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A scene from Men with Brooms, a new TV show on CBC (Allen Fraser/Handout)
A scene from Men with Brooms, a new TV show on CBC (Allen Fraser/Handout)

Television

Men With Brooms, and the irony of a hot Winnipeg summer Add to ...

Traffic slows. Locals walking their dogs stop to look twice. Every parking spot in the neighbourhood is full.

The spectacle is uniquely Canadian. In the middle of sweaty summer day on the Prairies, when every rink town is normally closed for the season, Fort Rouge Curling Club is a hive of activity. Passersby in this curling-crazy city linger for a moment and seem to consider rushing home to grab their brooms and sliders before they notice what's up.

The sign outside has been changed to Long Bay Curling Club, the make-believe setting for the new CBC Television series Men with Brooms that's been likened to Cheers on ice.

And if the neighbourly excitement is any harbinger of ratings, the corporation should start negotiating a second season - regardless of whether the quirky setting will resonate.

" Cheers was set in a bar, but it wasn't about drinking," said executive producer Paul Mather, overlooking the set from a perch in the rink's bar. "This is set in a curling rink, but it's about much more than curling."

The half-hour show is based on the 2002 movie by the same name, but features a few key differences. In the original, Paul Gross played Chris Cutter, a once legendary curler who returns to glory by winning the "Golden Broom" and the affections of a love interest played by Molly Parker. He'll appear as Cutter in the series as well, but only as an occasional cameo role.

The scripts will revolve instead around a team of four hosers struggling to thrive in a small town on the skids.

They're clumsy curlers, and even clumsier husbands and boyfriends. Mather hopes to mine their foibles on and off the ice for big laughs, without making fun of the sport so many Canadians hold dear.

"Just like any piece of Canadiana, we have a sense of humour about the sport," he said. "At the same time, we've taken great pains to get the lingo down and shoot realistic scenes."

That authenticity comes courtesy of world-champion curler Connie Laliberte, who serves as a consultant on the set. During several scenes last month, she had more instructions for the actors than the director.

"She's really on us," said Joel Keller, who plays Bill, one of the team members and manager of the curling club. "Before working with her I would have rather watched paint dry than curl. Now I can't get enough."

Keller, best known for his turn in the Global series Blue Murder, plays lead buffoon. Regularly tormented by his barkeep Tannis, played by Aliyah O'Brien, he throws an arcade game off the rink roof in one episode. In another, the constant sound of pint glasses on hardwood sends him into comedic madness.

"I'm like the Homer Simpson character, always screwing up and overcompensating like an Archie Bunker or Basil Fawlty," he said. "You love him and you hate him."

The rest of the cast includes Brendan Gall as Gary, the team skip; William Vaughan as a thick team member who works with Gary in a furniture factory; Anand Rajaram as Pramesh, an eccentric doughnut-shop owner who questions the game's idiosyncrasies.

"I wonder if you could take it easy with the yelling," Pramesh says during one episode, attacking the very heart of the hurry-hard game.

"How else am I supposed to tell you to sweep," Bill responds.

"I don't know. Maybe you could try whistling." Pramesh proceeds to whistle like a songbird.

The production has faced nearly as many humorous obstacles as the characters. During early shooting the cast termed the show Men with Mops, a reference to the difficulty of working on ice during a prairie summer. The icemaker, Reece Allison, had to drop the inside temperature so low that O'Brien took to wearing a heat girdle and the crew donned Canada Goose parkas.

"It took several days of teaching the crew that they can't leave the darn doors open when they go out for smoke breaks, but I think we've finally figured out how to keep the ice hard," said Allison, meticulously sweeping the sheets between takes.

Mather anticipates all those curling sweeps to translate well during ratings sweeps.

"It's full-bore Canadian without being self-conscious," he said. "I think it's got real legs."

Men with Brooms makes its debut Monday Oct. 4 on CBC-TV at 8:30 p.m. ET.

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