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Canadian television is becoming watchable

July 16, 2012

Early last year while editor-in-chief of the Navigator I wrote an editorial on how Canadian television collectively is the uncontested mayor of Dullsville, County of Boring. Turns out I have buckets of influence because since then Maple Beaver networks have produced some decent shows.

In the last two years, Canadian cable networks have started introducing more original scripted programming, and with positive results. Shows like  Showcase’s Lost Girl, which was picked up by SyFy networks in the U.S., U.K. and Australia, are fresh, intriguing and most importantly aren’t worrying about defining themselves with Canadian content. That’s right, it looks like writers and networks are finally beginning to understand that just because a show is written and produced in Canada, doesn’t mean the action has to take place in a hokey dokey town, population 15,000, where everybody loves hockey and drinks shitty beer.

Cost of Lost Girl

Lost Girl. Courtesy Showcase/SyFy

Audiences are responding to the new, mature Canadian television industry too. Republic of Doyle on CBC has broken the top 10 most-watched shows more than once and Global Television’s Bomb Girls has also garnered a positive response from Canadian audiences and U.S. networks alike (it will air on ReelzChannel in the U.S.A.).

Cast of Rookie Blue

Rookie Blue. Courtesy Global/ABC

And Bomb Girls has company: Flashpoint and Rookie Blue are carried by CBS and ABC, respectively, and the supernatural medical drama Saving Hope premiered on both CTV and NBC last month; last week it sat pretty at number 5 in the ratings of the top 30 shows ranked by BBM. It also holds the crown for highest ratings for the 2012 summer premieres (although ratings have been tanking ever since. The title is too close to Raising Hope anyways.).

It’s true the top 30 shows on TV watched by Canadians are still mainly American (Canadians freaking love Big Bang Theory). That’s no surprise given the money Hollywood studios and networks have to produce excellent programming (so good that as of late, they’ve been able to lure movie stars to the small screen –  Ashton Kutcher, Glenn Close, Zooey Deschanel, Alec Baldwin, to name a few). At least now Canadians have the opportunity to tune in to programming that has some element of credibility. Seriously, even my cats could tell how bad Corner Gas was.

Canadian Television Sucks—Just Ask Canadians
From the Navigator, February 2011

Television has been an integral part of many homes for over 60 years and that doesn’t appear to be slowing down any time soon. We’ve come a long way from the tiny black and white with rabbit ears; these days we have a plethora of viewing options, from high definition LED monster-sized flat screens to smartphones, iPads and personal computers. We’ve also come a long way in what we watch (not too many parallels between The Honeymooners and Big Love). So why is it that, in 60 years, Canadian television hasn’t seemed to have come any closer to making an entertaining, well-viewed show?

There’s no point in sugar-coating the truth: on average Canadian television is mundane and unimaginative, the production value is sub-par, and the acting is less than memorable and rudimentary. Sitcoms about small-town, rural life (Corner Gas) or hour-long dramas (Rookie Blue, 18 to Life) have either mundane premises or pale in comparison to their American counterparts.

I have no clue as to why this is the case, but I’m not the only Canadian who feels this way – turns out the majority of Canadians don’t watch Canadian-made prime time television either.

The Bureau of Broadcast Management (BBM), which, among other things, compiles statistics on the 30 most-watched television shows in Canada, tells us the cold, hard truth: for the week of Jan. 17-23, 2011 the top ten programs were Big Bang Theory, which drew almost 3.2 million viewers; American Idol; The Mentalist; House; NCIS; Two and a Half Men; the NFL Playoffs (which held the seventh and eighth spots); $#*! My Dad Says; and rounding out the top ten, Hockey Night in Canada.

Only eight shows in the full list of thirty were Canadian, half of which were news broadcasts. Every other show is American. Previous weeks tell a similar story.

One of the only Canadian shows (besides sporting events) to ever break the top ten in the last six months is Flashpoint. The hour-long action drama on CTV began in 2007 and has been so successful that it caught the eye of American network CBS, who picked up the show and added it to their prime time line up. This makes Flashpoint the first program since Due South to achieve a prime time spot on a US broadcast network. Moreover, unike Due South, which mainly took place in Chicago, Flashpoint‘s action is set in Toronto.

Other than Due South and Flashpoint, it’s an exercise in futility to try and find other Canadian shows that have been picked up in other countries, or perhaps resulted in a country-specific version, such as the numerous British shows that have been nabbed by American broadcasters. Has any Canadian show been considered groundbreaking and innovative enough to be remade for another audience? Even if that isn’t a show’s measure of success, what is of all shows is to actually pull an audience of more than eight living rooms and this just isn’t a regular occurrence for Canadian television.

It’s not that Canadians aren’t capable of making entertaining, successful shows – just look at how many Canadian actors, writers, directors, and producers are successfully working in American television (to name a few, Lorne Michaels (SNL), Richard Lewis (CSI), Joshua Jackson, Nathan Fillion, Sandra Oh, Cory Monteith, Hart Hanson (Bones), and Anna Paquin). People with talent and potential star power need a reason to stick around so that Canada, for once, can have a successful and compelling television industry. Why can’t we manage to do that?


Sometimes the ‘Girls’ on HBO are really dumb

July 7, 2012

Girls has become the television sensation of the year. Why? Because it’s on HBO. Probably also because of all the nudity and sex scenes.

The cast of Girls on HBO

The cast of Girls on HBO: Jemima Kirke, Allison Williams, Lena Dunham and Zosia Mamet. (Courtesy HBO)

It’s also a sensation because it’s funny, well-written and doesn’t hide behind any façade of what some girls are really like. That’s right, I pulled out a fancy word for wall because this show deserves it.

I initially had no interest in this show, writing it off, like so many, as Sex & the City with 20-year-olds. Besides both Girls and Sex & the City chronicle the lives of four friends living in New York City, these two shows couldn’t be farther apart from each other. Where SATC was melodramatic and covered in a thick New York smog blanket of fabulosity and a men-are-from-Mars-women-are-from-Venus mentality, Girls is openly honest, realistic and brash. Lena Dunham’s Hannah Horvath (real last name, by the way – I was surprised too) is self-entitled, frumpy, selfish and a rambling idiot.

That’s what’s been the most intriguing aspect of the show for me: Hannah and her Friends, Marnie, Jessa and Shoshanna, have got to be some of the dumbest chicks you will ever meet. They’re dense about relationships, careers – common sense (episode two comes to mind). They are whiny, slightly obnoxious and they screw with people’s emotions. They are girls and they can be awful.

At a sculpted and groomed Vogue shoot in the spring, the cast of Girls flipped their hair and talked about what it meant to be on the show.


I’m not really getting the whole female empowerment vibe from this show, and I don’t understand why shows with female protagonists always have to have a message or agenda. Why can’t it just be a show about a group of four really dumb girls, who think they are going to have these amazing lives in the Big Apple and then learn that it’s really hard? That’s the only message I’ve picked up on so far: life involves work and compromise as well as dreams and ambition.

Need everyone be reminded also that this show is called Girls, not Women or Ladies (a term that, for me, will only ever conjure images of prim ladies of the Jane Austin era); they are juvenile and have no idea what they are doing half the time.

What I really marvel at is show creator, writer, star and frequent director, Lena Dunham. She has sewn together a tight, structured show with just enough absurdity mixed in an unadorned reality. The show is funny because it’s true, as they say, unlike some other shows with the word girls in their title, which are not funny, real or clever. (I refer to the comedy classic Girls With No Money or Personality – sorry 2 Broke Girls. I’ve never watched this show, but seeing the promos with the main characters in their fake waitress costumes was enough for me to tell that I would want to punch myself in the brain if I watched a whole episode.)

A lot of people seem to either love Girls or hate it: it’s either obnoxious or brilliant. I say it’s obnoxiously brilliant. I would probably hate these girls in real life, but on a television show they’re naïveté is hilarious and endearing.

Also I can’t wait for season 2 when Donald Glover from Community will be on, and also, hopefully, the return of Kev-bot.



On hate-watching television: a confession

June 26, 2012

The Slate Culture Gabfest did a piece on hate-watching television shows back in May and it got me thinking about shows that I hate-watch.

Hate-watching doesn’t have any standard definition, everybody has different reasons for watching terrible shows: it’s so bad, it’s hilarious; you watch it even though you’re ashamed. The Culture Gabfest crew narrowed down the definition of hate-watching to when you watch a television program because you tell everyone that it is stupid and you hate it.

You may be wondering, It took this blog lady over a month to think about shows that she hate-watches? How does she get anything done in life? In fact, it did not take me this long to think of a show, I thought of one almost immediately. I’m just really this lazy when it comes to blogging. There’s really no reason for me to be talking about this right now, actually. There’s no peg anymore. When Slate talked about hate-watching, it was because Emily Nussbaum had written a story in The New Yorker about hate-watching Smash. That’s because the people on Slate Culture Gabfest are proper culture and entertainment commentators and discuss relevant topics.

Since I know you follow this blog religiously and check at least three times a day to see if I have put up any scintillating posts, I will now reveal my hate-watch.

English: This is a title card for Gossip Girl ...

xoxo, why are you still on the air?!

It’s Gossip Girl.

It’s season finale was more than six weeks ago. It got the green light for renewal a month ago. But I’m still going to talk about it.

Gossip Girl is by far the worst piece of crap I watch. The fact that it is a teen soap means it’s kind of a given that it’s nothing amazing, but this show exceeds all realms of high school/college drama lameness.

It’s been on for five long seasons and looong and painful have they been. I want it to end so bad because I don’t want to watch it anymore, but for some reason I have to see it through to the terrible end.

(I just thought of a teeny tiny peg: Queen B herself, Leighton Meester, is in a movie that just came out! That’s My Boy with Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg. Now I feel better).

What makes me hate this show so much is that it’s clear that no one involved in it cares about it anymore. They repeat plotlines over and over. They let interesting moments go by the wayside. Characters literally disappear from the show. (I’m pretty sure Eric is in Tanzania). They introduce relationships that go against everything characters stand for (Blair Waldorf and Lonely Boy, really? Has Dan Humphrey’s hair gone viral and burrowed into the brains of the writers? That would make an amazing Halloween episode by the way. Just saying, writers, I’m available if you need ideas.)

Season one had it all.

What I hate the most is how they hurry through story lines so fast. I know the characters lives are scandalous, but sometimes scandal lasts a little longer than a three-episode arc.

I know I could stop watching any time, but for some reason I can’t take my eyes away from the incoming train wreck, even though I know exactly how the train wreck is going to happen because the stories are so predictable. Sure, they throw in a surprise twist every now and then, but it always ends up falling flat. There was a time when Gossip Girl was good and a part of me is always hopeful it will return to its former glory, when Rufus will have re-grown a pair, when Lily will be quippy and bitchy, when Blair will be powerful and mighty again, when Chace Crawford‘s character will be well-rounded – oh wait, he never had a character, he was just the hair.

So with the announcement that next season will be the last for the Upper East Siders, all I can say is hallelujah, soon my Monday nights will be free, and also, I will miss you Gossip Girl. Kristen Bell better make an appearance before the show ends.

By the way, if you were wondering, Penn Badgley, that actor who plays dumb Dan Humphrey looks even more like a homeless man since he grew a beard. What a treasure.

What show(s) do you hate-watch?

The cast of ‘New Girl’ are bussing to a city near you

June 21, 2012

Season two cast promotional shot for New Girl. Courtesy FOX

Oh God. This seems like a bit much.

FOX press release says that the cast of New Girl are hitting the road this summer on a True American Bus Tour. They’ll be making public appearances in a bunch of American cities including Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas and San Francisco.

They’ll be traveling in style on the party school bus that Jess threw Schmidt’s birthday on last season.

“Stop by the bus to party like a ‘True American,’ ” the release says, “watch exclusive videos and receive a grab bag of cool New Girl gifts, including your very own pair of Jess’ signature eyeglasses. Plus, create your own New Girl T-shirt with logos and catchphrases from the show.

“Fans and their friends can reenact the show’s opening theme song segment in a one-of-a-kind photo which they can share on their social media sites. Visitors also can play “douchebag jar” pong for additional prizes, all while snacking on Jess’ famous cupcakes!”

Maybe there will also be a game or two of True American?

I don’t understand the fan frenzy that has overtaken this show. It’s really all very ridiculous – oh my God they’re coming to Seattle August 31 – September 3! Road trip! I want a ‘Schmidt Happens’ T-shirt!

(via TVbytheNumbers)

For now enjoy this amazing video of Zooey Deschanel, Max Greenfield, Jake Johnson, Lamorne Morris and Hannah Simone as they dance and laugh and pose for the season 2 promotional shoot.

Apartment 23 is bitchy, but could do with more funny

April 12, 2012

Photo: ABC

As full-season shows begin to wind down on the networks, ABC premiered a new comedy Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 — oh excuse me, Don’t Trust the B**** in Apartment 23. That’s a bad word, you know.

Here’s a useful rule to follow when naming a show: call it something you can actually say on promos and spell out without offending broadcast standards people. When this show was being promoted in September it was simply called Apartment 23. I don’t understand what was wrong with that. It was vague enough that the show wasn’t strapped in to any one theme and also intriguing to potential viewers, as in, What happened in apartment 23?!

So as you’ve probably guessed, this show is about a bitch (Krysten Ritter) in an apartment. It turns out that she is a bitch with the makings of a heart of gold though (surprise). She’s slutty, doesn’t care what other people think, doesn’t follow rules and takes money from people. She’s also best friends with James Van Der Beek (he’s played by that Dawson guy from Dawson’s Creek). Then this non-bitch from Iowa or Idaho, I can’t remember, moves in. Bitch tries to take advantage of her innocence, but wouldn’t you know, sweet little June (Dreama Walker) turns out to be a sly one herself, and so a beautiful roommateship begins to blossom.

I hate it when shows have characters that are so ruthless. I wouldn’t say it’s not realistic, that they’re aren’t real-life people like that, but there is one key difference between those real humans and how they are portrayed on TV: the people in real life are effing crazy and they are not funny. They are clinically psychotic and anyone with any desire towards self-preservation would run away from them as fast as they can. So I’m not really sure why anyone would want to watch someone like that on TV.

One of the few people who actually had comical lines in the pilot was Van Der Beek. He’s a pretty funny guy, which he showed in some Funny or Die videos he did last year. I do wonder how long he can play a douchey version of himself on Don’t Bitch before it becomes stale.

We probably won’t have to worry about if it gets stale though because my guess is this show is cancelled. Don’t worry, soon another series will surface with the same nutty, spontaneous chick and ambitious, straight girl pairing. It will come sooner than you think, and you’ll wonder all over again why they even bothered.

The Vampire Diaries can’t stop laughing at PaleyFest

March 11, 2012

The Vampire Diaries cast was having a ball at PaleyFest last night. Lots of jokes, especially among the Salvatore brothers, Ian Somerhalder and Paul Wesley.

Image credit: The CW

What I learned about TVD at PaleyFest

1. So fans of The Vampire Diaries are kind of crazy in to this show. There was definitely a different vibe at this event than the other shows’ panel discussions, what with the hooting, hollering and any other progessive verb starting with an h that you can think of. I really like this show, but I’ve never gotten that involved in a piece of fiction. I appreciate this show mostly for its superb writing – the crazy plot twists, the really tight dialogue and the fact that the show doesn’t take itself too seriously. Of course the handsome men are nice too.

2. Talk about fans getting engrossed in the show – apparently Matt Davis writes a bit of fan fiction himself on his Twitter account. His handle is Ernesto Riley (I don’t know).

3. Nina Dobrev thinks Elena should take a European vacation and spend some time away from all this vampire business. I would be up for some fresh scenery, plus it could be an opportunity to explore Katherine’s roots in Romania and the Salvatore origins in Italy.

4. Executive producer and co-creator, Julie Plec, honed in on the main relationship and element that ties the show together: Damon and Stefan and the brotherly love-hate-I want to kill you dynamic. They each have equal capabilities of good and evil, but they just struggle with it differently. Those are the most interesting characters to follow too; sometime we want to see a little bitey-killy and other times some kissy-huggy.

5. Every episode of TVD is like a mini film. The writers start with a clean slate every episode. First they look at where the characters are emotionally, then they add in the mythology of the show, then the Mystic falls Event of the Week. I do love a good barn raising/retro era high school dance.

5. Ian Somerhalder bombed his network test for the show. But he got a second chance and  wowed the network president. Thank god because Damon is the best character on the show. Ian gave some advice to all the aspiring idiots crazy enough to want to break in to TV (what up, fellow idiots): you always have to be prepared for when an opportunity comes at you. So goodnight, Kingdom of Blog – time to do some writing!

New episodes return March 15

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Parks and Recreation at PaleyFest

March 10, 2012

So no one’s really talking about Parks and Recreation at Paleyfest anymore since it was five days ago, but I’m just getting around to talking about it now. I have something called a life, people, god.

On Thursday night NBC aired the last episode of Parks and Rec before the show goes on hiatus for a little while (I cried a little – OK a lot – but tearlessly). Here’s one reason to look forward to its return: on top of portraying one of the funniest, genuinely real female characters on television today, Amy Poehler has written and directed an episode!

Image credit: NBC

Amy, Chris Pratt, Retta and Jim O’Heir were the only actors that could make it to Paleyfest on Tuesday night. The other actors were there in spirit – and as lively cardboard cutouts. But it was still a very warm and funny conversation.

I’ve always appreciated the patience of the writing in Parks and Rec. Series creators Mike Schur and Greg Daniels talked about when they chose to bring Leslie Knope and Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) together. Although it was always inevitable that they would get together, the writers paced it brilliantly and let the characters’ relationship naturally develop before throwing them in bed together. True love.

In another example of well thought out timing, Mike talked about how they decided to have Leslie run for office this season. They had plans for her to run as late as season 5, but they felt that it fit better to do it now. So far it’s turned out to be a great decision.

One of the storylines that’s holding my attention the most is sad, pathetic Chris Traeger. Rob Lowe‘s character is literally the most positive, gung-ho character on a TV show, ever. But since he’s been dumped by Millicent and wtinessed the unlikely pairing of his ex, Ann, with Tom, he’s been going through a bit of a tailspin. Seeing Chris sad is probably the most depressing thing to watch – maybe not the most depressing, starving children probably beats it, but it’s still a very close second.

Turns out some of my favorite lines from the show were improvised like this gem from Andy when Leslie has the flu: “I typed your symptoms into the Internet and it says you have network connectivity problems.” Classic Andy.

I look forward to your return, P&R (April 19). Also, I’d like to see some more of Philly Justice, starring Amy, Adam, Rashida Jones, Kathryn Hahn and Dylan McDermott (Paul Rudd was replaced). It looks like it was an amazing show.