Awards season isn't over. Not in this neck of the woods. It's Canadian Screen Awards Week. Days and days of shindigs for this and that, mostly in the TV racket. On Sunday, the big awards gala live on CBC. Let's assess.
The toughest task is not putting a positive spin on Canadian TV. It's separating the dross from the scintillating, the dull from the incandescent. We make a lot of TV in Canada. A lot. And much of it amounts to a taxpayer-funded monument to mediocrity. Some of it, a small portion, amounts to excellence. Some productions work well and look good purely in the context of the local culture. Others would be dismissed as barely competent dross no matter where they were made and aired. There are times when this column simply cannot be persuaded to review new Canadian shows because, well, there is plenty of great TV to recommend without wasting time on inanity.
Things do change in Canadian TV. For instance, it now takes four people to do the work of Peter Mansbridge on CBC's The National. And the industry here is now squeezing out a few first-rate dramas and comedies. A few.
But the generous giving of awards is an activity that goes on and on, year after year, without change. Over several nights, pretty much everyone in Canadian TV will get a prize of some sort. "Best Sports Opening/Tease" is bound to be a crackerjack competition. There's a "Gala Honouring Excellence in Digital and Immersive Storytelling," which has "virtual hosts through an inventive integration of original content." Stay sober at that one, get high later or your mind will be all too blown. And I write that in the full and learned knowledge that people in Canadian TV tend to take themselves rather seriously.
What doesn't change is the strangeness of the lists of nominations in the categories that matter; the ones that signify artistic quality and sociological relevance.
Anne, the CBC/Netflix reboot of Anne of Green Gables, leads with 13 nominations, while CTV's Cardinal and the CBC comedy Kim's Convenience have 12 nominations each. This looks like a good snapshot of quality. Anne, adapted this time by Moira Walley-Beckett, who wrote some of the most striking episodes of Breaking Bad, benefited enormously from an outsider's fresh approach. Cardinal was sublimely sure-footed as a serious-minded crime drama and Kim's Convenience, which had some weak episodes, is generally great.
In Best Dramatic Series, the nominees are Mary Kills People, Anne, Vikings, Pure and 19-2. All good, but Pure has been cancelled by CBC after one season, one of the public broadcaster's characteristically peculiar decisions. And Vikings is only a Canadian series in the fine print of an international co-production deal. It has nothing to do with Canada and should not be nominated as Canadian.
Best Comedy amounts to Letterkenny, Workin' Moms, Nirvanna the Band the Show, Michael: Every Day and Kim's Convenience. Letterkenny is splendidly original and Kim's Convenience deserves to be there. But, as for the rest, go figure.
The category Best Limited Series or Program should, in today's television landscape, be an indicator of storytelling excellence. The nominees are Alias Grace, Cardinal, The Kennedys: After Camelot, The Disappearance and the youth program Bruno & Boots: This Can't Be Happening at MacDonald Hall. (Of the latter, no, I've never heard of it either.) Yes to Alias Grace and Cardinal, obviously. The Disappearance was shockingly uneven and a miscast Peter Coyote distracted by dominating all its early episodes. This category, defining a genre in which the best of TV storytelling thrives, looks anemic in the context of the Canadian culture.
It seems odd to me that the six-part series Bad Blood is almost MIA in the Canadian Screen Awards list, receiving only three nominations. It also seems odd to me that the category Best Variety or Entertainment Special includes both a Christmas edition of the chat show The Social, and Macbeth, a staging for TV of the Stratford Festival's acclaimed production. What's even more odd is that CBC aired Macbeth on a Sunday afternoon, with no promotion, and I only heard about it because I happened to meet the actor playing Lady Macbeth. That's the oddness of both CBC and all of Canadian TV, right there.
No, we are not, suddenly, in a golden age of Canadian TV. The pickings in excellence are too slim. But there's progress. And they will party, party, party this week, ending with the broadcast gala on Sunday night. Jonny Harris (Murdoch Mysteries, Still Standing) and Emma Hunter (Mr. D, The Beaverton) will co-host. The choice makes a significant change from the practice of using Howie Mandel or Norm Macdonald – who have nothing to do with the Canadian industry – as hosts. That's real progress in this neck of the woods.