Don Cherry has professed himself a little skittish about his four-hour biopic Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story this weekend on CBC. Why so nervous, Grapes? Son Tim has lovingly rendered the script, and while CBC flacks hint at "revelations," the Cherry hagiography is already known to friend and foe alike. This is a risk-averse project if there ever was one.
The story of a hockey lifer and his long-suffering wife, Rose, who died in 1997, that emerges over two nights is The Honeymooners On Skates. Don (played by Jared Keeso) tilts at windmills and does the humina-humina when things go wrong, while Rose (Sarah Manninen) keeps house and home together through a Greyhound map of towns and cities across the continent during his AHL career. Riches always beckon just beyond reach in the NHL (where Cherry had one solitary game). All that's missing is Norton barging into the Cherry kitchen to enlist in another harebrained scheme for fame.
Among the supporting characters, the compelling tyrant Eddie Shore (Stephen McHattie) steals the show from his earnest rube employee. Watching the legendary Springfield Indians owner brutalize Cherry and his teammates with his innovative/madcap theories on training offers a glimpse of a zany zeitgeist of the 1950s. Viewers may want more of the old firebrand and less of the bumptious boy from Kingston.
Cherry predictably comes across as the alpha male vexing his put-upon wife. About the only unanswered question as Cherry careens through hockey's low-rent district to the brink of TV stardom is why the devoted supporter of the military never enlisted when Canada was fighting in Korea (it couldn't have been much more dangerous than playing for Shore in the minors).
The depiction of Cherry's rise from hockey lifer to national TV icon is unlikely to change many minds. His devoted fans will lap up the yarns as their headstrong hero butts heads with authority. For those who consider Cherry an unpaved road on the evolutionary map, the tragicomic possibilities of Cherry's ascension to fame will probably be lost.
What's most intriguing about this film is CBC's continuing devotion to the cult of Cherry's personality. The man in the satin suits is considered surefire ratings at the house on Front Street. But the network never produced bios of Wayne and Shuster, Mr. Dressup, Howie Meeker, Don Messer, the Friendly Giant, Foster Hewitt or any of its other iconic figures. With the star of Coach's Corner aging, the network seems determined to double down on his crusty cachet rather than plan a succession strategy.
Fight Club Of One
U.S. polemicist Ann Coulter carpet-bombed the tender sensibilities of Canadian academe the past week. But never more so than when the caustic media maven derided our hockey heritage in her arguments. "You guys [Canadians]used to be so cool," she told The Globe and Mail. "You were smokers. You had epic hockey fights. We had half our comedians from Canada. Now you're all a bunch of girls named François." Somewhere Zenon Konopka is a shattered man.
Finally, that noise you hear is CBC gulping as it contemplates the first-round NHL playoff broadcast possibilities. At the moment, the Vancouver Canucks, Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens are still in postseason spots while the Calgary Flames (fading) join the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers on the uninvited list for the Stanley Cup party. CBC has its choice of two series before TSN opts in. After drawing some flak for choosing the Canucks over the Flames last spring, CBC would like some easy choices.
Vancouver's a lock (maybe for several series?), but where does the Corp. go next? Ratings for the Canadiens are small in Quebec but strong nationwide after the Anglo-Quebecker Diaspora. Ottawa will bring more eyeballs in Ontario but has little attraction outside the province.
One way or the other, irate fans who live outside TSN's reach will be steamed by either choice.
The tiebreaker? Take the team that draws Sidney Crosby's Pittsburgh Penguins to Alex Ovechkin's Washington Capitals as first-round opponents. Or - be still my heart - an Ottawa-Montreal series.