On Tuesday, after 15 seasons and 277 episodes, The Rick Mercer Report will cease to be. There will be an hour-long episode (CBC, 8 p.m.) with highlights from across the years, and one last rant from Mercer.
Frankly, it’s time. The show is still doing well in the ratings. It gets close to one million viewers every week, at a time when Canadian TV struggles to reach viewers for Canadian productions. Ratings for everything appear to be down, from The National to new, heavily promoted series like Caught, which has about 500,000 viewers. Only Murdoch Mysteries remains a juggernaut and the only Canadian weekly show that, like Mercer’s, reaches about a million people on the night it airs.
Going out on top, with a successful formula, is rare in Canadian TV. And while he might seem to be an institution, and is certainly a national icon, Rick Mercer is only 48 years old. A codger he is not.
Yet the culture is shifting and Mercer’s style looks a bit old, a bit tame now. The appetite for satiric news coverage and comedy is huge, a phenomenon wrought by the Trump era. We don’t do it in Canada and there’s some bitterness about that. Some critics and pundits have complained that Mercer is part of the problem. The Rick Mercer Report has always celebrated Canada, didn’t really denigrate anything Canadian at all. The gist of Mercer’s approach was really two simple points: Canada is great and politicians are goofy.
These days, it is simply dangerous to assume that a person can stand for something, be a truly representative figure and embody an entire nation, a culture. To do that is an act of projection and projecting anything on anyone is a dangerous move.
Still, it’s fair to assert that Mercer is an embodiment of Canada, as many Canadians want the country to exist. He’s amiable, well-meaning, community-supporting and self-deprecating. To some, that’s as smug as all get-out, but these are the qualities that Mercer celebrated over 15 seasons, traipsing back and forth across the country, engaging in high jinks and often being the object of humour, rather than the mocking TV satirist.
Achieving representative greatness is no easy task. Mercer has been the embodiment of Canada, but without the smugness. The rants took care of that. For all his apparent coziness with powerful politicians, Mercer’s rants often took a dim view of how politicians treat the voting public. A lot of what he said amounted to a healthy reminder that politicians work for us, not the other way around.
It is pointless to complain, as some have done, that Mercer is not some sort of Jon Stewart of the North. On The Rick Mercer Report, he never intended to do that and made no apology for failing to do an imitation of The Daily Show at 8 p.m. on a national network to a family audience. Canada needs the kind of comedy and satire that is thriving in the U.S. but it’s hardly Mercer’s fault that Canadian TV is not doing it.
He has rare verbal gifts, a comfort with the camera and a natural sense of humour. All of that was exploited successfully on a long-running show Mercer created and produced with partner Gerald Lunz, lo these many years ago. At the ending, we are obliged to be gracious.
Now, it’s true that in this climate of viciousness and trial by social media, the end of The Rick Mercer Report might not be mourned by vast numbers of people. But its long existence and popularity testify to qualities Mercer and Canada are felt to stand for. That should not be scorned.
What Mercer does next will be interesting. It would be wishful thinking, a matter of projection, to feel that he should return to the more barbed humour that made him notorious on This Hour Has 22 Minutes. If he wants to do more family entertainment, so be it. We should only wish him well. He’s earned that.