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Erin Karpluk stars in "Being Erica"
Erin Karpluk stars in "Being Erica"

John Doyle: Television

Be thankful for Being Erica and an American look at the War of 1812 Add to ...

Hope your Thanksgiving is pleasant and that it gives you pause to dwell on being thankful. Personally, I give thanks for Erica Strange.

Oh it’s so true. Every year about this time I return to gaze at Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk) on Being Erica (CBC, 9 p.m.) and I’m smitten. But it’s just-a-thing, a flight of fancy. I don’t tend to stick with Erica’s adventures for long. That’s me: I’m a knave, a cad and a bounder.

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You know, so much attention has been paid to all the female-centric shows on the new U.S. TV season that Being Erica has been forgotten. An unkind failing, I think.

Being Erica was created by a woman, Jana Sinyor, and is emphatically about a young woman’s travails in love and life. This is its fourth season, now under way. Erica came into my life and yours a compelling figure – screwed-up and disappointed but strong. Then she met this Dr. Tom (Michael Riley) and he sent her back in time so that she could learn life lessons and stuff. All a delight.

Then Erica went a bit silly. More teenager than woman, she got all tangled up over that guy Ethan (Tyron Leitso), who was no good for her. And I stopped caring much.

Well now. What a thing it is to see Erica these days. She’s “a doctor in training.” That’s what CBC says, anyway. It means, I think, that Erica is going to be like Dr. Tom – a shrink-type who sends people back in time to become better people in the present. On the work front, things are going swimmingly. She’s, like, running this publishing house and friends with old enemies.

More important, she’s with Adam (Adam Fergus), who is dreamy and talks with a soft Irish lilt. (No actual Irishman talks like him, I can assure you, but a vast army of Irish actors have had great careers from speaking like that.) He’s so nice.

Tonight, mind you, things might be going a little awry. Erica’s sister Samantha (Joanna Douglas) is knocked up and Erica is kinda thrilled. She says. The matter of having babies, or not having babies, crops up. More immediately relevant, mind you, is the reaction of Erica and Sam’s mom (Kathleen Laskey) to Samantha being knocked up.

One thing leads to another and we find Erica back in 1969. To the sound of the Monkees and Sugar, Sugar by the Archies, Erica hangs out with her mom, before Erica was born. Great secrets are revealed and an emotional turmoil unfolds.

These segments are nicely done, evocative, good-humoured and full of life. This no masterpiece of TV drama. It tends a tad toward the mushy. But it sings. Frankly, if the same material appeared as part of one of those U.S. network shows now dwelling so much on women characters, it would cause a considerable amount of commentary and, mostly, praise. Well done, Being Erica.

Me, I still have such mixed feels about Erica Strange. But that is how it should be. The show is not a one-note trick, not easily classified or even described. (It’s airing in more than 100 countries, which means a lot of people have feelings about Erica Strange.) Erin Karpluk continues to be outrageously good in the lead role. This woman she plays is a creation with so much physical and emotional gusto.

Being Erica is so vastly superior to those U.S. shows that proclaim their concentration on women, female empowerment and breaking down stereotypes. Erica Strange is adorable, a doll and all that, but utterly unique. I’m sorry I was a cad to her.

Also airing tonight The War of 1812 (PBS, 9 p.m.) is must-see TV. And how interesting that PBS should be the first to mark the anniversary of the war with this fine, thoughtful and provocative documentary-drama. In the U.S. the production will probably be approached as an earnest piece of educational TV, but filmmaker Lawrence Hott’s work with this production is much more than that. It’s superb historical excavation (the narrator is Joe Mantegna) and in some ways, an exposé. Here in Canada, we have a very narrow sense of that war and in the U.S. there is almost no sense of it. We’re told much in the doc, in vivid and colourful detail, about the origins of the conflict and its vast scope. If you want to know why it was fought and why it mattered in the very long term – to Canada, the U.S. and to Canada’s natives – it’s all here.

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