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A Post-Mortem for TV's <em>Remedy</em>

05/25/2015 04:23 EDT | Updated 05/25/2016 05:59 EDT

I was mulling over writing again about the TV medical drama, Remedy -- when it was announced that Remedy has been cancelled! So maybe that gives an (unfortunate) impetus to my post, as well as allowing for some digressions (I'm usually given to writing with a broader-focus to my Canadian film/TV posts than simply reviewing individual series).

So here's the thing: I really liked Remedy. I'd even go so far as to say it was the best English-Canadian drama currently around and, by extension, one of the better TV dramas on (yes, even compared to American and other series). It was created by Greg Spottiswood who was also responsible for the crime-drama King -- and, in the name of full disclosure, King was a series of which I was also inordinately fond.

Spottiswood's response to Remedy's cancellation was to tweet plugs for a bunch of other Canadian series. I'm pretty sure that's one of the definitions of "class."

On the surface Remedy was a perfectly mainstream hospital drama mixing medical-crises-of-the-week with on-going character soap opera. Yet it was in the details that it carved out its own identity, doing things I don't recall seeing much in other medical dramas. Its hospital was a kind of social microcosm, main characters ranging from the doctors to the janitors, and its "in" into the drama was a dysfunctional family dynamic, the hospital dominated by the extended Connor clan (one can speculate whether Remedy inspired YTV's medical drama, Open Heart -- also about a medical family ranging from doctors to volunteers).

And equally what I liked about Remedy was its complex character interaction. I'd argue a good drama is one which can present a bunch of different characters, with different points of view, sometimes bitterly at odds with each other -- and forces you, not necessarily to agree with or always condone their actions, but to understand and empathize with them.

A good way of describing Remedy was a series about good people -- who make a lot of bad decisions!

A recent scene that sticks in my mind is when the generally well-meaning Allen Connor (Enrico Colantoni), driven to desperation out of concern for his drug addicted son, Griff (Dillon Casey), coerces another character into re-hiring Griff -- while juxtaposed are scenes of Griff sinking even further into his addiction. Allen essentially gives up a piece of his soul even as we, the viewer, know it's already moved beyond the point where his actions will help Griff. One could write whole essays analyzing Remedy as a study of addiction and co-dependency -- not simply in terms of physical addiction, but the way characters use relationships and their sense of family obligations, in a sense, as their own drug.

Which makes the series sound way more heavy than it is, since it also has plenty of romantic sub-plots, and comedy and the obligatory grisly surgical scenes!

Now we all assume that whatever we like is somehow empirically better than things we don't. And others will disagree just as emphatically. To say one series is "smarter" or more "sophisticated" or "edgier" than another is, well, kind of obnoxious. But viscerally -- it's hard not to fall into that trap.

To me Remedy was arguably the best English-Canadian drama on. Part of the way I judge that is my mind never really wandered during an episode. Most series, even ones I like, will have scenes where my mind drifts, or I find myself making a mental note of groceries I need.

In Remedy the actors all seemed completely "in" the moment, to the point where I never found myself thinking about their process, or seeing the performer rather than the performance. Despite its large ensemble there was no character/actor I didn't like spending time with (and if Enrico Colantoni doesn't receive the Best Actor at next year's CSAs I'll need some pretty serious convincing as to why not!)

Someone once asked me how I could rank Remedy ahead of something like 19-2, the critically acclaimed police drama that is generally held up as the "best" English-Canadian TV drama of the moment. I like 19-2, but I would argue that for all its superficial "edginess" it's not saying or doing anything fundamentally fresh within its police drama oeuvre in terms of characters, plots, or philosophical perspective. But I'd argue Remedy, despite its superficially generic "big city hospital" milieu, coloured a bit outside the lines. But maybe I've just seen more police dramas over the years than medical dramas, so it's harder for a police drama to surprise me.

Remedy's cancellation raises questions about Canadian television. And especially Global's commitment -- or lack thereof -- to Canadian programming.

Was it too smart, demanding too much from some viewers with its layered characters and ambiguous perspective that eschews easy right/wrong answers? The posts at the IMDB are largely dominated by people who hated the series, labelling the characters "scum." Though at least one commentator flaunts an assault rifle on their user ID picture so, um, make of that what you will. Sometimes you can judge a series by those who hate it.

Or am I just a fanboy seeing emotional nuance where another viewer sees run-of-the-mill soap opera? The CBC's recently cancelled Strange Empire had many critics heralding that series as a complex, challenging drama -- but I'll admit I never felt it reached those goals.

Great series get cancelled all the time while sometimes middling series continue for years. But one is always curious as to what was behind the ratings. Did people tune into Remedy -- then tune out? Were people just maxed out on medical dramas? Or -- and this is the more problematic one -- did people just not know it was even on? I've written before about the fact that there does seem a curious tendency for the top rated Canadian series to have American co-producers and whether that leads to better publicity, or a chic value for audiences. The Canada-U.S. co-production Rookie Blue, for instance, has bigger audiences than the wholly domestic 19-2 despite 19-2 being critically acclaimed (Rookie Blue is a good show, too -- not saying it isn't).

Or is it just the nature of the material? It's not surprising the dark, gritty 19-2 might have fewer viewers than the lighter Rookie Blue (I tend to think of 19-2 as being Rookie Blue with its hair held back as it pukes in a toilet).

Still, Remedy's final episode tied up some threads, shone a light of hope on some others, and generally avoided an overt cliff hanger, making it worth seeking out the 20 episode run by those who haven't tried it yet.