The CBC, in its wisdom, put a lot of promotional effort behind Son of a Critch (Tuesdays, CBC, 8:30 p.m. and CBC Gem). Well, it paid off for the first episode last week, drawing impressive ratings.
Will they come back to watch more? That’s the tricky part. Now me, I watched the first episode and, frankly, the 30-minute show felt like it was an hour long. That’s not good. But here’s welcome news: The series gets better and better after that rather clunky start struggling to set up the characters and define the tone.
Son of a Critch is, as all of Canada must know by heart by now, based on Mark Critch’s memoir about growing up in Newfoundland and Labrador. The 22 Minutes guy plays his dad, Mike, a radio reporter, and little Mark (Benjamin Evan Ainsworth) is, as all of Canada also knows by now, presented as an old soul, the slogan being, “He’s 11 going on 70.”
Right. Well, we are thrown into Newfoundland from a while back. There are nuns wielding leather straps and everybody is white, except for Mark’s friend Ritchie (Mark Ezekiel Rivera), who is Filipino and the object of much scorn and curiosity. Like Mark, he seems wiser than his years, but both boys are utterly unwise about just being kids.
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There is more than a touch of The Wonder Years (the original version) about the show. But real charm and humour is found when the series goes 100 per cent Newfoundland. The dark humour, the biting sarcasm and the sheer weirdness of the place is what makes this show worth your while. This is very true of this week’s episode, which opens with a lovely bit of drollery set at a wake. Yes, you can have fun with the dead, especially if there are decent sandwiches on offer.
In a series that tries to delicately balance humour with heartfelt moments, it’s the outright fun that keeps you watching. There is a good scene in this week’s episode where the entire Critch family stare at a telephone that is, outrageously, ringing at the ungodly hour of 8 o’clock at night. This family is both bonkers and cute, with Claire Rankin good as the ceaselessly gossiping mom, Mary, and Ainsworth with just the right amount of peculiar earnestness as the central figure. Oddly enough, the weakest link here is Mark Critch himself, playing his dad. It’s a weirdly mannered performance from someone who knows this material so deeply.
The real stars, though, are in the supporting roles: Malcolm McDowell – yes him, the legend from multiple classic films – plays Pop, the live-in granddad who shares a room with young Mark. McDowell appears to be having the time of his life as a too-old-to-care crank who smokes in bed, filches food from funerals and dispenses wisdom as only an old crank can do it. I have no idea what you’d call the accent that McDowell has cooked up for this show, but he’s forgiven. His gusto is infectious.
The other standout for sheer energy and zip is Sophia Powers as Fox, the alarmingly acid-tongued young woman who might have a crush on young Mark but would crush you if you suggested that. In a show (created by Critch and Tim McAuliffe, with many Newfoundlanders behind the scenes) that can be static when it slows and aims to be endearing, it’s the actors playing the older Pop and the young Fox who give it great vitality. Highly recommended for the regularly occurring, locally cooked, cracked humour.
Meanwhile, two twitchy new U.S. network comedies are promisingly off-kilter. American Auto (Tuesdays, NBC, 8 p.m.) is set in Detroit at a car company trying not to evaporate after a self-driving automobile it launched turned out to have a racist attitude to pedestrians. A mad satire of corporate life, it is mainly set in the boardroom, where executives prove daily that they know nothing. It’s got the contemporary, socially aware vibe of Superstore and has the same creative team.
Abbott Elementary (Tuesdays, ABC, 9 p.m.) certainly has bite. Made as a faux-documentary about “poorly managed public schools,” it pits the idealistic young teacher Janine Teagues (Quinta Brunson) against the school’s cynical and utterly unqualified principal, Ava Coleman (Janelle James). You get the picture quickly – much American public education is so badly funded and run that you don’t know whether to laugh or cry
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