One of my counterparts in the United States, writing about TV for a publication there, took to social media this week to declare that after Stranger Things 3 launched, there would be nothing much new that’s notable until late July. He suggested now’s the time to catch up on things you’ve missed.
True, that last bit. But if you’re here in Canada, there are new productions you’ll need to see this summer, on linear TV and on streaming services. We make a lot of TV in Canada, much of it is mediocre, and when one comes along that’s superb, I ask you to pay attention.
Save Me (streaming on CBC Gem) is one such show. It is probably the best Canadian series you’re not watching. But you must. It’s funny, clever, sometimes melancholy and often beautifully unsettling. You want more encouragement? The acting is brilliant and you’ll see some familiar, distinguished figures.
When Save Me began streaming on CBC two years ago, I pointed it out to you as an odd but very smart anthology series with an ingenious premise. We get to know a small team of paramedics and the series – drama/comedy/drollery – manages to drill down briefly into people’s lives and circumstances right before the medics show up in an emergency situation of some sort.
The second season, which began streaming last week, is even stronger, offering flashes of intensity or whimsy, and sometimes deftly illuminating the mixture of emotional heaven and hell that is urban living. It’s very, very Toronto and yet it’s simply urban life, too.
Each episode – it’s created and directed by actor/playwright Fab Filippo – comes in at about 10 minutes and some are remarkably dense for all the brevity. At six episodes, the second season is an ideal short binge. The first episode introduces the paramedics. A motley crew would be an understatement. There’s a lovely turn from Suresh John (Malik on Mr. D) and things get steamy after an incident – a bunch of older people decide to get high on a lark and it all goes awry – when one of the medics (Karen Knox, being unabashed) hooks up with a colleague. It’s a little crazy and a little sexy, that one.
There’s another about a charming idiot trying to mow lawns for money in December. It goes very badly, of course. Nicholas Campbell manages to own the episode with a few lines of dialogue. The real, thrilling heart of the series is in two particular episodes. In one, the third of the six, medic Goldie (Filippo) has a rather sad, pensive parting with a woman who has spent the night. Next, two sisters, played by Emily Hampshire and Rebecca Liddiard, are having one of those deliciously millennial conversations about what is politically correct, in a parked car, when a guy simply opens the rear door and asks to be taken home.
What unfolds is a delightfully sweet but melancholic insight into ways we live in big cities, all caught up in ourselves and trained to be alert, yet assuming what we are alert for is dangerous. Hampshire also appears in a beautifully surreal but moving episode in which she plays a struggling stand-up comedian. Her sidekick and neighbour (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll) is also a comedian and we see them at work at a comedy club and at home.
The scenes at the club have an absurd finesse that’s funny but piquant. Andrew Phung from Kim’ s Convenience plays a coked-up doofus who manages to represent every idiot you’ve ever met at a comedy club. Then, oddly, in strolls Peter Mansbridge. He’s not acting here – he definitely can’t act – but he’s being Mansbridge, delivering a hilariously pretentious appreciation of the comedy that he’s seen. It’s all madly weird, funny and then memorably wistful as the tight little story unfolds.
A couple of episodes are just cockeyed, but you’ve only spent 10 minutes watching a well-acted mistake. There’s so much here to savour. For a series that’s essentially about how bad things befall even innocent people, and how dealing with trauma can harm those paid to respond, there are no doleful expositions about life. Just empathy for ordinary people living ordinary urban lives and it really is superbly acted. Embrace it and you’ll love it, just as the stories ask you to embrace this fickle life.