5 Canadian Shows That Are Worth Your Time (Even if You're Not Canadian)

Happy Canada Day! To celebrate, I thought I might share some Canadian heritage. We produce a heck of a lot of TV in both official languages, much of it for ourselves (as opposed to all the Hollywood stuff shot in Vancouver and Toronto), much of it still undiscovered outside our borders. My 5 recommendations aren't meant to be a "best of" (in fact, I'll list them alphabetically), and are definitely not exhaustive; they are just meant to be 5 favorites you may not have investigated yet and if you're anything like me, would likely find enjoyable. I haven't gone back too far in time (sorry Beachcombers fans), made sure the episodes are at least partially available on DVD, and since I write the blog in English, so are the selections. As usual, your additions to the list are more than welcome in the comments section. Ready? Let's go, eh?
Due South (4 seasons, 1994-1999). This is my most (and perhaps only) "obvious" selection, but I don't think it had the same market penetration as, says, SCTV, Kids in the Hall, Orphan Black or whatever else I'd put in this category, so here it is. This fish-out-of-water story follows the classic "buddy cop" formula with the "odd one" being a Mountie from the Northwest Territories who works out of the Canadian Embassy in Chicago, liaising with an American cop (David Marciano, and later, in a strange bit of meta-text, Callum Keith Rennie). Constable Benton Fraser (Paul Gross) becomes an iconic figure, part Sherlock Holmes, part "brave savage" new to the world. The show had a romantic and magical bent, with the awesome Gordon Pinsent playing the ghost of Fraser's father (for example). It was big on quirky comedy (those Leslie Nielsen appearances are pretty damn great), but also quite touching when it needed to be. Sure, Benton Fraser was a kind of Canadian stereotype - an impossibly polite policeman who loathed guns and hung out with a supernaturally intelligent sledding dog, AND wore the Mounted Police uniform at all times - but they made sure he came from the Far North, so would be strange even to us. (The proof is in the poutine: Other Canadian characters on the show are not usually as nice.) As for the rest, it's the Mountie as superhero, and I have absolutely no problem with that.
The Newsroom (3 seasons, 1996-1997, 2005). Not the Aaron Sorkin HBO show, obviously, but a sardonic comedy about a CBC news show. Years before Ricky Gervais had his hit with The Office, The Newsroom was doing "the comedy of discomfort", with a boss behaving badly in a semi-improvised, docu-cam format. And like The Thick of It, which also came later, it's got a nice layer of political (and in this case, media) satire on top of the office banter. And as a media guy... I've seen too few episodes of this, but found they were out on DVD. So I'm taking my own advice, and ordering those to see the whole thing. I'm particularly curious about how the show and its handling of the media will change between the initial 90s seasons, and its return in 2005.
Republic of Doyle (6 seasons, 2010-2014). This private eye/cop show filmed in St.John's, Newfoundland, just ended (which means I have one season left to sample; maybe I'll even start it today) and it's a nice spiritual successor to Due South, I think. It doesn't get "magical", nor does it try to cross over into the American market, but it's still a fine crime drama/comedy with engaging characters and certain folksiness that's entirely Canadian. If there is fantasy here, it's that it paints St.John's as having an improbably high crime rate, but the Newfoundland flavor abounds. These are not your urban Toronto or Vancouverites. They're Atlantic Canadians with strong Irish roots and a fierce independence from having been in the Confederation less than 70 years. A fun action show in a unique locale, not ground-breaking, but certainly very pleasant.
Slings & Arrows (3 seasons, 2003-2006). My very favorite from this list, it's a compact series of 3 seasons of 6 episodes each about a fictional Shakespeare Festival in Ontario (based on the one in Stratford). It again stars Paul Gross (he's a national treasure), this time as a theater director/actor who went mad during a performance of Hamlet and has the Festival thrust upon him when his mentor dies. Each season, not only does the troupe struggle to put one of Shakespeare's major plays, but the seasonal arc takes its cues from that play (Hamlet, MacBeth and King Lear each get the treatment). If you've been around theater people at all, you'll recognize that world immediately, and the comedy feels very true to life, which still resonating emotionally and making great points about Shakespeare's oeuvre, AND art as product. I love this thing to bits and watch it often. And while there are actors recognizable to international audiences in everything I'm recommending today, S&A has more than its share, including Rachel McAdams, Colm Feore, the Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney (who is one of the writers), Warehouse 13's Joanne Kelly, and Sarah Polley.
Traders (5 seasons, 1996-2000). If you like intense and immersive workplace dramas like The West Wing and ER, may I recommend this underrated gem that takes place in an investment firm on the Canadian equivalent of Wall Street, Bay Street? If you don't know anything about stocks or finance, and I really don't, the show at once teaches you the basics and makes it all exciting, though absolute comprehension isn't required, because like all these shows, the on-point chatter is only meant to create a sense of verisimilitude in the world where the soap opera and office politics take place. Traders was slightly too modern for its own good, with docu-style camera work and a video look, but that quickly dissipates as you get into the world and the characters. Sadly, only the first season is out on DVD, a great shame I'm not hopeful will be remedied. Write your MLA!

And that's my Canadian Content for the day. Like I said, I'm sure you have other ideas. Let us know!

21 comments:

Tim Knight said...

Two words: Murdoch Mysteries.

Siskoid said...

Tell me more words!

Tim Knight said...

The father of Canadian CSI, inventor and futurist in late Victorian Canada. Eight seasons down and still going strong (historical cameos, pseudo-steampunk creations etc)

Siskoid said...

I don't know why I've never heard of this! Must check it out.

Tim Knight said...

There were some TV movies to start, with a different cast and closer tonthecdark tone of the books that inspired the series. The current show has a generally lighter - almost pulp - tone that manages to bridge gentle humour and murder mysteries, all in a well-realised historical setting. As you can tell, I'm a big fan ;-)

Fred Melanson said...

Orphan Black?

Siskoid said...

Did you read the article, Fred?

Anagramsci said...

As a time travel obsessive, I quite enjoyed Being Erica, although they did lose their way a bit as things went along.

Anonymous said...

Nothing with a uniquely Quebec flavour? Must admit other than "Chez Helene" (I grew up in Montreal) I am hard pressed on that, too.

Siskoid said...

Oh there are plenty of French-language shows, but like I said, my focus was elsewhere this time. But I might mention "Un gars, une fille", "Minuit, le soir", "Omertà", "Fortier", even "Lance et compte" though that's a bit soapy for my tastes.

Craig Oxbrow said...

Due South got a primetime weeknight showing on BBC1 in the UK, and even the occasional Radio Times (our biggest listings magazine) cover feature. It did not appear to be a BBC co-production, which would explain this...

(Anybody here want to show Continuum? Lost Girl? Anybody? Hello?)

Anonymous said...

My love for "Due South" knows no bounds. Speaking strictly in terms of broad cultural stereotypes, if we Americans could each grow up and be the best person we could be, we'd end up not as Captain America, but as Constable Fraser. And I could be pretty happy with that.

Anonymous said...

What, no King of Kensington? All jokes aside, I agree with the above commenters who recommended Lost Girl and Murdoch Mysteries...I love all the "in jokes" on Murdoch Mysteries (like George investing in IBM, or when Murdoch "invented" the fax machine!).

M. S. Wilson

Toby'c said...

I've seen the first episode if Due South (may get back to it at some point) and snatches of Republic of Doyle when my dad was watching it (never a full episode, though I love the bit where Jake accidentally holds up a bank).

My own favourites are Corner Gas and Flashpoint.

Siskoid said...

You're Australian, right Toby? So those shows appear on Aussie TV? Or is it a Netflix thing.

I don't think I've ever seen Australian shows over here... and I've only watched K9 (which was pretty terrible) that I know what produced over there.

Toby'c said...

Corner Gas has appeared on SBS, a station that airs a lot of international TV (my brother, who lived and worked in Canada for a while, introduced my parents to it). Flashpoint was on Channel 9 briefly, though not on any kind of consistent schedule.


If you want a recommendation, you should track down Frontline (or possibly Breaking News), a terrific satire of the tabloid news media that's still relevant twenty years later.

Siskoid said...

I thought Frontline was a movie... no wait, that's Newsfront, right?

Anonymous said...

Possibly add ReGenesis to the list? The first two seasons especially were a great blend of speculative sf, politics, and well-rounded characters, plus it had a great "look". Thanks, Leslie.

Anonymous said...

"I don't think I've ever seen Australian shows over here"

Go watch "Danger 5" -- imagine "Mission Impossible" set during WWII. And the Nazis sometimes have dinosaurs.

Doctor G Man of Nerdology said...

I am with many of the other commenters, Murdoch Mysteries is a must see Canadian TV show. Especially, if you are recommending Due South (another amazing Canadian detective show). I would recommend also Forever Knight which used to air late nights in U.S. and was a moody look at a vampire cop in Toronto. I would also recommend the Highlander Series. While not specifically Canadian, this was the series that made fall in love with Vancouver as it was shot there. I know there is more but those are my two bits.

bobby sneakers said...

I used to enjoy The Industry, which ended every episode with a variation of "I thought that went well."

 

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