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The Globe and Mail

U.S. election: Laughing all the way to the ballot

Pretty soon, we can all return to wondering if the plot of Homeland can be sustained through all the harrowing twists. Or if they're ever going to stop talking about sex on New Girl and get back to being funny about men, women and Schmidt's search for the perfect loafers. Media outlets here and in the United States can begin running stories about Christmas gifts, how to burn calories by doing no-stress exercises and, in the case of many online outlets, paying more attention to wardrobe-malfunction photo spreads.

For now, mind you, the greatest drama of our time is still unfolding, in its tense, final days; this is the last weekend of the U.S presidential election. The main news programs and the all-news channels will be filled with footage of last-minute campaigning and mind-boggling analysis of the polls about undecided voters in a handful of communities. This will grip many viewers; others will want to be rid of it all.

A sort-of alternative, then, is Just For Laughs: The American Dream? (Sunday, CBC, 9 p.m.) which is an hour of comedy about the presidential race.

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It's hosted by Lewis Black, who takes up a good deal of the show, and that's a very good thing. The special suffers from being taped as a gala at Just For Laughs in Montreal in the summer. Back then, everyone knew it was Barack Obama vs. Mitt Romney but many of the nuances and strange turns of the campaign were in the future.

Along with Black, there's Alonzo Bodden, winner of the series Last Comic Standing a few years ago. The lineup of other comedians includes Canadian John Wing, American Kathleen Madigan, and Irish stand-up guy Andrew Maxwell. But Black is the business here, enraged and at times apoplectic at the state of things in U.S. politics. Oh, he begins by going local and mocking Our Glorious Leader's assertion that Calgary is the greatest city in Canada – chuckwagon breakfasts amuse him – but rage at his fellow Americans is his real point.

This varies from the merely whimsical to the deeply serious. He says that the United States pays 75 per cent more for health care than many other countries, but Americans don't live longer – "For that money, we should at least be taller." He's also very good explaining why it's difficult to make fun of Obama. And he reads out many tweets by Americans in reaction to the Supreme Court upholding the legality of what's come to be called Obamacare. Many claim they are fleeing the U.S. for Canada. As Black notes, the proliferation of such statements means he doesn't have to make up funny stuff any more. It's just there.

Wing's riffs comparing Canada with the U.S. are gentle, less pointed. Like everyone here, he is amazed at the depth of political hatred in America. Madigan has fun pointing out that so few Americans are cognizant of political issues until an election comes along.

There is little here that is going to truly change the taste of sourness and the tensions of this election in its dying days. In fact, it's mild compared to what you can see nightly on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. But what you'll take away is Black's voice, raspy and angry at the ignorance of many American voters and the pomposity of the Republican Party. Soon, the race for the White House will be over, and a few laughs are needed to get some viewers to the finish line.

Also airing this weekend

W5 (Saturday, CTV, 7 p.m.) is a single, hour-long report and one of the most disturbing on W5 in some time. Victor Malarek investigates stories of abuse and outright terror at the Nova Scotia Home for Colored Children, which was established to house orphaned and abandoned black children in 1921. When Malarek meets former residents, some from the recent past, they make allegations of physical, emotional and sexual abuse. The first woman he speaks with, asked to describe a typical day at the Home, answers simply: "Beatings and no food."

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It's a complex story that involves suggestions of a cover-up, and Malarek is clearly stunned by what he hears. As the program points out, "Nova Scotia's black community has long had a special yet controversial place in the province. Many today are descendants of freed slaves given refuge at the time of the American Revolution." And that makes the treatment of the children at the Home all the more heartbreaking. This is not easy viewing, but necessary.

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