People maybe should be talking about Canadian TV drama more. I know that's a strange opening statement given blogs are a-buzz over the CRTC's new rules and regulations overhauling television broadcasting. But quotas and points systems and funding is all well and good, but the main goal is getting shows on the air and eyeballs glued to those shows. And there are recent occurrences that warrant a bit of analysis.
It's great to see storytellers embracing Canadian culture as grist for daring spies, gun-totting cowgals and sweeping epics. But when even professional journalists have never heard of spy schools or know much about early black history, it gives you an idea of how much damage has been done by generations of Canadian film and TV makers cravenly setting stories in "Generica" -- and how much farther there is to go.
In the last couple of years Canadian TV programmers have gone nuts for comedy -- specifically so-called "American-style" sitcoms. So far it hasn't really worked out too well with a lot of cancellations and even those series that continue often receiving mixed reviews. So maybe it should come as no surprise that one of the best comedies to come along on Canadian TV is out of left field -- APTN's Mohawk Girls!
I recently saw a Canadian-made movie called Debug. It's kind of a "meh" movie (as I once saw an online reviewer define something not good enough to praise, but not bad enough to disparage). If you're predisposed toward the sub-genre, you'll probably find it a passable waste of 90 minutes. And if you're more ambivalent, you probably won't. And therein lies today's rub.
It seems to me I've been noticing that a lot lately on Canadian TV. Particularly recent sitcoms that seem as though the scripts are decades old -- including with a leering sexism I don't necessarily associate with modern American or U.K. sitcoms. Maybe the 21st century really did just happen to other people.
The only time people aren't complaining about government regulation is when they are complaining about the lack of regulation! When Netflix speaks against regulations, they do so out of two motives. One, as a corporate entity that wants nothing to interfere with their profits. But secondly, as an American company.
Hopefully the new TV, Eh? -- assuming it gets going -- won't fall into the trap of just being a cheerleader, of seeing its sole purpose to do PR for any and all Canadian productions. That should certainly be part of it, of course. But a healthy industry is one where issues can be discussed, opinions can be traded back and forth, and sacred cows tipped over.
It seems like you can barely turn around without some celebrity or public figure saying something racially or sexually offensive. But it's unusual when it involves a Canadian entertainer. Recently there was a minor explosion when Canadian TV executive Brent Piaskoski sent out a series of comical tweets ridiculing the behaviour of some Asian commuters at an airport.
I'm all for the CBC brass stepping out of their ivory towers and walking among the people, but I'd also like a sense they have a vision themselves. A vision that can be shaped by public feedback, perhaps -- but a vision nonetheless. Because if you ask a hundred people what they want from the CBC, you'll get a hundred different answers.
When I defend the CBC, it's because I'm defending the idea of Canadian culture and identity and I see the CBC as, for now, a necessary part of that. But when people criticize the CBC, I suspect it's part of a deeper and far more, well, insidious agenda that stretches well beyond public broadcasting.
Working the Engels started out tepid, but is improving week-by-week. With the most recent episode (the one about the sister dealing with her divorce) I found myself chuckling pretty consistently. I'd argue the secret weapon in their comedy quiver might be Less Than Kind's Benjamin Arthur who injects a sympathetic innocence into the brother.
A big difference between casting in American and Canadian productions is this: when a Hollywood production casts a Canadian it's in spite of the fact that the actor is Canadian. Yet often when Canadian productions import American actors, they do so because the filmmakers were told they had to have an American lead.
Canadian suffers from a Goldilocks and the Three Bears syndrome: "Serious" Papa Bear films that win accolades but tank at the multiplexes, or lowest common denominator Baby Bear horror films and comedies. This often squeezes out the Mama Bear films -- those that don't require a degree in Film Appreciation 101, yet neither do they demand you check your frontal lobe at the door.
Although The Mortal Instruments didn't exactly grip me, if you loved the movie -- great. But The Mortal Instruments has already won a prize -- by selling more tickets than any other Canadian-produced movie in 2013. If there is to be a Golden Reel Award, shouldn't it celebrate movies that are actually trying to build and develop a domestic Canadian industry?
Canada is, literally, one of the most multiracial/multicultural nations in the world. And yet you probably wouldn't get that impression watching a lot of Canadian movies and TV series. When it comes to Canadian film and TV, things have come a long way -- but it can also feel like two steps forward, one step back.