CFPL station where it actually ran on Global.
Then Comedy picked it up. Finally CBC relented and it ended its spectacular run of 197 episodes.
And then the day came when I talked to Steve in his dressing room.
And I suggested he keep the Red Green character going through a one man show. He could travel with the set, I suggested. And I predicted Smith would pack them in wherever he played.
But he said no. He was ending the program because at the time he said he was beginning to hate the curmudgeon he had created.
But something has changed and Smith is now taking my advice.
Why now? I have an idea he simply got tired of being retired.
Also, Red is a character who is still popular thanks to the perpetual reruns. And Smith even has a new Red Green book titled Red Green's Beginner's Guides To Everything.
I remember after the first season I'd chatted to Smith and he was amazed at the fame of his show. He had figured he'd have a longer run with Comedy Mill but that one somehow never took off.
Anyway the Red Green tour: How To Do Everything starts February 14 in St. Catherine's and then proceeds across the nation.
I was at the taping of the final Red Green show sitting in the bleechers with an old friend. Sitting next to us were a couple who had driven all night from Michigan.
So I'd propose Smith add some U.S. tour dates as soon as possible.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Nathaniel Parker Shines In Still Life

I enjoyed interviewing Nathaniel Parker on the phone the other day as the popular British TV star explained his reasons for starring in the new CBC-TV movie Still Life which premieres Sunday September 15 at 8 p.m.
In fact as I reminded him I once phoned him in Prague when he took over as the lead actor in the British TV mystery McCallum.
"That was 1998," Parker remembered. "So it was great to talk to him again.
Parker is the big name to entice TV viewers into watching Still Life.
He shines as Chief Inspector Armand Gamache who is investigating a suspicious death in the tiny town of Three Pines which is nestled deep in Quebec's impossibly beautiful Eastern Townships.
"When I was asked I was hesitant," Parker admitted. "But only because I had played an inspector in another mystery series as you well know."
He's modestly referring to his spectacular success as Inspector Thomas Lynley in 23 two-hour installments of The Inspector Lynley Mysteries made between 2001 and 2007.
"Then I read this script and both characters could not be more different."
Whereas Lynley was aristocratic Chief Inspector Amand Gamache is world weary, completely professional in his drive to find the killer, armed with two decades of experience at his job.
"The character made sense to me. It was a challenge."
Still Life was written in 2002 by Louise Penny.
As Parker notes her ninth book How The Light Gets In has just debuted number one on The New York Times best seller lists.
"It's a wonderful coincidence."
Filming took place last autumn with Parker as the star export complete with a gaggle of recognizable Canadian character actors including Anthony Lemke, Gabriel Hogan, Kate Hewlett, Patricia McKenzie and Dylan Trowbridge.
Veteran Wayne Grigsby (October 1970) wrote the taut script. CBC veteran Phyllis Platt is one of the executive producers and Peter Moss's atmospheric direction is a huge plus.
"We shot everything on actual locations," explains Parker. "The cast was wonderful, I didn't know any of them at the beginning. Also the crew was great. I had a fine time making it. In the last few scenes you can see the colors changing.
"I live in the English countryside. But the geography in the townships is different, the houses are farther apart and there are huge forests. It's really spectacular."
To explains Parker's very definite English accent a line was inserted stating Gamache had studied at Cambridge University.
"But as filming progressed some French phrases did creep in there."
It seems Canadian TV film makers are finally clueing in to the popularity of such British mystery imports as Inspector Lewis, Broadchurch and the recent run of Silk.
Over the years there have been a few tentative attempts at making a quality home grown mystery series --the outstanding example is The Murdoch Mysteries but it runs in hour long installments.
Way back there were CBC's attempts to forge a Benny Cooperman TV franchise with Saul Rubinek and more recently Wendy Crewson starred in CTV's two-hour Joanne Kilbourn mysteries.
As far as TV mysteries go Parker has guested over the years on such British staples as Poirot, Morse, A Touch Of Frost.
So he knows what it takes to forge a success.
"The emphasis is always on character," he explains. "That was the success of Lynley I feel."
As a TV stalwart Parker, 51,  says he was never told why Lynley was cancelled."Our ratings remained strong but the entire production team defected to another network."
Undeterred Parker joined the cast of Merlin playing the character of Agravaine for all 13 episodes. He also impressed as Albert Speer in BBC's miniseries Nuremburg: Nazis On Trial.
Parker says he'd "certainly" be up for more stints as Inspector Gamache.
"It all depends on the ratings. The books were written with the seasons in mind so the next one must be filmed during the winter."
"I've only seen a rough cut of Still Life so far but I think it turned out. Yes, it's been an adventure so far."
MY RATING: ****.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

The Water Brothers: Making TVOntario Relevant

With its most popular series ever Saturday Night At The Movies cancelled after more than three decades on air TVOntario must rebuild its bridges to the vast TV audience out there.
A great starting point is the low budgeted series The Water Brothers which is just about the most relevant show on TV this year.
The second season revs up Tuesday September 10 at 7:30 p.m.
The half hour documentary is hosted, written and co-produced by Tyler and Alex Mifflin and for all I know they probably also did the catering.
The subject could not be more timely. And I was thinking all about this up at a friend's cottage where she showed me the shore line  which continues to recede year after year.
Without water we're nothing.
First up this second season is a marvelous look at the sacred Indian river The Ganges.
Look, we've all seen images of the multitudes bathing in the river and the funereal pyres floating majestically in the flowing waters.
A billion Hindu people revere this river but the facts are somewhat jarring --here is one of the most polluted rivers in the world.
As it winds through the subcontinent the Ganges and tributaries provide water for 14 per cent of the earth's population.
The tributaries upstream also provide the much needed water for irrigation projects and that's one of the big problems.
Downstream the mighty river is a flow of sludge and toxins, a bubbling cauldron that contributes to high gastrointestinal cancers. The Mifflins get everything right almost all the time. The images are powerfully and horrifying. And the Indian experts consulted on camera agree it is very sad indeed.
Tyler and Alex venture upstream to show the huge tanneries where chemicals like formaldehyde are dumped into the flowing water.
A total of 15 million litres of waste gets dumped every day but only six million is ever treated.
So far governments have shut down 100 polluting tanneries but the shots of the river show decaying bodies floating past the camera. The water seems completely black.
The film makers also visit a religious bathing festival and finds many participants simply do not believe the river is at all polluted. How could it be when it is so holy?
They even take a dip themselves and find the water "surprisingly very refreshing". At about this moment I stopped eating my lunch.
Tests of the water show it contains far more bacteria than should be permitted. The river of death is also itself dying.
The filmmakers may be very young but they're completely accomplished. They know how to hold a TV audience deftly using stunning images to tell their story.
This is the kind of  series TV Ontario desperately needs and who cares about the minuscule budget.if the results are so accomplished?
This is TV for the mind and soul. The Toronto production company is SK Films Inc.
Other programs look at "The Great Pacific Garbage Patch" and there's a visit to a salmon farm in B.C.
MY RATING: ****.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Beekman Boys: A Pleasant Surprise

Fall is the TV time for new series. But it's also time for a gaggle of new networks.
Check out Cottage Life the latest starter upper which is a new Canadian HD Channel now into free previews for the next few months.
And if you want to sample something totally different check out Cottage Life's new series entry The Fabulous Beekman Boys which debuts Tuesday September 10 at 10 p.m.
And I had a fine time interviewing one of the boys on the phone.
That would be former physician Brent Ridge who with his partner Josh Kilmer-Purcell started their own reality series in 2010 --only now is it coming to Canadian TV.
But I instantly recognized them as the couple who won the 21st edition of The Amazing Race.
"We started the series way back in 2010 because we had to," jokes Ridge.
"We had both been downsized in the economic crisis of 2009 and we needed to get some work, any work."
Formerly an ER doctor, Ridge had been a health consultant for Martha Stewart Omnimedia advising on all aspects of the medical world.
Kiler-Purcell had been an advertising executive by day and a successful drag queen by night.
The series can best be described as a sort of take off on The Egg And I as these two city slickers purchase an antique farm in upper state New York and try to launch a line of up scale products such as goat's milk soap.
One critic summed the experience up best calling it a sort of "gay Green acres".
The series which has already run for three seasons on American TV follows Brent and Josh as they try to cope with situations both are completely unable to handle. In other words confusion prevails.
"I really don't think we were prepared for what happened," Brent stammers. "In fact I now know we were totally unprepared."
In the first half hour episode the boys bicker like any other couple as they try to portion out the responsibilities.
However, Josh must keep his day job in Manhattan to pay the bills while Brent looks after the farm as best he can.
The big news is the publication of Josh's latest book but Brent can't make it to a public reading in New York city simply because he is too busy at the farm.
I tell Brent he was lucky the couple decided on starting up with a herd of goats who need minimal supervision.
"So far there haven't been any big vet bills," Brent is saying on the line. If the guys had bought a dairy herd they might have gone bankrupt with vet charges very early on.
But as Brent says "We were lucky the soap just took off. It's for sale everywhere. Even in Toronto."
About the farm: it was a huge estate founded by a Mr. Beekman in 1802 --he was the magistrate and one malcontent burned down the original barn necessitating the construction of a replacement that fairly dominates the rest of the property.
"We were told it was in this area that the wagon trains would set off for the west," says Brent.
There are other characters like the goat expert "Father John". And there's even a ghost named Mary.
My conclusion: the show is charming if more than a bit voyeuristic. The couple's quarrels do not seem staged for TV but are often fiercely real.
When I ask Brent if he thought he was making a statement about gay couples he says "Of course!"
And that statement is to show a couple behaving just like any two young marrieds. Because in June 2013 they actually married on the farm with Martha stewart dutifully in the audience.
Earlier they also won a cool million dollars on The Amazing Race despite set backs along the way and some injuries.
"We had a strategy and stuck to it no matter what," Brent explains. "We were certainly not the youngest or even the best in-shape couple. We trained a bit. And we figured out how we would handle the challenges. And it worked."
But Brent says The Fabulous Beekman Boys is over as a TV series because "we outgrew our roles. We're no longer innocent. The concept simply would not work any more. Time for another challenge I guess."
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Untamed Gourmet: Food For Thought

I generally stay clear of TV cooking shows.
Most feature celebrity cooks ranting away either in studio kitchens or in restaurants where the presentation is everything.
Where the food came from is rarely is ever discussed.
So the new series Untamed Gourmet comes across as a real treat.
The second season of this bright, innovative series revs up on APTN Tuesday night at 8:30.
Untamed Gourmet ditches the kitchen formula altogether and goes out into nature with First Nations chiefs to show us where Canadian food comes from.
Each episode has a lyrical quality about it with beautifully shot location work and inspirational musings about the way food gathering has lost its true purpose in our lives.
The whole idea of aboriginal gourmet cooking seems at first glance to be a bit odd. But that's due to our ignorance about First Nations history and the unique interdependence between man and nature.
In the first new episide young Chef Aaron Bear Robe travels with guide Marc Eber through rural Ontario (mainly the Collingwood area) as they fish for rainbow trout and stop to gather fiddleheads, ginger root, wild rhubarb, dandelion greens and buckwheat honey.'
This is all framed within the larger context of stewardship of the land and respect for aboriginal history.
Plates are made of birch bark and Robe cooks everything up on an open fire as he muses about his own evolution into a top chef at his Toronto restaurant Keriwa cafe.
Each episode follows that format of a chef and a guide interacting with nature and collecting ingredients from the forest while being careful not to take everything so the plants can grow back.
We learn a whole lot about traditions and history and how this sense of being at one with nature was ruptured once the European settlements began.
In the second new episode "BC Interior Fowl"  chef Ben Genaille ventures forth into Pemberton, and Kamloops.
His party is on the look out for duck, grouse and snowshoe hare near B.C.'s Shuswap Lake.
When he finds portions of slate he uses these as the plates. And his menu includes a rosehip salad, juniper berries, rattlesnake plantain, Oregon grapes, skunk cabbage and all served up in what looks like a sumptuous meal.
And Genaille reflects on what it means to be a First Nations chef, how his mother's gardens inspired him as a child and what he looks for in producing such a sumptuous feast.
There are six new programs this season --also featured are Port Alberni salmon, Northwest Territories caribou, Cowichan Valley mule foot hog, and Prince Edward Island lobster.
The co-creators are Cary Ciesielski and Ian Toews for 291 Film Company and the result is food for thought --Canadian TV at its best.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Highway Thru Hell: Welcome Back

Pssst! Want to have a great success with your reality TV series?
Well, make sure the word "hell" is somehow included.
Such as Hell's Kitchen, Hell On Wheels. Oh, I forgot to include Hotel Hell in there. And there must be others.
But my fave is Highway To Hell which returns for its second season Tuesday September 3 at 10 p.m. on Discovery.
This one is wholly Canadian and wholly exciting.
I was getting ready to enjoy Labour Day when I noticed the first season marathon all day on Discovery and I couldn't stop watching.
This series is firmly set on B.C.'s treacherous Coquihalla Highway which constitutes 100 kilometers of winding roads smack dab through the Cascade Mountains.
This show just wouldn't work in the summer.
Instead it deals with often deadly crashes in the fall and winter caused by inexperienced drivers who panic when confronted by blizzards, slippery roads and roaring semis.
The result can be a pile up of dozens of cars or flipped semis that burst into flames endangering hundreds of drivers who get piled up behind the accidents.
The episodes seem to be shot at night which is when the biggest pile ups happen.
And it is personified through the experiences of jovial veteran Jamie Davis and his Heavy Rescue team.
He has a skilled team behind him including skittish Scott Bird who retired at the end of the First Season but now wants to get back at it.
Then there's gnarled Old Bruce who has his own way of doing things --often antagonistic he surely is not a team player.
And what about Jamie's stepson Brandon who is of two minds whether he wants to really get involved in the trucking business.
The first season was a huge ratings winner for Discovery Canada over its nine hours. And this season there are 13 hours with as many thrills as ever.
First up there's a semi that veered off an icy highway and turned over --the owner wants the truck saved if possible meaning a huge shipment of lumber has to be hand packed and carried out before the rig can be pulled to safety.
But the second accident is truly spectacular --a rig crashed with a huge shipment of food containers catching fire and burning through the night in a seemingly never ending blaze that ties up the highway for hours.
I mean these situations are not set up. The capacity for the guys to get hurt seriously is always there.
And I'm wondering about the TV crew called out in dangerous weather conditions because this stuff could never be rehearsed.
Anyhow Davis is very camera savvy. He knows how to show concern for his guys and the rigs he must save.
And I like Highway Thru hell because, well, it's so Canadian. At the end of the first episode he's wondering how long this motley crew can make it before he starts making personnel changes.
Mark A. Miller produced it, Dan Johnson co-wrote it with Miller. Todd Craddock is the chief photographer. and the producing company is Great Pacific Television.
MY RATING: ***1/2.