Nobody asked me for an opinion on the allegedly important news that some outfit intends to make a Canadian version of The Bachelor. This is a surprising aberration, you must agree, given the fame and eminence of this column.
If anybody had asked, I’d say that the premise, producing a Canadian copy of a fading U.S. reality show now in its 16th season, is pathetic. Piteous. A craven and utterly unoriginal attempt to get some juice from a brand that has long since lost its lustre, even as fun TV.
Copycat production of something like The Bachelor is easy. What’s difficult but should be attempted more often is the mining of the culture of the Maritime provinces and Newfoundland and Labrador for sources of TV entertainment. It’s totally true. Stick with me here.
The news of the Canadian Bachelor thing is one of those instances that makes it even more difficult to explain Canadian TV to outsiders. When this column is in L.A. for the TV critics press tour, the topic of Canadian TV arises only very occasionally. Nobody cares much because we do a lot of dumb things like a Canadian Bachelor and Canada’s Got Talent. Mind you, if I told somebody from a U.S. publication that Russell Crowe was about to do a guest role in a Canadian series, which I did, the response is extreme puzzlement. What on earth is this Republic of Doyle?
Good question. Tonight’s Republic of Doyle (CBC, 9 p.m.) is an episode called Hot Package. It is summarized thus: “The Doyles are hired to recover a missing item belonging to a beautiful client; Nikki asks Jake a favour he wants nothing to do with; Tinny enlists Des in keeping a secret.”
The episode will air, as usual, with a warning about “mature content.” This is ridiculous. There is nothing mature about Republic of Doyle that you need to be warned about. The style of the show is anchored in what might be called the pre-ironic period and is the better for it. It accounts for its popularity.
What happens tonight is that Jake Doyle (Allan Hawco) and his dad Malachy (Sean McGinley) are at an antiques and collectibles store, which happens to be run by a fella named Ned. The fact that Ned is played by Mark Critch from 22 Minutes will give you a clue about what unfolds – sassy exchanges. Or what’s known in some places as “slagging.” That’s followed by the entry of a comely woman and Jake Doyle is instantly smitten. Almost immediately said comely woman’s ex-boyfriend shows up and acts boorishly. Jake steps in and soon enough he’s sent flying through a glass window onto the street. His dad slags him for this carry-on.
There’s a missing cigarette case that must be found. There’s a dead body that goes missing and must be found. Meanwhile, in one backstory Jake’s ex-wife’s new husband is under surveillance, suspected of being disrespectful to his new missus. And young Tinny is suspected of not having gone to England, as people thought. About every five minutes Jake Doyle is brawling. In between he’s making things complicated with the approximately 15 women he has a thing for. They slag him, he slags them.
Pretty much the same antics unfold every week. But a key is the anchoring footage of St. John’s, looking utterly gorgeous, and that Great Big Sea music roaring away at just the right intervals. The show is so firmly located in St. John’s and presented with such flourish that the setting seems thrillingly exotic.
The emphatic setting is one reason why there is an enormous gulf between Republic of Doyle and other Canadian-made cop shows such as Rookie Blue and Flashpoint. It’s about this naked devotion to place. While Flashpoint can be said to be set in Toronto, there is little of the texture of the city evident on the series. Republic of Doyle, for all its extremes of silliness, is loaded with the feel of Newfoundland.
But it’s more than place. It’s that texture thing. Think about it now – what has actually worked as successful, mass entertainment on Canadian TV in the last decade? That would be 22 Minutes, Rick Mercer Report and Trailer Park Boys. Temperamentally and tonally, these are Maritime or Newfoundland shows. The emphasis on language and dry wit, the slagging. The tone is often one of deadpan skepticism about authority, received wisdom and pretty much everything that is generic in popular culture and politics.
There is, obviously, a keen appetite for this kind of TV entertainment. The fact that the new CBC comedy Mr. D has been an instant ratings success can be explained by its having elements of the same texture and tone as those other shows I’ve listed.
If there’s appetite, it should be filled. And Republic of Doyle, as deliriously foolish and preposterous as it is, points the way forward. Scoundrels and shenanigans in St. John’s. That’s all, but boy does it work. It’s the republic of us.
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