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john doyle

CBC-TV has been getting some applause for airing the new series Four in the Morning (Friday, CBC, 9 p.m.), and that's fair. It's interesting, it feels fresh and it's both funny and poignant.

Mind you, a tad too much of the coverage has amounted to implausible shock that the public broadcaster is airing a series about four twentysomethings and that there's frank talk about sex and drugs. Heck, if one is to believe some of the coverage, it is stunning that the characters are seen snorting cocaine. As if characters ingesting drugs had never been seen before on CBC.

In the context of contemporary TV, there's nothing revolutionary about Four in the Morning. The broadcaster calls the series "an unconventional comedy spiked with a touch of magical realism," and it is that. Simply that.

But there's great merit in that – the show is an honest expression of twentysomething angst and confusion and there is a strange kind of repressed anger in one of the female characters that make you want to learn a good deal more. At the same time, there is often more whimsy than depth.

The focus is on four friends – two couples – who are ostensibly at ease with each other as they natter, bicker and speculate at a diner in the early hours of the morning. Then something peculiar always happens – that's the touch of magic realism – which shifts the show into the surreal. There's Mitzi (Lola Tash), a wry young woman who might have a smidgen of rage under the surface, and her boyfriend, Bondurant (Daniel Maslany), who is at all times theatrical. The other couple consists of Jamie (the excellent Michelle Mylett from Letterkenny), a woman who has been told too often that she's beautiful, and her laid-back boyfriend, William (Mazin Elsadig). The show is very much anchored in downtown Toronto, in the bars, streets and alleyways of the city at night. Even that is refreshing to see.

The first episode, which aired last week and can be found online, is the weakest. There is an awkwardly structured bit about Mitzi encountering a talking pig. This element appears in the cleverly created opening credits but much of the episode feels rushed, the character talks far too rapidly and at times it descends into a lot of mumbling and rather precious pronouncements.

Episode two, airing Friday, is much more on-track and representative. At the diner, our four characters encounter "Day Kids" – two young children who age and live their entire lives in a 24-hour period. The four accompany the two rapidly aging "Kids," and through the brief period the tone shifts subtly from comedy to a rather sobering examination of the brevity of life, especially youth. It is no masterpiece, but it is a deeply impressive half-hour of TV drama, given everything that is packed into it. Episodes three and four sometimes tend to slip back into more mumbling and rapid-fire conversations that don't always go anywhere. And yet in each episode there are flashes of comic brilliance and the sweetest touch of bittersweet sadness.

Created by Ira Parker, Four in the Morning is the kind of Canadian series that many have been waiting for – it's urban, eccentric and blithely indifferent to the normal rhythms of conventional TV comedy. It feels much more like a show that would be found on FX or HBO than CBC. There's that. It deserves your attention and deserves CBC's support for more. There are enough well-shaped scenes of good comedy, and the magic realism emerges organically from within, rather than feeling forced.

The four young actors are excellent. But special recognition should go to Daniel Maslany. And yes, he's the younger brother of Tatiana, the Orphan Black star. Tasked with playing a character who is a bit manic, Maslany goes at it with incredible gusto. The guy can't stop acting even when required to be perfectly still. Lovely.

Airing tonight

A Jihadi in the Family (CBC, 9 p.m. on Firsthand) is a repeat of Eileen Thalenberg's documentary about Christianne Boudreau, a mother in Calgary whose son Damian disappeared to fight for Islamic State. She first knew of his whereabouts when told he had been killed fighting on behalf of the terrorist group. The doc is mainly about a mother's grief and attempt to understand how her son was first found and recruited, and how he could possibly have been so lost that he took up the cause of terrorism.

All times ET. Check local listings.