It is, as the whole world bloody well knows, Thanksgiving weekend in the United States. What that means is more American football than a sane person could absorb. College games, the big NFL games, the hype, the yada yada about tradition and the totally terrific American quality of it all.
In this context, there is something fabulously funky and irreverent about the 100th Grey Cup (Sunday, TSN, 6 p.m.) happening this weekend. And in Toronto, too, with the added zest of the Argos competing against the Calgary Stampeders, a true East-versus-West game. The wackiness of the Grey Cup party in the days preceding the game, most of it captured on TV, is an added bonus. It’s cheeky, humorous and utterly lacking in the pomposity that surrounds big NFL events. Does the Super Bowl have an equivalent of the insane saga of trying to get a horse into the Royal York hotel? Nope, and never will. Too corporate, too bombastic for such basic tomfoolery.
As a TV event, the Grey Cup is the business in Canada. Nothing matches it. TSN and RDS have been drawing more than five million viewers to recent Grey Cup matches and that is, note you, on cable. Those are Academy Awards numbers.
This weekend, TSN has about 21 hours of coverage. But the meat of the event is Sunday’s game and the five-hour pre-game coverage beginning at 1 p.m. The CFL talk goes on and on, giddy no doubt, and then just before kickoff, TSN has a performance by Johnny Reid at Rogers Centre, and the national anthem performed by Burton Cummings. At halftime, the entertainment features Justin Bieber, Carly Rae Jepsen, Marianas Trench and Gordon Lightfoot. How deeply, madly Canadian is that? Oh yeah, Chris Cuthbert and Glen Suitor are in the broadcast booth for TSN.
TSN has done a first-rate job leading up to the 100th Grey Cup, with its wonderfully nuanced, sometimes funny and sometimes poignant Engraved on a Nation series. Each of the documentaries served as reminder that the Grey Cup is that rarest of things – a truly Canadian experience. After 100 Grey Cups, and 21 weeks and 76 games of this CFL season, let the party continue. Aaaaaaaaaargos!
Also airing this weekend
Halifax Comedy Festival (Saturday, CBC, 10 p.m.) is back for another season. Hosted by This Hour Has 22 Minutes guy Mark Critch (who was an invaluable addition to CBC’s U.S election-night coverage), it features David Crowe, Chuck Byrn, the great Jonny Harris and, well, more.
Downton Abbey Revisited (Sunday, most PBS stations, 8 p.m.) is meant to whet your appetite for the third season, arriving in January on PBS. Here, actors Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Hugh Bonneville, Dan Stevens, Michelle Dockery (be still, my heart) and Siobhan Finneran have “fond recollection of favourite moments from Seasons 1 and 2,” and there is allegedly rare behind-the-scenes footage. It’s hosted by Angela Lansbury, of all people.
Liz & Dick (Sunday, Lifetime, 9 p.m.) is, from what I’ve seen, unspeakably bad. And that’s what many expected from this quickly made, cheesy vehicle for Lindsay Lohan. She plays Elizabeth Taylor, very badly, in a crock of nonsense about Taylor’s tumultuous relationship with Richard Burton. The set-up is deeply irritating, with Lohan and Grant Bowler, as Burton, in some sort of afterlife situation, reminiscing about their tangled love for each other. There follow some scenes of very bad acting in which Lohan attempts to imitate Taylor playing Cleopatra, and Burton falls for her because she has a tantrum, or something. It is redundant to point out that Lohan looks nothing like Taylor at her most striking or at her worst, and lacks the skills to embody the actress in any way. This movie should have begun and ended with the photo shoot to promote it. Mind you, it will get an audience savouring the awfulness of it all. Such is showbiz.