When it comes to Canadian TV, the term “exacting standards” doesn’t apply.
Take the new comedy-drama Carter (starts Tuesday, Bravo, 9 p.m. ET). The series already has some very positive coverage. That is, there have been stories about its star, the American actor Jerry O’Connell, being really enthusiastic about making the show in Canada. Specifically, in North Bay, Ont. Why, the guy even knows the words to O Canada and has sung it lustily at a hockey game. He’s made a bunch of series or movies in Canada so he is, you know, hip to the scene. Great guy, apparently.
The other kind of coverage of Carter is all business. It seems the production company Amaze Film + Television successfully bypassed the conventional business model and got backing from some branch of Sony before partnering with Bell Media. Thus the show is already certain to air in several countries around the world.
That’s just dandy. We’re excited for everyone involved. But is it any good?
No, not really. Carter is slight, silly and trying very hard to charm. It is inelegantly made tomfoolery that will, no doubt, find a few fans. They will be attracted mainly by Jerry O’Connell’s polished charisma and comic skills, and the little injections of dopey Canadiana that are rife in it.
Here’s the gist. O’Connell plays Harley Carter, who went to Hollywood from small-town Canada and landed the leading role on a hit TV show playing an astute, charming detective. He quickly became synonymous with the role and as a worldwide superstar enjoyed the parties and perks. Alas, the lifestyle left him burnt-out and there was a contretemps with a fellow actor over the favours of a lady. When Carter starts, he’s fled home, to smallish-town Canada, and he just wants his old life back. Sort of.
Thing is, after years of playing a TV detective, he’s convinced he knows things about solving crimes. Thus, he ends up playing detective with his childhood friends, local cop Samantha Shaw (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) and old pal Dave (Kristian Bruun), a coffee-truck owner with a fine sense of ironic humour.
What larks. If larky is your bag, then by all means give the series a try. Do not expect excellence or surprises. Expect our hero, who isn’t a detective but plays one on TV, to say, “Maybe if I look at this like my TV show, maybe we can work this out!” Expect our hero, on meeting an old pal who has some ancient beef with him, to say, “Nut up, it was Grade 11.” Also expect some attempted sly humour about how, in actual, real life, some crimes can be solved just as they are solved on TV.
O’Connell is fine but around him some of the acting and the action is, as one of the emphatically Canadian locals might say, “lame-o.“ It takes skill to do drollery of this type and some of those involved definitely don’t have it.
Besides, for all the buzz that Carter has generated, it isn’t exactly original. Three years ago Fox launched a charming series, The Grinder, about TV star Dean Sanderson (Rob Lowe), who returns to his hometown of Boise, Idaho, when his long-running television series ends. He figures that playing a lawyer on TV has given him deep knowledge and he’s inspired to help out at the family’s real law firm, much to the horror of his lawyer brother (Fred Savage). The series, which lasted a season, had some fine texture, especially in the mocking of an actor’s extreme vanity. Carter is simply obvious where The Grinder was tightly written, winking satire.
Carter is a Canadian show with two American leads, O’Connell and Poitier, the latter being the weakest link in the series. (Writer Garry Campbell has written for everything from Kids in the Hall to Kim’s Convenience.) It’s nice but doesn’t amount to much. It’s not puerile but it’s not particularly engrossing. It’s great that Jerry O’Connell loves making it in Canada. It’s great that the producers made a show that will air in other countries. But exacting standards, such as the value of the viewer’s time and the merits of the thing as entertainment, must be applied.