HeSaidSheSaid

He Said/She Said: Canadian TV Shows to Binge-Watch this Summer

Join Greg and Diane every Monday as we debate what’s on our minds. This week: Key Canadian TV shows to binge-watch this summer.

He Said:

The Canadian TV calendar is starting to thin out as we get into the summer months. Big Brother Canada, Remedy and Orphan Black continue to chug along, Rookie Blue returns and Between debuts on May 21 and CBC’s Fool Canada hidden camera series starring Will Sasso is scheduled to bow in June. Other than that, there’s not a heck of a lot on, which means it’s the perfect time to binge-watch a homegrown program or two (or four or five) during the rest of the spring and into the summer. Here are my picks:

Young Drunk Punk, City
Bruce McCulloch’s peek back at the 1980s is tender, funny and sweet, and showcases wonderful performances from its young cast in Tim Carlson and Atticus Mitchell alongside vets McCulloch and Tracy Ryan. Catch all 13 episodes on City’s website.

Sunnyside, City
Co-created by Gary Pearson and Dan Redican, Sunnyside is brash, envelope-pushing sketch comedy starring Kathleen Phillips, Pat Thornton, Patrice Goodman, Alice Moran, Rob Norman and Kevin Vidal playing a wide range of offbeat characters, from meth heads to meat heads, murderers to cops. Wacky co-stars include ponies, clowns, a bleeding wall and a guy who lives in the sewer. Season 1 is available on City’s website.

Vikings, shomi/History
If historical drama is more your thing, you should be watching Vikings. Game of Thrones may grab more headlines, but I like Vikings because it’s based on real history and Viking mythology. Travis Fimmel is Ragnar Lothbrok, a Viking farmer who yearns for a better, more exciting life. With the help of his wife, Lagertha (Katheryn Winnick), brother Rollo (Clive Standen) and buddy Floki (Gustaf Skarsgård), Ragnar successfully reaches England and begins a bloody campaign seeking riches and fame. Seasons 1 and 2 are available on shomi for Rogers and Shaw subscribers and Season 3 can be watched on History.ca.

Republic of Doyle, CBC
Allan Hawco’s co-creation is like The Rockford Files if it was set in Newfoundland. Jake Doyle (Hawco) and his dad, Malachy (Sean McGinley) tool around St. John’s in a GTO, solving crimes as PI’s and getting into trouble with the local RCMP detachment. Funny and dramatic, Doyle is one hell of a ride. The entire run of Republic of Doyle can be watched on CBC.ca.

Orphan Black, CraveTV
My apologies to die-hard fans of Orphan Black, but I like Season 1 more than the sophomore go-round or this current season. I think it’s because I was so blown away by Tatiana Maslany playing Sarah, Alison, Helena, Rachel and Cosima for the first time and the tight storytelling that made it so memorable. This was OB before the accolades and awards, when it still felt like a small #CloneClub was tuning in to greatness. Season 1 is available on CraveTV.

Blackstone, APTN
Created by Ron E. Scott, this gritty Gemini Award winner spotlights the fictional Blackstone First Nations band just outside of Edmonton. Issues of drugs, alcoholism, unemployment, corruption and abuse are acknowledged through an unflinching lens that is entertaining and thought-provoking. All four seasons of Blackstone can be seen on APTN’s website.

She Said:

The problem with recommending a binge-watch of Canadian series is many can be difficult to find. You can’t just sign up for CraveTV or shomi unless you’re with a qualifying cable or Internet company, and some of the binge-worthiest shows aired on cable channels that don’t offer episodes online, or aired years ago before online access was a consideration and a broadcaster or producer might not think getting those rights is worth the effort. Does anyone buy DVDs anymore? A handful are available that way.

I’d echo Greg’s Blackstone recommendation — I need to get caught up myself — and add that the first season of Young Drunk Punk will come to CBC in the fall, but you could be one of the cool kids (and possibly help the low-rated show get a second season) if you catch up now. Besides those, here’s my two cents:

slings_and_arrows-image

Slings & Arrows, DVD
If you’ve seen it already, isn’t it time to rewatch? If you haven’t seen it, you have to at least give a try to the show that tops my list of best Canadian series of all time. If you don’t fall in love, fine, be that way, but at least get a taste of the pathos and humour behind the scenes of not-Stratford starring Paul Gross, Martha Burns, Stephen Ouimette, Mark McKinney, Susan Coyne and, in the first season, a luminous Rachel McAdams. All three seasons are on DVD.

Twitch City, DVD
I dare you to find a more intentionally surreal Canadian show than this, co-created by and starring my favourite oddball Don McKellar (see also: Slings & Arrows) as a TV addict shut-in. Costars included Callum Keith Rennie, Molly Parker, and both Bruce McCulloch and Mark McKinney as the same character, believe it or not. As far as I can tell, DVD is your only hope.

19-2, CraveTV
The ratings of this acclaimed cop series suggest many of you, like me, haven’t been watching as it aired. I got part way through season one during my CraveTV trial, and a seemingly random selection of season two episodes are on bravo.ca. I’ll likely wait to complete my binge until Bell starts selling their shows to Netflix (aka when hell freezes over), or if they do the smart thing and rerun the series from the beginning on CTV this summer.

Sensitive Skin, HBO Canada on demand
If  you have access, check out this Kim Cattrall-starring black comedy about a woman’s mid-life crisis, with Don McKellar and Elliot Gould.  It never got its due while it aired, but it is getting a second season so binge away if you can … unlike me.

Schitt’s Creek, Netflix
Ah, CBC, a Canadian channel that actually allows their shows to be sold to Netflix. One of my favourite shows of this past season (no “Canadian” qualifier needed), Schitt’s Creek is my choice for a binge rewatch of the antics of Eugene and Dan Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Emily Hampshire, Annie Murphy and Chris Elliot. You can also find the season on CBC.ca but let’s be honest: Netflix is a much better user experience.

Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays, CBC
A surprise renewal years after its cancellation means you need to catch up on season one before season two arrives likely next year. Starring Bob Martin and Matt Watts as a codependent therapist and patient, the series is hilarious and heartfelt. All episodes are available on CBC.ca.

What about you? What Canadian shows will you be binge-watching, and how? 

Greg David
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Greg David

Prior to becoming a television critic and partner at TV, Eh?, Greg David was a critic for TV Guide Canada, the country's most trusted source for TV news. He has interviewed television actors, actresses and behind-the-scenes folks from countless programs. Survivor winners, Donald Trump, Jerry Bruckheimer ... he has interviewed (literally) hundreds of TV people over the course of his career. He is a past member of the Television Critics Association.
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21 thoughts on “He Said/She Said: Canadian TV Shows to Binge-Watch this Summer”

  1. I suspect the most annoying aspect of your job is the way the rest of us constantly nitpick and kibitz lol. With that said, your comment about nothing much new coming up got me wondering. I think there are some SF series slatted for the next couple of months that may be Canadian. Killjoys (which I’m pretty sure is definitely CDN), Dark Matter (all-Canadian cast, so I’m guessing ditto), and Expanse (seems to have some Canadians in it, but might not be technically Canadian).

    1. I was having a little bit of fun with that line, and just hinting that summer was a little lighter than, say, fall and midseason. Jonny Harris’ new show is bowing on CBC next month too, but I was aiming to keep things simple.

      1. :) Yeah, no worries. I guess we all quibble so much because TV, Eh? is such an important resource.

  2. As for binge-worthy:
    .
    If we’re looking beyond contemporary series, I definitely agree about Slings & Arrows. And I was on the fence about Blackstone for the first two seasons, but then watched all of the 3rd season over a week or so (sort of binging) and got into it more. So either it had found it’s groove, or it’s a series that benefits from immersing yourself in it.
    .
    And since a binge-able series is, perhaps, ideally one that has a story arc and develops from episode-to-episode I might suggest a kind of dark horse — Peter Benchley’s Amazon. This was a Canada-U.S. co-production circa 2000 that was kind of Lost before there was Lost. Next to no one’s heard of it, and maybe I remember it unduly well, but it was a weird, ambitious series with a complex, evolving storyline ideal for binging (though was cancelled after one season). It was released to DVD at one point.
    .
    And speaking of weird and ambitious — ZOS: Zone of Separation was an R-rated 2008 mini-series about U.N peacekeepers that can best be described as Apocalypse Now meets Deadwood. Worth keeping an eye out for — though good luck, as I’m not sure it’s in circulation much. Which, admittedly, kind of defeats the purpose of recommending it here!

    1. I totally remember Amazon! I guess it was ahead of its time … or there weren’t enough polar bears.

      ZOS was available On Demand on TMN, but not anymore.

      1. “weren’t enough polar bears” lol
        .
        Funnily, my comparison to Lost wasn’t entirely facetious. I’m always intrigued when a Canadian series seems evocative of another Canadian series. Or when a Canadian series seems to have some similarities to a subsequent U.S. series. In the case of Lost, I seem to recall thinking there were particular character ideas and story threads that were reminiscent of Amazon. In reality it’s probably just a coincidence, but it’s interesting to speculate. Particularly given Canadian critics are often eager to suggest when a Canadian series is a rip-off of an American one (even when the similarity is vague).

    2. I loved ZOS – great role for Enrico Colantoni – but if I couldn’t easily find a series legally I didn’t add to the list. I almost put Finkelman’s The Newsroom too but figured I was pushing it with all the DVD recommendations already. People keep mentioning The Starlost as a childhood fave or something that should be remade, and it sounds interesting, so I’d love to see that but couldn’t find.

      1. I appreciate your ethics. I’ll admit, given I regard my hobby as slightly academic and intellectual, I’ve been known to be a bit more, um, pragmatic.
        .
        Oh, and as someone who has mentioned The Starlost…it has to considered in context. I wouldn’t go so far as to say it was, y’know, good lol. Merely that it had an ineffable dream-like aspect that means it kind of lingers as a cheesy, failed experiment, that nonetheless had potential (particularly if you’re into old school SF). A lost classic it ain’t.
        .
        Mind you, I’m completely flabbergasted by the recent affectionate references to The Littlest Hobo which I regarded as, well, pretty bad. So what do I know, eh?

        1. Or to put it another way (and to belabour a point wa-ay past it’s point of interest lol) the fact that The Starlost ran only one season, 40 years ago, and wasn’t very good…yet people in sci-fi circles still talk about it, suggests it had something…

        2. Ha, well I’m not saying I’m never, er, pragmatic. Just that I don’t want to advocate for non-sanctioned methods. And bite your tongue about my beloved Hobo (which I would never watch now but 7 year old me LOVED it.)

          I think that potential is why Starlost has been mentioned to remake — it’s not like Battlestar Galactica original recipe was a great show either, right?

          1. Consider my tongue bit! And I’ll give Hobo props for its theme song. Definitely one of the great theme tunes of CDN TV.

  3. The Canadian shows I liked most this past season were Orphan Black, Hard Rock Medical, Degrassi, Mohawk Girls, X Company, Remedy, Heartland, Continuum, 19-2 and Blackstone so I’d recommend those to people to check out. I still haven’t watched the second season of Bitten and the past season of Saving Hope but both are on my DVR and I’ll watch Bitten soon. I also have been recording Slings & Arrows off of Movie Central onto my DVR and I’m only missing episode one so once I get that I’ll start to binge watch.

    As for new Canadian shows to watch this summer, there’s Killjoys, which comes to Space on June 19th, and Between, which premieres on Citytv on May 21st. Still no word when the final season of Continuum will air.

    Generally, most of my summer bingewatching will consist of the zillions of British dramas on Netflix.

      1. That’s how I watched Hard Rock Medical last year, as a binge-watch. All of the episodes were available free online on APTN. I’d definitely recommend that as a binge-watch. I do wish there were more Canadian series on Netflix, especially some retro ones which I may have missed out on. Generally, I’m at the point where there’s been almost no Canadian series left for me to watch that I want to watch, at least recent series. I’ve considered Murdoch Mysteries but though I like period dramas, I’m not a fan of procedurals and of mystery series in general.

          1. That’s why it’s so important that the rest of the procedural’s storytelling and characters need to be strong. Otherwise it’s a slog.

          2. I tend to assume binge-series are ones where there’s some sort of evolving narrative, hence why a viewer’d want to segue from one episode directly to the next.
            .
            A couple of detective-procedurals that struck me as fitting that bill were “Life” with Damian Lewis and Sarah Shahi (an American series, so a bit off-topic, but which had an on going storyline — its “conspiracy wall” even became a bit of a TV trope for a while I think, mimicked in other shows) and the Canadian series “King” (which I believe is still available on the Showcase website, and where the evolving character stuff and relationships was, to my mind, as intriguing as the case-of-the-week).
            .
            Admittedly, I was a fan of both shows, so my objectivity is suspect :)

          3. Oh man, I loved Life. Had a major crush on Sarah Shahi and was thrilled Damian Lewis was being introduced to larger U.S. audience so soon after Band of Brothers. I was sad it ended, but appreciated getting closure.

          4. At the risk of straying too far from the initial post: if I could sit down every TV producer and say one word it would be “Closure!” Closure is what turns a failed series into a respectable mini-series. Closure is what turns a fan’s frustration into fond remembrances. I honestly believe (in this day of DVD sales) producers would find more profit in resolutions than the Quixotic hope a dangling cliffhanger will somehow convince the network to renew their failing series.
            .
            I don’t mean kill off characters or wrap up the premise (after all, there’s always a hope for renewal) but don’t leave threads dangling. And to be fair, I think some producers are taking that into account. “Shattered” had a resolution. “Endgame” didn’t. “Strange Empire” did…and didn’t.
            .
            Admittedly, people define closure differently. I actually felt “King” had a suitable denouement (while still leaving viewers to imagine many more cases to come) — I even posted a whole essay praising its ending. But I read other comments by people lamenting its cliffhanger ending!

          5. I loved Life and I watched it during its original run. I wouldn’t call Life a procedural. Yes, there were often crime-of-the-week storylines but the purpose of those were more to advance the characters and act as filler to help advance the more serialized storylines. I would consider Life more serial than procedural.

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