It's a rare occasion when a Canadian-made series becomes a hit both with viewers and critics. It's rarer still when the concept of that show involves making fun of the actual decision-makers who decide whether or not said show goes to air in the first place.
Welcome to the fearless world of Made in Canada.
Starting its third season this week, Made in Canada is set in the mythical corridors of Pyramid Productions -- a fictional Toronto film and TV production company whose bread-and-butter shows are the corny pioneer drama Beaver Creek and a cheesy epic adventure series entitled Sword of Damocles. The head office is full of all manner of hucksters, most notably Rick Mercer (This Hour Has 22 Minutes) as the onerous Richard Strong, president of development for Pyramid, who is not above lying to his boss -- or the talent or the network or investors, for that matter -- in order to stay ahead of the game. Richard is a weasel, but in the dog-eat-dog world of Canadian broadcasting, he has to be.
The irreverent approach of Made in Canada can be attributed to the fact it's made by Halifax-based Salter Street Films, the same company that created This Hour Has 22 Minutes and Codco. In television terms, Made in Canada had an inauspicious beginning back in 1998, when it debuted for a six-episode run. Looking back, Mercer acknowledges that those first few shows were a far cry from the current ones. "It's changed a lot from those first six shows," he says. "Those episodes were all connected to each other; for the second season, we wanted to make each episode more self-contained. Also, the show was quite a bit darker in those first six shows.
If we kept that up, they'd all have become serial killers by the third season."
In the upcoming season, there's plenty to keep the Pyramid staff hopping. In the opener, Richard finds himself banished -- by TV guru Moses Znaimer, no less -- to the wilds of Colombia, where he's supposed to produce an epic miniseries.
A few episodes later, there's a plan to make a film based on their popular series Beaver Creek, but there's a problem with the series star, Adelle, played by Megan Follows in an inspired bit of casting. "She doesn't want to be in it. She wants to do comedy and stop wearing those bonnets. So we have to cut a deal with her," says Mercer.
Besides Znaimer and Follows, there are several other big-names who agreed to appear on Made in Canada this season. Filmmaker Don McKellar (The Red Violin) shows up as a quirky independent film director; ex-SCTVer Joe Flaherty plays a mayoral candidate who hires Pyramid to do a smear commercial against his competition; and former Street Legal stars Cynthia Dale and C. David Johnson appear as a husband-and-wife motivational team. There's also a very memorable episode in which former Kids in the Hall alumnus Mark McKinney plays a man just out prison who pays a call on Pyramid. "He was wrongly convicted, but the DNA evidence set him free," says Mercer, who wrote three of this season's episodes. "Now he wants to make a movie about his experience. Of course, Pyramid wants to make it their version of The Hurricane. It's one of this season's best episodes."
Of course, the biggest in-joke with Made in Canada is that it is actually skewering the Canadian film and TV industry. Even the production company's name is a joke (Pyramid Productions -- get it?). There are constant references to networks that very much resemble CBC and CTV, as well as side comments about always seemingly available funding from the Canadian government. Anybody who works in film production in this country would recognize someone they know. For his part, Mercer says he occasionally gets feedback from various movers and shakers in the film and TV industry, but they're not overwhelming him. "They seem to like it," he says modestly. "I don't run into them that often, since we're based on the East Coast. But no one's really complained about the show to me yet."
Still, that's not too surprising, since the fact that Made in Canada takes place in the world of film and television is mostly coincidental. In Mercer's view, it's simply a show about people. "You know, this is a series set in an office, but really, it could be any office, anywhere," he muses. "In every office, there'll always be people who suck up, there'll always be people who backstab. That's the field we're mining. It's just human nature."
Made in Canada, Mondays, 7:30 p.m., CBCgT