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Package Deal gives an American flavour to a Canadian sitcom

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By Graeme Stewart for TV, eh?

In an attempt to drum up interest, or perhaps just to test the waters, CityTV aired the pilot episode for its new sitcom Package Deal this week — though it doesn’t officially premiere until fall. For a new Canadian sitcom, the show boasts an unusually recognizable cast with the likes of Harland Williams and Eugene Levy offering their talents. Creator and showrunner Andrew Orenstein, whose previous work includes Malcom in the Middle and 3rd Rock from the Sun, sets the tone for the program with the utilization of the multi-camera, laugh-track style so frequently displayed in American sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory and, apparently a favourite of Orenstein’s, 2 Broke Girls.

It’s difficult to judge a show by its pilot. As always, a series has to find its particular voice. The writers, directors, and actors need time to acclimate to their new position. They need time to develop identity and style, in the ultimate hopes of producing something that is both unique and of high quality. Unfortunately, despite the comedic talents of its cast and the strong track record of its creator, I have a hard time imagining that Package Deal will hit that balance of quality and originality.

When your pilot is dependent on a tired sitcom trope in the way Package Deal‘s first episode is, you’re not exactly setting the tone for ground-breaking work. When main character Danny protests a pros and cons list about Kim (Julia Voth), written by his intrusive brothers, what comes next is painfully telegraphed to any viewer who’s seen a sitcom. She finds the list, she gets upset, and the brothers must do something charming to fix their mistake. They succeed, and she enters headfirst into a relationship with Danny that is intrinsically linked with his problematic siblings. A new gang is born, yet they’re oddly familiar. Main character Danny (Randal Edwards) is a bland, handsome 20 something, so of course he’s the centre of the show’s main relationships. Older brother Sheldon (Harland Williams) has a goatee and wears leather jackets, so you know he’s the politically incorrect one who’s probably going to get the trio into trouble. Younger brother Ryan (Jay Malone) wears glasses, so he’s probably got some great insights into geek culture.

Ultimately, it’s another example of a Canadian series that attempts to use a successful American formula for a hit show. In the process, it strips all culture and Canadian identity from the series, aside from the odd shot of the CN Tower peering over a transitory skyline or a brief mention of the University of Toronto (oddly, Package Deal is filmed in a Vancouver-area studio). It feels like it would fit right into a timeslot with 2 Broke Girls — and indeed it has landed the fall timeslot between that show and How I Met Your Mother — and maybe that’s all the network is really interested in here. Why bother with a show that feels Canadian, when Canadians tend to prefer American shows?

In an interview with the Canadian Press‘ Cassandra Szklarski, Orenstein delves into what initially brought him back from Hollywood to work in Canadian TV. Szklarski notes: “The veteran writer from 3rd Rock from the Sun and Malcolm in the Middle was tasked with injecting ‘a U.S. feel’ into CBC’s newlywed sitcom 18 to Life, about a teenage couple and their overbearing parents. Apparently CBC’s partners at ABC feared the show skewed a little too Canadian. ‘The U.S. portion felt that the show, while good, didn’t have a U.S. feel, whatever that is. And so I came up and I executive produced the first 13 (episodes),’ says Orenstein, who struggles to define what the difference is.”

He tells Szklarski, “people are tired of the cynicism and want to laugh. A lot of the shows that are coming out of the States I’m liking have more family involved and heart and stuff that I think has been missing in TV. When I watch shows now, even 2 Broke Girls, there a real heart in the middle of it.”

Orenstein’s “American” sensibility apparently struck a chord with networks, leading to the development of Package Deal, now seeing a series order commitment and a strong show of faith by airing it in the fall season in a coveted timeslot. The show’s multi-camera, laugh-track format skews far from current Canadian comedies, like the single cam Mr. D, and brings with it the monotonous phoned-in jokes made so popular in the slew of similar American sitcoms, like the aforementioned juvenile and racially insensitive 2 Broke Girls. Apparently, that show has the kind of heart that Orenstein feels Canadians are missing. Perhaps, later in the season (after Pamela Anderson’s upcoming guest stint as a wacky therapist concludes) Orenstein can bring the ludicrous racial stereotypes from that show to Canadian audiences so we can finally laugh.

This kind of thinking is emblematic of one of the Canadian industry’s largest pitfall: its reliance on risk-averse programming. Originality be damned, ratings over quality any day of the week. Or, am I wrong? It is, after all, a scripted original series in an industry that seems content with tacking “Canada” on the end of any reality concept in order to meet CRTC requirements. Is an original sitcom, transplanted American focus or not, good for Canadian TV? Should our focus be on an emulation of American success stories, or should CanCon mean just that? Canadian content. Canadian identity. Canadian style. Does such a thing even exist? Would you prefer a show that stretches the limits of a sitcom’s potential with Canadian flair, or are you simply looking for something that might, as Orenstein puts it, make you laugh?

What did you think of Package Deal?

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22 thoughts on “Package Deal gives an American flavour to a Canadian sitcom”

  1. I loved the premiere! I think the show has immense potential and it’s so great to see some Canadian comedians blended with Canadian actors on screen. I can’t wait to see the episodes where Pamela Anderson is featured. Stay Positive Graeme…it might surpise us all :)

    1. Admittedly, I have a slight bias against this kind of multi-cam style. I feel like we should push the boundary, rather than stay content colouring inside the lines. Glad you enjoyed it though, thanks for the comment!

  2. I think Graeme hit this right on the head. I cringed at the predictable format after 5 minutes and was able to guess the upcoming lines during the pros and cons list scene. I’ll be interested in hearing your thoughts once the season kicks off in the fall. Keep us posted, Graeme.

  3. The pilot could definitely have been better but the most damaging thing to the show was the badly used laugh track. Not only was it used everywhere, but there was no subtlety to it as the laugh track seemed to have its volume juiced up in a mistaken belief that it would make the jokes better.

    Besides the fleeting shot of the CN Tower, they did toss out that the female lead came to attend Grad School at the U of T and stayed. But other than that, definitely could easily have been an American show – although Bones, How I Met Your Mother, and 30 Rock all have/had regular references to Canada.

    1. I wholeheartedly agree with the laugh-track sentiment. Totally uneven, with “laughs” flowing after basic statements while the occasional joke would be hung out to dry with silence. Could be something they fix before the series returns to air.

    1. Why would he lie? Maybe, whoever you’re referring to, came on after his 13 episode stint? In any case, he’s credited as such by IMDB at least.

      1. IMDb isn’t exactly that great. Three years on and IMDb still has the wrong person credited for writing episode 2 of Haven. Why? They shuffled around the sequence of the episodes and the person who typed up the text that was layered over the show with the producers, writer, and director info credited the person who wrote what was moved from 2nd to 4th and noone noticed until after it had been shown on Syfy and released on iTunes. If you buy it from iTunes today it is correct but it wasn’t when the creators recorded a commentary for the episode.

        IMDb also had the third season of The LIstener listed with fake titles and fake broadcast dates and for months refused to correct any of it, even once it actually premiered.

        American comedies generally really suck. They usually aren’t funny but are often horribly predictable. Canadian comedies too often are so over-the-top with their Canadianness that they are equally unwatchable. Yes, Satisfaction, i mean you and especially that Gary Breakfast character. No wonder so many American make fun of Canada. In the American – good – Canadian spectrum why can’t they just settle at ‘good’? I honestly am not sure if i am more offended by Gary Breakfast or annoyed by the laugh track of Package Deal. I do know they both have me wanting to watch the pilot of 18 to Life again.

        1. The point was that he said he was an executive producer and imdb confirmed it. So yes, imdb is often wrong but the question was why would he lie, not why would imdb be wrong.

          1. And MY POINT was that IMDb too often erroneously confirms things.

            There is the tiny matter of the first season only having 12 episodes and Orenstein talks of having produced the first 13 despite his name being nowhere on the version of episode 1 streaming on CBC’s website but it is there for episode 2.

            If we want American feeling shows we can just tune in most any channel any time. Rookie Blue isn’t over-the-top about being set in Canada, other than the skyline shot for the title, and many US critics took that as a sign the show is probably not actually set in Canada at all when they reviewed the series premiere. On Saving Hope the nickname for the hospital is Hope Zee, which is a ‘US feeling’ built into a show which is no longer shown in the US. I can’t think of a single Irish show that ‘feels British’. I really wish it were a lie that Orenstein had been involved with 18 to Life because it probably would have been a much better show than it ended up being – its Montreal so why all the English signage on everything.

            What is really weird is that 18 to Life was on CBC and later picked up by The CW after being dropped by ABC during production and yet it was “developed in association with CTV” according to the end credits. That is a lot of broadcasters who dropped out along the way. Perhaps a sign that injecting ‘US feel’ doesn’t work as well as Orenstein suggests it does.Or did i miss the massive ratings that Seed sprouted?

          2. Your point is, as usual, a tedious nitpick. He was brought on after the pilot to produce. There were producers more involved in the day to day running of the show. As people far more informed about the situation than you have already discussed in this thread, some people don’t like that he’s credited as executive producer given that, others point out that’s the TV industry for you. The fact is, he was an executive producer, and Graeme rightly took his word for it, the Canadian Press’s word for it, and confirmed with imdb. Next time perhaps I should get him to find a sworn statement in blood to confirm the subject’s credits so your burden of proof will be satisfied.

  4. It’s a title. I’m sure he received that title because he negotiated it. I’m also sure he didn’t do as much Executive producing as the people who actually ran the show. But that’s the game too.

    I would also guess the ‘Executive Produced’ came from the article writer rather than from the person themselves. In a consulting position like that, I’m fairly sure the guy wouldn’t deliberately try to inflate his credit or work on the show. Things like this happen.

  5. Just for future reference, I don’t think IMDb confirms ANY of the information that is submitted to them, they just post whatever you send them. At least that’s been my experience with films I’ve directed or shows I’ve worked on. IMDb has never attempted to verify whether I am who I say I am, or whether my information is accurate when I’ve submitted credits. As far as I know, anyone can submit film credits or claim to have worked on a movie and it gets published on IMDb. You could probably go on there right now, pick a movie and submit your name as something obscure, like “remote head technician”, and it would be published in a few days.

    I don’t know what the process is for removing erroneous credits, and I’m not saying that Mr. Orenstein’s credits are at all questionable, I’m just talking about IMDb in general.

    1. They don’t confirm them. It also couldn’t be less relevant to the point at hand. He was a credited Executive Producer – that’s a simple fact confirmed by multiple sources including the effing credits of the show. The complaint is that despite the title, he wasn’t the most involved at a day to day level. Let it go.

      1. Um, I wasn’t talking about that, I was talking about IMDb in general. I didn’t realize we’re only allowed to discuss whatever it is you personally deem to be “the topic at hand”.

        The “effing”? Stay classy, lady.

        1. Um, everyone knows that, lady. If you want to insert yourself into an already irrelevant discussion by repeating irrelevant information you are absolutely allowed – after all, I didn’t delete your comment – but don’t be surprised if I call you on it, especially when I’ve already expressed irritation with the pedantry of these off-topic comments. And sorry to offend your delicate sensibilities with a euphemism. I hope you don’t read comments sections regularly or your head will really explode.

    1. I just recently watched some of Wild Roses. It wasn’t so bad. It wasn’t quite as cut-throat as Dallas sometimes is but it seems like a nice bridge between Heartland and Blackstone.

  6. I actually liked what I saw too, it’s just a running joke between Diane and me when a discussion takes some odd turns (in my judgment) on her site.

    1. I shall trust you realise Wild Roses was cancelled about four years ago. Sending roses might be seen as an expression of gratitude for cancelling the show. Is that what you would want? So much headache.

      Now if we could send the Wild Rose Party from Alberta to CBC HQ in Toronto i would be all for supporting that.They might even seek to revive their namesake show. :)

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