It doesn't take much brain work to "get" Battle of the Blades . Ex-NHL lugs learn to figure skate with the help of petite female figure skaters. Hilarity ensues. As a concept, in the Canadian context, it's a no-brainer. And thar's the thing - it's totally dumb-as-a-plank TV.
Mind you, a few minutes into Sunday's opening show I really, truly "got" Battle of the Blades . Jamie Salé and Craig Simpson had just skated. Distinguished and ubiquitous choreographer Sandra Bezic was asked to deliver her verdict. "You're so squeaky-clean Canadian!" she practically squealed.
Call me cantankerous but whenever I hear the phrase "squeaky-clean Canadian" I'm tempted to reach for the remote. That expression is loaded, cringe-inducing and reactionary. It's the sort of phrase that makes some people pack their bags and leave the country. But it appeals, with admirable precision on CBC's part, to the demographic that Battle is aimed at - a conservative, older, hockey-loving audience. The sort of viewers who think Ron MacLean's endless NHL-reference puns are the height of wit. They got that awful punning by the bucket-full on Sunday.
From what I've heard, Battle of the Blades is the first CBC production in years to sell out all its advertising minutes well in advance of the airdate. Little wonder. It's hokey. It's wholesome. It's really easy to understand what's going on. It's a gimmick. I mean, mother o' God, is there anything more ridiculous that Tie Domi skating around to the Stones' Satisfaction while Christine Hough-Sweeney practically writhes, bumping and grinding away in her teeny little costume? Battle of the Blades stretches any notion of "entertainment." It isn't even a contrivance. It's a big o' gimmick, a gawk-show.
Sunday night, while Battle of The Blades was unfolding at Maple Leaf Gardens, I was in the audience at a crowded TV studio in the east end of Toronto. It was a long-planned visit to see a taping of So You Think You Can Dance Canada (tonight, CTV, 8 p.m.). I brought along my neighbor's boy, Lucas, as I did last year. He is nine years old and a huge fan of the show. It was a long night because there had been several accidents during the afternoon rehearsals of the dance routines. Among other things, figure skater Emanuel Sandhu had sprained his ankle and it wasn't clear if he'd be able to dance. He did.
It was what you'd expect. The mosh-pit full of youngsters shouting their appreciation and occasionally screaming with delight at a particularity deft dance move. The judges being goofy or, as you'll see tonight, devastatingly honest. They're hams, but they know that what's happening is authentic - young people performing in the opportunity of their lives.
Thing is, Battle of the Blades makes SYTYCDC look like sophisticated TV. And it is, sometimes, even without a bald comparison with the gimmicky skating show. Oh there's showbiz nonsense, for sure, but there are times when SYTYCDC offers a dose of true artistry. On a recent show, one duo performed a routine to the music of the White Stripes' version of St. James Infirmary . It was devastatingly good - a remarkable dance dramatization of the great blues song. "I went down to St. James Infirmary/ Saw my baby there/ Set down on a long white table/ So sweet, so cold, so fair." The performance was chilling.
On tonight's show - the one I saw being taped - you'll see another wonderful performance, this one part-choreographed by Nico Archambault, last year's winner of SYTYCDC . It's a fine, original piece of work. Nothing that unfolds on Battle of the Blades will come close to it for skill, panache and originality. Maybe it's unfair to compare the two shows. Maybe not. CBC has trotted out it's big-gimmick reality/competition show and promoted it like mad. It turns out that the show is kinda coarse, definitely inelegant. There's a market for that. Throw in Ron MacLean making his NHL jokes and puns and you've got probably got a hit. Good luck with that, CBC.
So You Think You Can Dance Canada is, in contrast, urbane and refined. It ain't no gimmick. The dancers, and what their eclectic styles, serves as a metaphor for Canada today. On SYTYCDC , no judge is ever going to congratulate a competitor on being "squeaky-clean Canadian." And it's the better show for that.
This Hour Has 22 Minutes (CBC, 8:30 p.m.) has this: "Jack Layton on the 22 Minutes news desk with Mark Critch, discussing the latest developments of Canadian politics." Please, dear heavens, no singing. No dancing, either, actually.
The Good Wife (CBS, Global, 10 p.m.) started strong and stays compelling. Alicia (Julianna Margulies) is still going through the painful transition from embarrassed politician's scorned wife to independent career woman, taking charge of her own destiny. Tonight, when the teenage son of a former friend hires her to defend him, Alicia has to venture back to her old life. J.D.