Today let us move away from the big, mainstream content and look at what can be found on the fringes and in the corners. And let’s keep it short. Mere minutes in some cases. This list of original, sometimes startling content is mainly about performance and competition.
GameFace (CBC Gem) is not your usual British sitcom. Created by and starring stand-up star Roisin Conaty, it began life on E4, a peripheral outlet to Chanel 4 in Britain, before eventually moving to Channel 4 itself. It takes an offbeat approach to a familiar format. Conaty plays Marcella, a thirtysomething actor who is mainly out of work, drinks too much, is hopeless at the temporary office jobs she takes between gigs, and annoys everyone except a small group of tolerant friends.
In the hands of another actor/creator, Marcella would be deeply irritating and you would find it hard to care. But Conaty has a genuine gift for originality. The series opens with Marcella playing a princess at a kid’s birthday party. She has, however, passed out from a night of drinking and trolling her ex-boyfriend online. She has no direction in her life but she is incredibly funny and looks on the world as a place that obliges her to play the exhausting role of reasonable adult. The first episode has an extraordinary scene in which Marcella finds someone about to die by suicide and the scene moves from funny to poignant and funny again with unusual grace.
Drag Heals (OutTV) is adorable and has a glorious unpredictability. While you might be familiar with the long-running RuPaul’s Drag Race or this past summer’s Canada’s Drag Race, Drag Heals is much less about competition and elimination drama, and more about inclusion and charm.
Created and hosted by playwright Tracey Erin Smith, the series chronicles a gaggle of aspiring drag performers as they figure out what they want to be, learn to perform and then make their debut as performers. It’s like a close-up look a drag school training course and the motley assortment of characters there. Often, unlike RuPaul’s creation, it’s about the '”drag thing” and what the term means. That is, it’s all about people who are not limited by the terms “drag king”/“drag queen” and it celebrates gender play as drag. The upshot is a wonderfully warm, stand-up-and-cheer story.
Short Film Face Off (CBC Gem) is a cornucopia of tiny films that pack a big punch. Most are less than five minutes long and the best rise above anecdote or wisp of a story to hit the viewer with a wallop. There are several true gems in the collection.
The Card, about a harried businesswoman who loses her credit card (directed by Asil Moussa), is very sly about race and presumptions. Vessel (directed by Ethan Godel) is an astoundingly original work about two lonely romantics who go to amazing but plausible lengths to appear both normal and attractive to others.
I Know Her (directed by Fawzia Mirza) is one tightly wound joke about two women who hook up and at first believe they just have so much in common. You can also find short interviews with many of the directors after watching the short films.
Decoys (CBC Gem), which I’ve written about before, is a delightfully droll diversion. Made as a Best in Show-type mockumentary series – six episodes at eight to 14 minutes each – it’s all about a duck-carving competition. It’s so off-the-wall Canadian funny-strange it should be watched every Canada Day. Created and written by David Pelech, it chronicles, fly-on-the-wall style, a small group of fanatics hoping to win top prize at the Northern Alberta Carving Cup.
Defying Gravity: The Untold Story of Women’s Gymnastics (YouTube Originals) is a six-part series offering a blunt, unvarnished look at the road to becoming an elite gymnast in the U.S. It covers the development of gymnastics in recent decades and pays close attention to the mental, physical and emotional rigours that top gymnasts endure. It doesn’t shy away from the sexual abuse scandal that engulfed the U.S. gymnastics program in the past few years.
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