This ride is over. Train 48 pulls into the station tonight for a rest after an eventful first run. I'm not sure I want to get off.
Maybe it's the medication but I thought Train 48 (Global, 7 p.m.) wasn't bad at all. The Canadian-made series -- about strangers on a train spilling their diverse little hearts out on a daily Toronto commute -- has a finale episode of sorts tonight, in that it wraps up a dangling story line, but we all know it's returning in a month. The cast deserves the break.
Train 48 was a curious TV experiment with no middle ground: You loved it or hated it. The non-fans I polled, who seemed perturbed I'd even ask, told me it was just "talking, talking, talking," but I thought that was the idea.
If you have the right people talking, about things real people talk about -- life, love, family, money, politics, food, sex, death, taxes, sports, world events and so on -- it sometimes makes for decent television. If it's Canadian television, better still.
Train 48 wasn't Masterpiece Theatre. Certainly there were dead pauses, camera miscues and characters stepping on each other's lines, but the show is shot and edited the same day, with the actors improvising the wall-to-wall dialogue.
That was Train 48's draw. It was about working people, expounding on anything and everything. It was serialized, but viewer-friendly; if you missed a week, you could drop back in and the passengers were on a new topic anyway. Real-life Toronto news events, like the recent power blackout, were cleverly worked into the stories.
All credit to the cast, 10 core actors and a few guest players who dropped in and out. They all have great, real faces. The actors were handed cartoony stereotypes, sure, and the plot lines that came courtesy of e-mail feedback from viewers were often all over the map, but the cast made it work.
Not all the passengers were likable but you didn't have to like them to watch. My favourites: insecure weasel broker Peter (Raoul Bhaneja); big-hearted sucker Randy (Paul Lee); wide-eyed Dana (Joanne Boland); and, of course, Johnny (Paul Braunstein), the scene-stealing hoser who would make a fine roommate for Bubbles from Trailer Park Boys. Can't say I care for that nasty Liz (Krista Sutton), though.
I became hooked on Train 48 accidentally. Never saw the early-evening broadcast, but it also airs nightly at 1:30 a.m., when I'm up ironing slacks and preparing for work the next day.
I was zapping around and braked on bespectacled busybody Brenda (Lisa Merchant) jabbering about her kids. Brenda looked and talked like an annoying normal person. The characters were discussing dreary matters but the show, shot on sharp video, was instantly compelling. If I couldn't stay up, I taped it.
The rolling soap opera clicked for me because of my own daily subway ride, where I would see the same sort of people -- their expressions sad, happy and everywhere in between. Sometimes I'd think about starting up a jolly conversation with one of them, as on Train 48, but that's a good way to get a hatpin jabbed in your ear.
Even the product placement on Train 48 didn't bother me, although I keep buying low-rider designer jeans I certainly don't need. Also, the passengers kept reading the wrong newspaper, which I'm certain was just an oversight.
Train 48 has found an audience, no question, with roughly 200,000 faithful viewers each night. The show returns Sept. 23 and will assume lead-in duties during the 14-week run of Survivor: Pearl Island -- a smart programming move. This train could keep rolling for years.
Airing this weekend: Diana: The Night She Died (Saturday, CBC Newsworld, 10 p.m.) recalls the tragic death of Princess Diana six years ago this weekend.
The recent documentary, from Britain's Channel 5, sets a sharp focus on the subsequent bungled investigation of the horrific auto crash in Paris that claimed the lives of Diana, Dodi Fayed and their driver.
The filmmakers were granted access to the 27-volume French report on the accident and it seems a monstrously flawed follow-up. The crash site was scoured before vital evidence was obtained; the autopsy of driver Henri Paul was botched, for reasons unknown; witnesses at the accident scene have vanished.
The program also addresses some of the more overwrought conspiracy theories that surfaced immediately following Diana's death. To wit: The tabloid rumour that Diana was murdered because her family had obtained the mythical Holy Grail, which was promptly nicked from the car right after the accident. That's not even the most ludicrous theory debunked.
Some of the details still infuriate, such as the fact it took Diana's ambulance over an hour to travel three miles to the hospital. The French authorities are depicted here alternately as Clouseau-like or devious. Diana: The Night She Died is solid journalism and its U.K. broadcast re-ignited calls for a re-investigation into Diana's death. Even now, six years later, they don't really know how or why their Princess died.
Those two-hour Biography shows are reserved for your big boys, like, say, Jackie Gleason: The Great One (Sunday, A&E, 8 p.m.). Even at that length, it's tough to squeeze him in.
The profile tracks Gleason's rise from failed B-film player in the forties to American TV icon in the fifties and beyond, creating and starring in The Honeymooners and his own variety series. Off-camera he was a hard-drinking, chain-smoking, showgirl-marrying type of guy.
Gleason was a TV original from the old school of live broadcasts. In most cases, he just went out there and did it. As Kramer once pointed out, "Gleason never rehearsed." Apparently that's true.
The buzz is back for Six Feet Under. Last week's broadcast of the first episode of the first season of the acclaimed HBO series drew nearly three-quarter-million viewers for Showcase -- the highest ratings in its history and outrageous numbers for a specialty channel.
No surprise, really. Six Feet Under is arguably the most unique show on TV these days, blending sex and death with equal parts black humour. Another episode airs this weekend (Sunday, Showcase at 10 p.m.) in case you want to see what everybody is talking about.
Dates and times may vary across the country. Please check local listings or visit http://www.globeandmail.com/tv
John Doyle returns Sept. 9
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