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Some are as long as a longish pop song. Others are dense in 10 minutes of footage and story. Yet others are dreamy, silly romantic and beguiling in less than 30 minutes. If you’re fed up with bloated, meandering series, this is the list for you. Four slices of comedy and drama from the arena of outlier TV.

Alicia Mccarvell and Jonathan Torrens star in Vollies.Courtesy of tv1

VOLLIES (available to Bell Fibre Customers on Bell Fibe1) is insane. Let’s get that out of the way. And often insanely cringe-funny. Jonathan Torrens (Trailer Park Boys, Mr. D) presented it to me as this: “During the dark days of lockdown we banded together and made a web series called VOLLIES out here in Truro, N.S. What we lacked in resources we made up for in moxie.”

True. It’s set at a volunteer fire-fighter station in the middle of nowhere, and where nothing ever happens. Oh, the volunteer staff have a fire engine and equipment and uniforms, but nothing to do, except occasionally pull a cow from a river. So, they bicker, swap snarky remarks and one of them keeps droning on about how they really need a helicopter to do their jobs. That guy is played by the lanky James Faulkner.

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About half the time it’s hard to keep track of what nonsense is unfolding (it was created by Torrens and Sarah D. McCarthy) but there are moments droll and goofy-hilarious. And surprises. The characters organize a talent show. They’re all terrible performers. Then up steps the most hopeless young volunteer (played by Mary Austin) to sing Caro mio ben, by Giordani, usually sung by an experienced mezzo-soprano. And it is exquisite. Cuckoo comedy and sweetness in 10-minute episodes. By the way, also check out Pink Is In (on the Bell Fibre channel), a dopey, off-the-wall comedy set at a women’s prison in Hamilton, Ont.

When a Russian Princess and student at the Paris Opera Ballet School, Lena Grisky, accidentally time travels to present day, she must quickly adapt if she hopes to keep her secret and hide from the dangerous Time Collectors.Courtesy of CBC Gem

Find Me in Paris (streams CBC Gem) is also a bit cuckoo. An English-language but German-French production that streamed on Hulu in the United States, it’s about a Russian princess from 1905. She’s Helena “Lena” Grisky (Jessica Lord), the top prospect at the Opéra de Paris’ ballet school. Her parents want her back in Russia so she runs off with her sweet boyfriend, Henri (Christy O’Donnell).

Henri has just given Lena a beautiful necklace. It is, actually, a time-travel device. Lena lands at the same school in 2018. Cultural confusion ensues for her. Like, what is this hip-hop dancing? Cute as a button with marvelous dance sequences, it’s young-adult drama with a lot of strange oomph. Adorable and coming in at 23 minutes an episode.

In the late 1970s, when L.A.’s punk rock scene was exploding, an unlikely family-owned restaurant in Little Tokyo started by Japanese Americans returning from America’s WWII concentration camps, became a popular hang-out. That’s when Atomic Nancy with her 'take-no-prisoners' punk make-up and demeanor took the café over from her parents and cranked up the jukebox.Courtesy of PBS

Atomic Café (online at and on YouTube) is one of the gems in PBS’s online batch of shorts. It’s a slice of history in Los Angeles and the story of how a small restaurant in the city’s Little Tokyo became the centre of LA’s punk scene in the late 1970s. The place had quite the history, being established as a family-owned restaurant by Japanese Americans returning from U.S. Second Word War internment camps. It was a popular hangout for local families. And then a daughter of the founders, who became known as “Atomic Nancy,” took over. Loud and argumentative, but welcoming, she cranked up the jukebox and made the place a hangout for some punk legends. A big bunch of pop culture stories and footage is unpacked in under 11 minutes.

In the short film The Present, Yusuf and his daughter set out to buy his wife an anniversary gift, a gesture demanding much patience and negotiation skills in the West Bank.

The Present (streams Netflix) was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Live Action Short Film last year and won the BAFTA Award for Best Short Film. A quietly powerful but deeply angry little drama, it has a simple enough storyline: A man, Yusef (Saleh Bakri), sets out with his young daughter on a shopping trip to buy an anniversary present for his wife. But his journey is through present-day Palestine and to get to a store and back involves going through multiple checkpoints, where he can be stopped and held for any reason.

It is startling in its simplicity yet emotionally resonant, and Bakri is incredibly good as a man showing fine but exhausting restraint, with almost every step he takes. A little masterpiece (directed by Farah Nabulsi, written by Nabulsi and Hind Shoufani) in 24 minutes.

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