Flashpoint, which reaches its series finale Thursday in an excellent, action-filled two-part episode (CTV, 10 p.m., continuing next Thursday) is a landmark Canadian series for a number of reasons.
When it arrived in the summer of 2008 on both CTV and CBS, it was the first Canadian-made series since Due South to air on network prime time in both the United States and Canada. It was a hit in both countries. It started a trend and paved the way for a batch of new Canadian series to hatch co-production deals with the U.S. networks. The Listener, Rookie Blue, and The Firm followed the same path. Some were hits, others were quickly abandoned by the U.S. network.
For the Canadian industry and for many viewers, Flashpoint was just great. Compelling, big-budget, nuanced while rarely brooding, it gained a very loyal audience. For the industry, it represented hope – a new business model, a U.S. audience and transcending the tight limits of TV success in Canada.
Mind you, it has to be said that Flashpoint never quite clicked as a critical success in the U.S. And the reason is annoyingly obvious to those involved in the show – Flashpoint was picked up by CBS during the Writers Guild of America strike that began in late 2007. In January of 2008, the trade publication Variety had a news story that began with this: "In another sign of how the WGA strike is reshaping network TV's development process, CBS Paramount Network TV is planning to team with Canada's CTV to produce at least 13 episodes of a police drama dubbed Flashpoint.
The article went on to discuss the new business model for CBS, with the network saving big bucks by buying a pilot made outside of the U.S. but having creative input once it agreed to air it.
The impression that Flashpoint was on CBS only because of the U.S. writers' strike was a sneer that stuck. Writing about its U.S. debut, USA Today critic Robert Bianco was very blunt: "Here's yet one more thing we can blame on the writers' strike. Surely had CBS not been terrified that it would run out of product, it would not have imported the Canadian cop show Flashpoint." He hated the show, calling it "violent, ugly and stupid." That was overstating it, and his dislike seemed to be fuelled further by the feeling that CBS had been forced to import inferior shows to fill its schedule.
As it ends, with 75 episodes now made, the writers-strike issue has to be noted but put aside. Three years before it aired, Flashpoint emerged out of the CTV Writer-Only Development Program. Co-creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern developed the idea for a series loosely inspired by the Toronto Police Emergency Task Force. The fictional unit on TV, an elite squad called the Strategic Response Unit (SRU), deals with extreme situations such as hostage-taking and bomb threats.
From the start it's been neither brilliant nor bad, but a well-crafted concoction of high-octane action and very human drama. Essentially, most episodes are equal parts tense SWAT-team drama and psychological recovery. We see these heavily protected figures move around in an unfolding crime scene with rifles and various gadgets. And it is inevitably revealed that these figures, highly trained and swaddled in all that protective gear, are as delicate as any other humans.
The focus is often on the team, not the individual, and while this is not unusual in network cop dramas, Flashpoint always has a vague Canadianness in its texture – in the seriousness of the act of killing, the lack of swagger with the guns and other weapons. It has always been about reaching a peaceful solution, never about solving a crisis with guns blazing.
This Thursday night and next week the focus is on Toronto in crisis. A bomb is found in the headquarters of the 911-call service. Almost immediately, the SRU team smells something even more sinister. This isn't the only bomb about to explode. As the city is literally under siege from a sadistic bomber, lives are ruined, team members die and an ending is sensed – the end of this team of people battling crazies and their own fragility. It's very nicely done.
Enrico Colantoni is outstanding as Sergeant Gregory Parker, the guy who is supposed to hold the team together, and Hugh Dillon, who has always been at the centre as sniper Ed Lane, delivers a very fine performance as a man whose sense of family and worth is deeply challenged.
Also Airing Thursday
This episode of The Nature of Things (CBC, 8 p.m.) is called Lights Out! and it's an eye-popping and disturbing survey of how artificial light at night is increasingly seen as dangerous to our health. As David Suzuki points out, "No technology has changed us more than the electric light." But, as happens so often, what seems a boon, "may even be leading to serious illnesses like cancer, obesity, heart disease and certain forms of depression." Night-shift workers and night owls take note.