Tuesday, September 26, 2017


Last season CBC-TV's new sitcom Kim's Convenience was the surprise hit of the year.

I still think the decision of a past management to fold RCAF was a major mistake --here was a Canadian staple that could have been refreshened with the addition of newer cast members.
But at least Kim's Convenience is coming back for a second season at 9 p.m.
I was lucky at the CBC fall launch to chat a bit with playwright and executive producer Ins Choi, co-creator Kevin White and actors Paul Sun-Hyung and Jean Yoon.
The one I wanted to see wasn't there --executive producer Yvan Fecan but I talked to him the year before.
Fecan at one point was head programmer at CBC-YV and knows how to grow a situation comedy --he had one of the best on the boards with Material World but Fecan didn't have enough money for a full season.
With Kim's Convenience there's 13 episodes --needed in a vastly competitive TV world --as well as the expertise of playwright Choi who first developed her characters as a play.
Hey, it worked the first season establishing Kim's Convenience as a popular new comedy that should if anything improve in the second season. And there were three Canadian Screen Awards : Paul Sun-Hyung Lee as Best Performer and Andrew Phung as Best Supporting Performance.
With the right kind of careful care this series might evolve into another Corner Gas --created when Fecan was running CTV.
I've been around so long I remember when CBC's big comedic hit was King Of Kensington.
I'd go to a taping every season at the Yorkville Studios --the same venue for Pierre Berton's shows.
But star Al Waxman left after five seasons because CBC used a closet as his dressing room --he later jumped to another hit --Cagney And Lacey (the pilot was shot in the US.).
CBC then disbanded its sitcom department for awhile and then made some major mistakes with such stinkers as Mosquito Lake and Not My Department.
It's hard to keep that sitcom tradition --after the huge hit of Corner Gas CTV had two stinkers in Dan For Mayor and Hiccups.
I think Kim's Convenience's success has happened because it was first a play.
In Canada we don't have the dough needed for test pilots which are subsequently discarded..
The creator of Malcolm In The Middle told me ABC went through three pilots costing $2 million before hitting the right note.
I'm honor bound not to reveal much of the new season's plots except to state Janet (Andrea Bang) is searching for an apartment.
The situations so far are funny but not outlandish --everything makes sense because the actors already know their characters.
And so right now CBC has the only watchable TV sitcom on Canadian TV. Over to you CTV.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Much Too Young: Must-See Canadian TV

Don't get distracted by the glut of new and returning TV series  popping up all over your TV screens this fall.
Save some time for the brilliant new Canadian made TV documentary Much Too Young which has its world premiere Thursday September 21 at 9 p.m. --which is World Alzheimer's Day.
I was told in advance to expect something special but I wasn't really prepared for my entirely appropriate emotional response.
Co-directors Christopher Wynn and Russell Giernapp made it with total compassion and honesty that I felt emotionally wasted at the end.
This one moves above the sheer scary statistics: 564,000 Canadians currently live with the disease including 16,000 with young onset Alzheimer's who were diagnosed at 65 years, clearly not in the senior citizens category and often caring for young families still at home.
But the major force in this intense group profile are the children who are the force holding their families together and they range from age 13 to 27 --they've had to put their own lives on hold and return to homes where they have assumed the role of parents.
Wynn is telling me on the phone he went through the whole wrenching process when helping hid father in Montreal.
"I moved back to Montreal when my father needed me. So I understand the stresses and pull of family versus career. And I made my first documentary on that titled Forgetful Not Forgotten."
"We wanted a cross section of families because the disease strikes in different ways. And we needed complete cooperation from the families. A few families seemed disinclined to offer so much and we had to drop them. But we travel light --there's just three of us coming into these homes --a director, cinematographer and a sound man. And after a while we just blended in --nobody looked at the camera after the first visit or so."
In Montreal there's Francois Bouliane who was diagnosed with Frontal Temporal Dementia aged 51.
He appears to strangers as withdrawn from life and more eager to work on his gigantic puzzles than conversing.
We follow him to his doctor and find he can still speak fluently in both official languages but his 13-year old daughter who was his pride and joy cannot understand why he doesn't seem to want to play sports with her anymore.
Wife Gloria notes the stillness of the once active sports participant, a strange serenity that suggests he is drifting away.
We also meet Moira Fraschetti, diagnosed with Alzheimer's at 51. Her devoted daughter Kathleen notes friends do not understand the pressures of looking after a parent with the disease. We watch as she takes her mom to medical appointments--she can only work part time these days because her family needs her so much.
It's different again for Peter Wekeles, 57, who studies Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto, a full time occupation to be sure, but he then must drive an hour each way to help his father. The pull of career with family responsibilities is best expressed by his dilemma.
The method here is keen observation. The participants do not appear to be aware of the film crew most of the times.
The group profile documents the everyday experiences which are spiraling out of control. One of the women can't quite figure how to walk down stairs anymore. One of the husbands had left home when his children were quite young--he has returned to look after a wife who may not always recognize him.
Says Wynn: "We think Alzheimer's strikes very old people. But our subjects are middle aged. The families want them to stay in their homes as long as possible and bed spaces are hard to come by and very expensive."
I was amazed the caregivers seemed so determined, rarely losing their tempers, such compassion is amazing but is being done on a daily basis. As a group snapshot the theme surely must be that families stick together through some terrible situations.
Nomad Films has been a Toronto fixture for two decades but long form documentaries are a disappearing breed on TV --An hour on CBC or CTV means 42 minutes plus commercials.
The best thing about Much Too young is its measured stance that allows us to watch and be amazed at the dedication of families who want to stick together.It Runs 88 minutes and you won't be able to turn away.
MY RATING: ****.