It’s a packed Tuesday on the regular, mainstream TV, so let’s get started.
This column is proud of its history of directing readers to shows and series that would be off-the-radar if not endorsed here. And one of those series goes from the fringe to the big stage, at last, this week.
Mohawk Girls (Tuesday, CBC, 9 p.m.) ran for several seasons on APTN and now with a shrewdness that tends to be distinctly lacking at CBC HQ, it’s where it belongs, on a huge platform. Almost nothing on Canadian TV over the past few years has been as imaginative, as freewheeling and, at times, bizarre. It’s gutsy, funny and important.
Four Indigenous women living on a reserve and having adventures in love, sex, work and family dynamics. That is the gist. Mostly, things go awry but, sometimes, true love and understanding are established. If that sounds like a formulaic concoction to you, then you’re wrong. Merciless humour is at its core and, frankly, some of the jocular conversations about sex would make your hair stand on end.
At the start, we are on the Kahnawake reserve outside Montreal and a new arrival, Anna (Maika Harper), whose parents left the place years ago, is wandering round trying to get her bearings. Dressed in lurid leggings, a blingy baseball cap and taking a selfie, she’s being watched by a gaggle of young women in a coffee shop. “Um, where does she think she is, on Sex and the City?” one observer asks. She’s not. She’s in this very special place.
A place where, on the show, handsome chaps take off their shirts all the time and young women either swoon or mock. In the opening, we meet Bailey (Jenny Pudavick), who is lusting after Thunder (Kyle Nobess) and announces, “When I am ready to have kids, I am coming for your sperm!” Then she leaps on him.
There’s a small problem. As Bailey’s dad informs her, Thunder is her second cousin. Later, in the bar, Bailey moans to her pals: “How are we going to rebuild the Mohawk Nation if all the guys around here are butterheads or cousins?” There is actually a chap who goes by “Butterhead” and the reason is best made known to you on the show, not here. Never mind for now. As for the cousin thing, Bailey announces: “I’m not having troll babies with my second cousin!”
The characters on Mohawk Girls (created by Tracey Deer and Cynthia Knight) are a bacchanalian bunch and there’s a lot of sex and drunken revelry. There is also sensitivity, humour and a kind of honest rawness you rarely see in Canadian drama or comedy. One standout is the ambitious, overachieving Zoe (Brittany LeBorgne, who is sublimely good in a very tricky role), who is the staid one at the start and progresses toward breaking all sorts of barriers.
It’s highly recommended, and it entertains while giving voice and agency on mainstream TV to an under-represented part of Canadian society. Makes you wonder how much better CBC TV could be if it picked up now-relevant content from other services or, for heaven’s sake, if it just looked at its own CBC Gem library for material that matters now, in the moment.
American Masters – Mae West: Dirty Blonde (Tuesday, PBS, 8 p.m.) is, it says, “the first major documentary film to explore Mae West’s life.” That would be Mae West, actress, playwright, comedian and subversive, 1893 to 1980. The 90-minute program is an excellent, if sometimes overcooked, look at West’s style of comedy and life, overcooked, that is, by some talking heads overextrapolating from that distinctive, saucy humour.
It’s breathtaking to see her films from the 1930s now and realize that her career would be unimaginable today. She made her first Hollywood movie at the age of 40, after a sensational career on Broadway. “She was this sexual gangster,” one critic says. True, but even more impressive was West’s formidable control over her career and contracts. She’s presented as a feminist icon who influenced everyone, up to and including Madonna and Beyoncé. What bedevilled her was censorship and, by the 1940s, West’s extraordinary ability to write and deliver double-entendres was seen for the brazen feminism it was. So she took her act to Vegas, eventually, and thrived. It’s a real treat this one, especially the scenes from her best movies.
Finally, ABC has made the wise decision to offer Let It Fall: Los Angeles 1982-1992 (Tuesday, ABC, 8 p.m.). It is John Ridley’s wonderful, incisive documentary, made in 2017, abut life in Los Angeles leading up to the Rodney King riots in 1992. Ridley (he was also executive producer of 12 Years a Slave and made the American Crime series) teases out human stories while chronicling the tensions created by politicians and police in L.A. It is a riveting account of racism both institutional and casual. A must-see in the contemporary context.
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