“This was no accident,” says the coroner after extracting a big slice of broken glass from the body of a victim. Well, no, obviously it wasn’t an accident and somebody was really, really mad at the guy who is now dead.
Nothing about Coroner (Mondays, CBC 9 p.m.) is an accident. The series, which has been running for a few weeks now, feels intricately put together to appeal to certain viewers. Those viewers are mainly women, one surmises. It is very, very carefully concocted to make its central character, Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan) as relatable to those viewers as all get out. Fair enough; it’s just a tad overcooked.
She’s a widow. She’s a doctor but she couldn’t save her husband when he had an aneurysm. Turns out he gambled and after his death she discovered he left her broke. She’s a single mother raising her son alone now. She’s had some mental-health issues since her husband’s death and takes a lot of medication. She has panic attacks. She uses her intuition as much as her training. She needs love and this handsome chap, an ex-army guy who served in Afghanistan, turns up at just the right moment. She tells older men to get lost, even firing one who patronizes her. (In a stand-and-cheer scene for the intended audience, she says to the older guy, “You are arrogant, you cut corners and you’re not going to change. You’re fired!”) She’s kind to other women, even the murderous ones.
It’s rather like a Hallmark movie with a tincture of feminist attitude, a bit more diversity and a little more gore. It’s disappointingly typical of CBC drama fare these days: Safe, with good intentions, but little ambition. Some of the actors are fine. Swan – no, I’d never heard of her either – is terrific as Jenny, but it’s just formulaic, escapist, comfort-zone TV that’s competently made.
In its press notes, CBC emphasizes that Coroner “reflects the rich diversity of Toronto, and each case brings Jenny into a new arena in the city, touching on buzz-worthy themes.” Yes, indeedy. In one episode, (you can catch them all on the CBC’s website and the streaming service CBC Gem) the victim, that guy with the slice of glass inside him, is a marijuana bigwig and stuff happens at a sex party for tech moguls in a nearby apartment. That’s Toronto for ya! The only “buzz-worthy theme” that’s missing is controversy over Airbnb properties being used for sex and drug parties. Talk about an opportunity missed for being totally Toronto-specific.
As so often with this type of forgettable content, the pleasures are found on the fringe. Roger Cross is excellent as the homicide cop who works mostly with Jenny, bringing a knowing, slightly self-mocking quality, and Nicholas Campbell is, as ever, excellent when he turns up occasionally as Jenny’s dad. Campbell was, of course, the defining Canadian coroner figure on Da Vinci’s Inquest. This ain’t Da Vinci’s Inquest. No, ma’m. We have great actors in Canada. Memorable, startling TV these days, not so much.
One oddity with Coroner is that while CBC clearly intends to aim for realism in Jenny’s job and home circumstance, the show veers into casual stereotypes. Her love-interest, Liam (Éric Bruneau), the ex-army chap, resembles a fantasy figure from some mildly racy Harlequin novel. Their first encounter ends with coitus al fresco, in a scene one imagines was written just for titillation. Also, the guy lives in a tree house in the woods. It’s risible and feels fake. Boy, does he ever need to get over himself and his moody-lumberjack sensitivity.
On Monday’s new episode, the second of a two-parter (there’s a catch-up scene at the start), “Jenny is on the chase to stop a killer as he leaves a bloody trail of rampage across the city. The stakes are even higher when she realizes her son has been in contact with him.” Right, well, it plays as you’d expect. Jenny is brave and has good intuition. She just wades into the water to examine a dead body while the male cop hesitates. The bodies pile up, the dialogue is crisply written but the only thing that’s deep is the cuts suffered by the victims. There’s a car chase down one of those graffiti-exhibition alleyways around the corner from my house. I forget the rest, to be honest.
Very loosely based on a series of novels set in England by M.R. Hall, Coroner was created for TV by Morwyn Brebner, who is executive producer and showrunner. Adrienne Mitchell is lead director and executive producer. Both have extensive experience in Canadian TV and, like a lot of Canadian TV, this series is nice, forgettable fare, very ordinary and ostensibly has good intentions. That, too, is nice, but nice is not enough in this TV landscape.