August, then: “Look! the round-cheeked moon floats high/In the glowing August sky” as poet Emma Lazarus wrote. Well, in August we need gentle laughter, this column says.
Jim Gaffigan: The Pale Tourist (Amazon Prime Video) is that, and it’s in two parts. First he’s here in Canada and his stand-up set is devoted entirely to his observations and experiences. The second part is done in Barcelona and he does to Spain what he did to us. This isn’t a pointless contrivance, a lazy extension of the typical stand-up comic’s two minutes of material about the locale. Gaffigan views the idea as a good challenge – he spent a lot of time here in multiple provinces and did deep research. It’s quite the feat, and very funny but gently so.
Of course he touches on the expected material: Tim Hortons, Canadian Tire and there’s a lot of material about food, his favourite topic. On poutine, he suggests it’s a dastardly plan to make French fries even more deadly: “What if we covered it in everything that causes heart disease? Let’s do it, we have free health care!” His material on the differences between the United States and Canada feels fresh and in a way it’s a relief he keeps the Trump jokes to a bare minimum. A story about attending a Drake performance is priceless, by the way, and stay tuned for the animation sequence that ends the Canadian-content portion.
In Spain he starts with a bit less assurance, and understandably so. The audience has to be brought on-board with this traditional American comic’s eccentric judgments and jokes. But once he feels the audience is with him, he’s flying – riffing on the siesta and of course Spanish food. It’s a testament to his wit (and research) that he doesn’t produce a Spanish version of the Canadian material for the Spanish audience. The Pale Tourist amounts to hours of laid-back, amiable and sometimes withering comedy.
Slo Pitch (streams on OUTtvGo) is, according to one pitch, “The LGBTQ softball comedy web series you’ve been waiting for.” It is wonderfully whimsical and daft, this mockumentary – 10 episodes of less than 10 minutes – allegedly about an inept lesbian softball team, The Brovaries. They always lose but still live in hope of beating their bitter rivals and current champs, the Toronto Blue Gays.
Not a lot happens but there’s a lot of drama, of course. Mostly it’s about the antics at the baseball diamond in the park and the get-together afterward in a bar. There, when things get tipsy-relaxed it’s almost inevitable that somebody yells, “It’s not what it looks like!” Some of these players aren’t sure what team they’re on. On one occasion the team captain and worrywart coach Joanne (Kirsten Rasmussen) takes the radical step of having the team play a game sober. This doesn’t go over well.
Made by some of the gang that made the wonderfully demented web series Barbelle (Karen Knox, who plays a Russian named Boris here with unnerving zest, and Gwenlyn Cumyn) plus Michael Schram, Slo Pitch is bonkers in a good way. (OUTtvGo is a subscription service with LGBTQ-focused programming, including every RuPaul show ever made, it seems, costing $3.99 a month.)
Also airing this weekend
Jackie Robinson (Sunday, CBC, 8 p.m. and 9 p.m. continuing Monday 8 p.m.) is the Ken Burns documentary, made in 2016, about the first Black American to play in Major League Baseball. He was signed in 1945 and began playing in 1947. Burns doesn’t stick to the predictable narrative – about the abuse from opponents, baseball fans and teammates – but covers the full complexity of the man described by one journalist as “the loneliest man I’ve ever seen in sports.” His wife Rachel is very involved in the narrative and says, “One way of fighting back is to do well, and to have the team win.” Keith David narrates and Jamie Foxx provides Robinson’s voice. Highly recommended.
The Umbrella Academy (Netflix from Friday) returns for Season 2. The engaging but dysfunctional family of superheroes has moved on from the apparent end-of-the-world scenario that closed Season 1. These people, raised by an eccentric billionaire, Sir Reginald Hargreeves (Colm Feore), to fight crime and be very special people, are not your typical comic-book figures. The series moves to a different, more humane beat. Canadian Ellen Page is achingly good as the sensitive Vanya.
And, being made in Toronto and with a large cast, the series features almost every Canadian actor alive.
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