I like to blog about pop culture -- specifically (though not exclusively) Canadian film & TV. Ideally, I should write about one particular theme...then move on to another.
But as Al Pacino said in a Godfather flick: "Just when I thought I was out...they pull me back in!"
Y'see, last time I wrote about a recurring issue: Canadian movies and TV shows that hide their Canadianness (TV Drinking Game), even citing the new sitcom, Seed. But just as I was about to move on...I came upon this review of Seed by Anne T. Donahue. And I'm pulled back in.
Seed is a Canadian sitcom about a sperm donor (Adam Korson) who finds himself the unlikely nexus of an extended family connected by the fruit of his loins -- including a lesbian couple and a single gal. A lot of the critical reviews of Seed have been great -- usually in the context of lamenting tepid ratings.
There's an irony to that. Seed is carried by City TV which was enjoying success with The Murdoch Mysteries. But Murdoch wasn't appealing to the young, hipster demographic City TV felt its brand deserved. So Murdoch was given the boot. Now Seed is languishing...while The Murdoch Mysteries is enjoying its best ratings ever on the CBC. Granted, the CBC's mandate is just to get Canadians watching, period, so if Murdoch skews older, or a disproportionate number of The Republic of Doyle's fans reside east of Quebec, it's all bums on seats to them.
Still, one can't help but look sympathetically at the City TV programmers and say, "Ouch!"
But that doesn't detract from the enthusiastic reviews Seed has been enjoying. Unfortunately, Seed hasn't impressed me as much. In the first episode, I thought I detected a bit of a wry Canadian-vibe, evocative of series like Corner Gas, Little Mosque on the Prairie, and Dan for Mayor. Sly phrasing more than big punch lines. But the execution was a bit rough: the cast and director not quite finding the right rhythm between farce and realism. Mildly amusing but you could imagine it being funnier with more finesse. The second episode was even more disappointing, though there was an inspired lunacy to the show & tell scene.
Still, Corner Gas and Little Mosque took a bit to find their legs. There are so few sitcoms made in Canada, each series has to follow its own learning curve.
And based on those gushing reviews, maybe there is a demographic of urban hipsters hungry for a sitcom they can call their own. Many Canadian sitcoms have been set in a kind of small town milieu. So maybe there were reviewers who wondered when the comic spotlight would fall on their urban world of lipstick parties (not something the gang at Corner Gas ever had to deal with!) -- and they aren't going to let it go without a fight.
Part of the problem may be that Seed isn't really as edgy as it wants to seem. Creator Joseph Raso claimed he had been shopping the premise around for a few years -- but by now it just seems to be following in the wake of the funny Canadian sperm donor movie, Starbuck, and the "changing family dynamic" idea of U.S. sitcoms like Modern Family, The New Normal and even The New Adventures of Old Christine.
Still, Seed isn't terrible. Maybe with a few more episodes under its belt, the cast finding their groove, it'll get better.
But then we get to this point in Donahue's review: "..it's a universal sitcom," she praises, adding it avoids playing off "being Canadian." (And in a separate article series star Adam Korson boasts there's "nothing necessarily Canadian about it.")
It isn't simply that Seed avoids intrusive Canadianisms, but often does everything short of flying Old Glory to intimate an American setting -- from the use of place names to colloquialisms. Which might reflect the fact that Canadian-born creators like Raso have been living abroad too long (the third episode had no conspicuous "Americanisms"...and it was written, not by Raso, but by Jenn Engels, who has written for Canadian series like Less Than Kind and InSecurity).
When Donahue praises Seed for avoiding "Canadian stereotypes" -- what does that even mean? The implication is setting Seed in Canada would be awkward, but making it seem American makes it "universal". She also writes: "Americans and Canadians enjoy sharp writing. Seed isn't a "Canadian comedy", it's a comedy."
She's right. People are people. Which, um, is why there should be no problem setting it in Canada. The impression she gives is that to actually set the series in Canada would be, well, wrong. Thank God! seems to be the exclamation, it has the courage to excise all Canadian references so it's a "normal" TV series (ie: American).
In a story about sperm donation, single moms, lesbians, and mixed race couples...apparently the provocative thing would be if it actually admitted it was Canadian!
The irony is that Canada legalized same sex marriage years before America (oh, wait! America still hasn't legalized it completely). And years ago, interracial American couples actually moved to Canada to escape discrimination. Avoid Canadian stereotypes? Seed should be flaunting them!
Setting is part of storytelling. It provides a grounding, an immediacy. The Chicago of The Bob Newhart Show, the Wisconsin of That '70s Show, the New York of How I Met Your Mother, the Florida of Cougar Town.
Seed is set in a kind of rootless Twilight Zone where nothing has context. The makers of it and similar programs follow the same hackneyed path of least resistance, dating all the way back to the infamous sitcom, The Trouble with Tracy! Maybe the success or failure of Canadian sitcoms has less to do with fooling the audience into thinking a show is American...and more to do with simply being funny.
Donahue wraps up by suggesting if Seed can suppress any parochial Canadianness it should earn "cross-border recognition". But maybe Canadian filmmakers don't get any respect in the international market place because as long as they churn out anonymous, embarrassed-to-admit-they're-Canadian programs, they send out the message...that they don't respect themselves