Skip to main content

"It's a lonely business, dying," says Mary, who is the title character in Mary Kills People (Wednesday, Global, 9 p.m.). Asked why she kills people, Mary says, "I believe we should be in control of our life and death. That's liberty."

Now, Mary isn't a killer in the usual sense. The six-part drama – made as a co-production for Global and U.S. cable channel Lifetime – is about Mary Harris (Caroline Dhavernas), a single mom who is an ER doctor by day, but in her free time she and her partner, a former plastic surgeon, act as off-the-radar angels of death and help the terminally ill to die on their own terms. Business is booming.

But, as with all lucrative sidelines, things inevitably go awry. After all, Mary is actually killing people for a fee, which is frowned upon, and that sideline is about to get noticed and, maybe, fall apart.

Story continues below advertisement

Mary Kills People is, yes, definitely, a black-comedy-drama about euthanasia. In advance notices about its arrival on Lifetime, later this year, it is inevitably called provocative.

It sure is that, on several levels. It is also remarkably assured, droll and adult. It's very smart and utterly intriguing. Watch episode one and you're sucked into anticipating the second hour with pleasure.

Perhaps the best thing about it is the crazy sparkle in Mary's eyes. There is something anarchic bubbling inside her. Mary Harris is one of the most compelling, original female characters in years and Caroline Dhavernas is exceptional in the role.

On the one hand, the series is, like many, about a single mother struggling to juggle a high-tension job, her kids and dealing with her ex-husband. There are loads of shows about that.

Also, on another level it has elements of the conventional medical drama – Mary is a great surgeon who can save lives in a blood-soaked operating room and must cope with the worried families of those she operates on. Simultaneously, though, the series is a sort of lyric farce that has a hallucinatory quality.

It opens with a scene of death being administered, but it's a scene that turns farcical. It is established that Mary and sidekick Des (Richard Short), the former plastic surgeon who provides the drugs, are in a world that's wacky, fraught and dangerous. Des jokingly asks aloud if Mary is a "compassionate doctor or serial killer?" They also josh about Mary having sex with a guy who wants to die because, you know, the guy deserves the pleasure of that.

At the same time, the series goes straight into serious matters. The person who wants to die must take a lethal drink, rather than have an injection administered. Because the actual act of taking the step to death is the choice of the dying, it is not conducted by the doctor. This ethical matter seems like little more than a quibble, given some of Mary's antics. The strangeness of the goofy charm mixed up with the serious matter of assisted death is intoxicating.

Story continues below advertisement

The storyline also reaches into something else when it focuses on Mary's teenage daughter and the teen's best friend. Here, something is being set up, it seems – the chasm between the innocence and curiosity of the young and the weary but cool-eyed view of life that adults have. Then, a circumstance in which a teen accidentally dabbles in Mary's drugs turns into a wonderful concoction of dramatic tension and deep cynicism.

Created by Tara Armstrong, produced by Tassie Cameron and with all episodes directed by Holly Dale, Mary Kills People is a remarkable achievement, balancing so many hues and tones so deftly. It is also very, very entertaining. At times intense and thought-provoking, it is a fascinating excursion to a different realm of comedy/drama.

Wednesday is a notable night for Canadian television. CTV has the excellent Cardinal (at 10 p.m.) and Global has this torridly strange series. Watch both, since neither will disappoint.

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter