You will find the oddest things on CBC Gem. Arriving Friday is a daft time-warp comedy that makes merriment with communism.
The Communist’s Daughter is a very droll farce that really has no point apart from fun, frolics, jokes about the 1980s and the ineffable struggle of a teenage girl who wants to fit in but is held back by her communist parents. It doesn’t make a blind bit of sense but that’s fine. It’s deranged enough to detain you for a splendid escape.
It’s 1989 and 15-year-old Dunyasha McDougald (Sofia Banzhaf, who is tremendous) is happy to go along with most everything her dad (Aaron Poole ) and her mom (Jessica Holmes from Air Farce) have taught her about the evils of capitalism, the American media and consumerism. That is, until she moves to a new neighbourhood and falls for a strapping local boy Marc (Kolton Stewart). While wanting to stay true to her family’s ideals, she knows she’s marked as a dork.
The little series is drenched in eighties pop culture and what Dunyasha really wants is to be Molly Ringwald. This is a bit tricky since her family doesn’t even own a TV and she knows more about the Soviet economy than about movies and clothes popular in her Toronto suburb. All of this is played for farce, some of it very amusing. At home, there’s her parents and brother, Boris (Ryan Taerk), who is finding the communist thing a bit boring. But there’s also Oleg (Vieslav Krystyan) who apparently came to visit from the Soviet Union years go and just stayed, living in the basement.
Things get more complicated when dad Ian decides to run for local office, promising longer lunchbreaks and such. His main opponent is Rod Bigmann (Chris Locke), an ardent capitalist, like most local people. Turns out hottie Marc is Bigmann’s son. So, right there, you’ve got a Romeo and Juliet thing going on. Shenanigans ensue.
What is admirable about the series – eight episodes at about 10 minutes each – is the sheer gusto of all involved in this dopey, harebrained adventure. Again, one is reminded of the excellent young talent working in Canada. Apart from Banzhaf, there’s fine daffy comedy from Zoe Cleland as Tatiana, who is actually from the Soviet Union and finds McDougald-style communism bizarre. Tatiana also has her eye on Marc, the minx. Then there’s Nadine Bhabha (from Letterkenny) as Jasmine, who tries to guide Dunyasha toward being cool. You will also find that George Stroumboulopoulous turns up several times as some guy who has a TV show covering the election. He’s good, this Strombo guy.
The Communist’s Daughter was written and directed by Leah Cameron (one of the main writers on CBC’s Coroner) and, according to a press release, it is loosely based on her own childhood. The series was funded in part by a Kickstarter funding campaign and, yes, it was a labour of love, and the end result is adorably daft and sweet.
Also streaming on CBC Gem now is Upright, a beauty of a drama-comedy from Australia. An on-the-road odyssey, it is both funny and at times deeply moving. It opens with our sad-sack anti-hero Lachlan, known as Lucky (Tim Minchin), trying to take an upright piano to his childhood home, driving across the vast Australian landscape. He’s barely started when he crashes into a pickup truck driven by a very angry, extremely foul-mouthed teenage girl, Meg (Milly Alcock).
They team up, out of necessity. He needs to keep moving with that piano and she’s been injured, so she needs help. Their journey is, at first, one long bickering session, much of it very, very funny. (Alcock is like a force of nature here.) Until, that is, the real reasons that have both of them on the road become clear.
Neither is a happy person and both have regrets and baggage. A strange, brittle series, with manic comic energy at times, it is deeply rewarding in the end – stick with it beyond the first episodes – and manages to be eloquent without being sentimental.
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