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Hard Rock Medical is about the professional and personal lives of medical students and faculty members at an institute loosely based on the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.
Hard Rock Medical is about the professional and personal lives of medical students and faculty members at an institute loosely based on the Northern Ontario School of Medicine.

John Doyle: Hard Rock Medical is us: True North and fun Add to ...

You would be forgiven for thinking that this “Canada 150” motif is a President’s Choice promotion, aimed at selling stuff in grocery stores by making us sentimental about Canada.

It isn’t a mere marketing motif, obviously, but there is hucksterism involved. Put aside the hucksterism and the hokey, and one essential aspect of this year is examining the country, not merely celebrating it. That involves looking north and into the places that aren’t big urban centres.

Coming soon to CTV is Cardinal, a great adaptation of Giles Blunt’s novel about a cop in the fictional Algonquin Bay, based on the rough geographical location of North Bay, Ont. It’s still, cold, windswept and while it seems empty and pure, it clearly isn’t.

Hard Rock Medical (Sunday, TVO, 8 p.m.) is also anchored firmly in Northern Ontario and it returns for another season this weekend. It isn’t as grand, as sweeping or as grim as Cardinal, but it’s a fascinating, sometimes fabulous little show that is a lopsided look at us – the Canada that isn’t usually the focus of TV drama. By the way, all episodes of Hard Rock Medical are streaming on TVO’s website starting Monday. You don’t have to be in Ontario to see it.

There are nine new episodes of TVO’s first commissioned drama. The first two seasons were filmed in Sudbury, and the third season in and around North Bay. If you’re not familiar with it, the series is about the professional and personal lives of medical students and faculty members at an institute loosely based on the Northern Ontario School of Medicine. The first new episode deftly catches you up on everything, take note.

This is not Saving Hope or Grey’s Anatomy. It isn’t glossy or pretentious. It’s about med-school students and their mentors coping with the unique challenges of medical care in remote communities that have their own gnarly problems. That’s not to say the series – which rolls out in finely wrought, 30-minute episodes – turns the setting and characters into kitsch Canadiana or indulges in cliché.

Yes, students travel by snowmobile to rescue a lumberjack with severed fingers, look after locals with hypothermia and care for seniors who have serious addiction issues, but Hard Rock Medical is neither a public-service announcement nor an earnest documentary-style drama.

In fact, it has the rhythm and tone of of a smart soap opera. There’s a plainness to it that is admirable. The model would seem to be gritty British soapers such as Casualty and EastEnders. Also, it is often very funny.

In the opening episodes of this season, the gist is this – the students shadow an emergency medical team, do shifts in an ER, attend to a street kid with frostbite and keep a watchful eye on Mylo, a teenage cancer patient who has a vision during a First Nations full-moon ceremony. Actually, the diligent and well-meaning medical team are put into a very awkward position when the patient believes her cancer has disappeared, thanks to the traditional ceremony. A lot of the series is about the clash between perception of Northern life and the reality of it.

Dramatically, the show’s anchor is the wonderful, gravel-voiced Angela Asher as Nancy, and Danielle Bourgon as Dr. Louise Helvi. The hospital is at the centre of the show, but the show isn’t reverential about the setting.

In one early episode, Nancy jeers, “I know a lot of nurses who would make kick-ass doctors, but I don’t know too many doctors who would be kick-ass nurses.” Also in the ensemble cast is Patrick McKenna, whose character, Dr. Fraser Healy, plays a leadership role but is, this season, rather diminished by his own addictions.

Created by Derek Diorio and Smith Corindia, the series remains a gem, a pleasant surprise in the medical-drama genre. It can turn absurdist when you expect it to be poignant and, while it doesn’t conform to anything that might form a President’s Choice motif, it is well worth your time.

Also airing this weekend

The 74th Annual Golden Globe Awards (Sunday, NBC, CTV, 8 p.m.) is fun because, well, there are television categories. That is, a lot of viewers have actually seen what has been nominated. As for advance predictions on who and what will win a Golden Globe in the TV categories, the exercise is futile. There are always major surprises.

Last year, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association handed a big award to Mozart in the Jungle, a lovely little show, but hardly a major, award-worthy production. Famously, Jon Hamm was snubbed by the Golden Globes for years, even as his work on Mad Men was acclaimed everywhere else.

This year, there are great contenders, from the stunning FX miniseries The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, to some late recognition for FX’s The Americans. Also, Westworld, Atlanta and This Is Us have plenty of nominations.

But it’s perfectly possible HBO’s Game of Thrones will sweep everything. Or Netflix’s Stranger Things. It’s the surprise element that makes the Golden Globes fun. And, you know, TV actors and creators tend to be less pompous than their counterparts in film.

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