In ancient Twitter times, maybe a year ago, a discussion popped up: where’s Canada’s Mad Men? Why can’t we produce something so excellent, so embraced by critics and audience?
My answer: we have. We had it before Mad Men. But we have to scale down our thinking from Hollywood levels.
Slings & Arrows was an intelligent, fun, carefully crafted series, and a critical favourite. I posit there is no show better, Canadian or American or Mexican. Girls is no cleverer or funnier or well-loved than Michael: Tuesdays & Thursdays. Durham County, Intelligence, Call Me Fitz, Less Than Kind – we have shows that in another country, with a larger population base, and not as overshadowed by the Hollywood machine — in a country with a healthy TV industry and more diverse media — these shows might have received the same kind of attention as a Homeland in the US or a Luther in the UK.
A crucial element to sustain these critical darlings, however, is buzz. Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Girls, all have tiny audiences compared to a network hit — even an NBC hit — yet command a much greater percentage of critical and social media attention than an NCIS.
The problem: Canada’s population base is 10 times less than the US. Canada’s TV critic community is even tinier per capita. Canadians consume American media, including television criticism, while our critics are time-sharing their attention with American shows. Homegrown TV is crowded out of every thought-space.
It’s easy to say Canadian media should write more about Canadian shows, but it starts to become a no-profit endeavor very quickly, and the Canadian media are struggling with that well enough now. They check in with the hits, and their favourites, but there’s little checking in beyond once a season, never mind the kind of obsessive episodic analysis that’s become a staple for American critics.
My direct comparative experience is out of date now, but when you get over a thousand people clicking on an article about House and over a dozen clicking on an article about Intelligence, you have to have a certain will – one not driven by chasing ads – to persist in writing about a low-rated but thoughtful Canadian series.
Audiences aren’t talking much either, because a cult audience in Canada is a microcult spread over 10,000,000 km2. There are pockets of chatter on social media, and if a particular show is in your bubble you’re bound to see talk of it, but there’s little spreading to the greater water cooler out in the wild.
We notice loudly when the Canadian TV industry produces more mediocrity. Let’s listen for the excellence falling among us too. Because in Canada, we have to listen very carefully to hear it.