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TV,eh? What's up in Canadian television

Firsthand delves into doctor-assisted death with “Road to Mercy”

Firsthand‘s first documentary of the 2016-17 broadcast season couldn’t be more timely. Weeks after the doctor-assisted death of Shoeless Joe author W.P. Kinsella, “Road to Mercy” treads the controversial topic of doctors taking the lives of patients and the circumstances where they are allowed to do it.

Airing Thursday at 9 p.m. on CBC, Toronto-based filmmaker Nadine Pequeneza’s project focuses on the window between February 2015 and June 2016, after the Supreme Court ruling and before Canada’s first law on medical assistance in dying (MAID). But just because the law was passed doesn’t mean it’s clear cut and that’s what’s discussed in “Road to Mercy.” Which patients should be allowed to die (Just those who are terminally ill? What about car accident victims?) and when (Four months before they’re expected to die? Six?) are just two bullet points up for discussion. While those guidelines are worked out, the patients waiting to die agree on one thing: they want control over how they die and want to do it with dignity.

Among those who provide context in “Road to Mercy” are Maureen Taylor, an advocate for the right to die with dignity and the provincially appointed co-chair of the Ontario Advisory Panel On Physician-Assisted Dying; John Tuckwell, diagnosed with ALS in 2012 and planning his death with the help of his sister and doctor; Amy De Schutter, a 29-year-old fighting mental illness; and Quebec’s Dr. Louis Roy, who advises his ill patient Danielle Lacroix in her final days. (In Quebec, the province pre-empted the Supreme Court, passing end-of-life-care legislation in 2014, which came into effect December 2015. Unlike the Supreme Court decision, the Quebec legislation limits MAID to terminal patients.)

After watching a few minutes of John Tuckwell’s deterioration—he’s still mobile, but needs help standing and can no longer talk—it seems a no-brainer he is allowed to pull the plug. But his physician, Dr. Wendy Johnston, loathes to do it because she doesn’t want that to be an option for her patients. Maureen Taylor acknowledges it’s not all cut-and-dried either; will some segments of society, as a result of the guidelines, be deemed “expendable”?

“Road to Mercy” certainly isn’t a feel-good documentary, but it will cause viewers to pause—if they haven’t already—and consider not only where they stand on the subject of doctor-assisted death but if they’d consider it an option.

Firsthand airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.


The Nature of Things explores the lives of “Pompeii’s People”

I’ve been fascinated with the story of Pompeii from a young age. A town full of people and animals who were overrun by the ash from an erupting volcano? It set my imaginative mind reeling. It still does, so I was jazzed to learn it was the focus of The Nature of Things‘ season return on Thursday.

“Pompeii’s People” follows host David Suzuki—who first visited the site 43 years ago on his honeymoon—as he is given unprecedented access to the Roman town, exploring the importance of the location to the Empire and the lives of its people buried under volcanic ash in 79 AD after Mount Vesuvius erupted.

Technology plays a huge part in the project, as aerial photography,  dramatic recreations, CGI and other scientific applications peel back the layers of volcanic matter to reveal a stunning, and surprisingly relatable way of life. Handel Productions and Twofour Group do an incredible job not just recreating the story behind the demise of the 12,000 residents located in the coastal town near Naples, but focusing on the well-off and working class folks walking the cobbles. No stone is unexplored, as footage includes an analysis of roadways and a warren of one-way streets and homes are digitally reconstructed to show warmly painted walls, frescoes and skylights in ceilings. Suzuki is welcomed into the former home of a fish sauce merchant, who adorned his property with mosaics of his product, showing a knack for advertising more than 1,500 years before Mad Men.


Next up on Suzuki’s walk is the forum, where public areas offered citizens a place to converse, play games, buy goods from the open-air market or worship at the Temple of Jupiter.

The most interesting part of Thursday’s return for me was the recreation of Pompeii’s people. I think everyone has seen pictures of the plaster casts of the dog, woman and child, and man, all frozen in time and contorted after being buried in ash. Now computers are digitally removing the plaster and x-rays reveal the bones to understand what Pompeians looked like, what they ate and how they lived. It’s particularly stunning to see how the vaguely human form of a dead soldier is transformed by technology into a young man.

Also analyzed: the rearing of animals and livestock, what garbage says about what Pompeians ate and the role of sex in their society. Informative, educational and entertaining, “Pompeii’s People” is well worth checking out.

The Nature of Things airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.


Chris Haddock finds the heart of The Romeo Section for Season 2

CBC’s spy drama The Romeo Section returns for its second season tonight, and creator Chris Haddock sounds as relieved as his fans. “It wasn’t a sure thing. I’m grateful to be back.”

The public broadcaster’s last fall season didn’t get off to a great start, but both Romeo and This Life were given a second chance and subtly retooled to allow new viewers to come aboard. Haddock feels Romeo found its feet about halfway through the first season. “I feel like I’ve figured out where the real guts and strength of the show is and I’m going to try to prove it. It’s a little more focused. I found last year I probably had one too many storylines.”

Asking audiences to pay attention to multiple threads weaving into an elaborate pattern has been his style since the heydey of Da Vinci’s Inquest, when he recalls people asking, “are you ever going to wrap up these storylines?”

“It took time for the audience to get used to it and love that style. Some of the actors used to complain, ‘are we ever going to solve this case?’ But I find the stories take ahold of me and I keep digging and asking questions and finding that good vein.”

A chat with Haddock feels less like an interview and more like paying attention to multiple threads weaving into an elaborate conversation, with the PR person signalling the end just as a network might cancel a show on a cliffhanger.

Speaking of Intelligence, Haddock confirms The Romeo Section grew out of elements of that short-lived CBC series that had never completely left his system. Nearly 10 years after the cancellation he still fields questions about whether it might come back, but his James Dean response is: “Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.”

He’s been around the industry for a long time and has the creative freedom and come-what-may attitude to prove it. He knows it’s harder to find an audience in this time of “peak TV” than when Da Vinci was on the air, added to the ever-present competition from U.S. shows and lack of a U.S.-style promotional infrastructure, such as the late-night talk show circuit and glut of entertainment magazines. “I enjoy all the challenges,” he says. “I don’t panic over things that may have panicked me in my first years.”

“I was in a state when I began Da Vinci where I’d been writing pilots and movies in L.A. but my domestic life was a disaster, I was trying to get my kids,” he says. “I had this great attitude that I didn’t set out to have which is yes, this show is important, but my kids are the most important thing. So I had a good balance from the beginning.”

That calm extends to production challenges such as shooting Vancouver for Hong Kong in the pilot of The Romeo Section and creating gritty drama out of a city with a lot of shine.

“It’s not easy to get a tense, dark, psychologically disturbing atmosphere when it’s Vancouver and it’s beautiful. For a noir show like this I’d love to be shooting in the winter—because I’d get a lot of rain, I’d get earlier nights—but I’m not. You have to figure out a way. So it’s not classic noir, it’s more of a California noir. You can be just as miserable in the hot sun.”

The Romeo Section airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.


Bachelorette Canada makes Muzique in Montreal

Montreal is a city with European flair, an international vibe; a truly unique spot in this country. It was also the sight of the most dramatic episode of The Bachelorette Canada this season.

Was it wrong for Chris to mention Drew during his one-on-one time with Jasmine, calling the salesman out for his actions? Where Chris saw Drew’s actions as bullying, Drew claimed he was joking. But while there may be interpretation in the reading of Chris’ name on the one-on-one date card—that honour was actually for Mikhel—there was no mistaking Drew saying Chris wasn’t a man. But, what makes a man? Is a man someone who likes football, lives in Toronto and exudes cockiness? Is someone less of a man because he invents things and prefers philanthropy to philandering?

This season of The Bachelorette Canada has been an interesting one because it’s presented the wide chasm between who we are and expectations on who we’re perhaps supposed to be. It may be all in the editing—and goodness knows reality TV is created in the editing suite—but Drew is being presented as the biggest asshole I’ve seen in the Canadian franchise. If he is indeed like that in real life then I have no time for him at all. My high school’s halls were filled with jerks like him, backslapping dudes who are still reliving their Grade 12 gridiron successes while waiting for their work shift to be done. But if he’s not really like that … well, I feel badly for him because Drew’s been labelled. And as he’s been portrayed as acting so far this season, being labelled as something is tough to shake.


Because of the he said/he said between Drew and Chris, Jasmine made the right call and chose not to award a rose at the end of the football group date. That left Drew seething and calling Drew a “bitch” (pretty hard not to take that the way it was intended) and Chris wondering if he made a big mistake.

Really, Chris and Drew’s actions took away from what was a pretty great episode of The Bachelorette Canada, with Mikhel and Jasmine making a real connection during a slow dance and hot tub time after spray painting a rose on a brick wall (and him getting a real one) to Benoit scoring his own rose for performing so admirably in the Cirque du Soleil trapeze.

Jasmine nixed the cocktail party, opting to head right into the rose ceremony. Jasmine did pause after handing out blossoms to Mike, Kevin W., Thomas and Kevin P. before she pulled Drew aside to discuss whether he was there for her or himself. He reappeared, clearly shaken, and Jasmine resumed her task, giving Chris and Drew the final two roses. Unfortunately, Kyle (and his bow tie), Andrew and David were shown the door.

Do you think Jasmine was right to keep Chris? Should she have sent Drew home? Should they both go home? Comment below or via Twitter @tv_eh.

The Bachelorette Canada airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on W Network.

Images courtesy of Corus.


Wild Archaeology takes a look at the Arctic in peril

This week on Wild Archaeology, we return to Richards Island, located in the Beaufort Sea.

If you recall, Dr. Max Friesen of the University of Toronto and his team are in a race against weather and climate change to gather information and artifacts from a traditional cruciform home, in their quest to gain greater understanding of the ancient Inuvialuit people.

We visit with Rosalie Scott, conservator of Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre, who explains how the found artifacts are to be stored, stabilized and the proper way to pack these items for shipment back to the lab.

Then it’s off to Tuktoyaktuk—where the descendants of Richards Island now live—to meet Boogie Pokiak, a traditional Inuvialuit hunter who explains some of the history of the land and gives Jacob and Jenifer an opportunity to taste local foods, including muktuk.

Finally, we go to Dr. Friesen’s lab at the University of Toronto to look at some of the better finds from this excavation.

This episode was a bit of a departure from the previous few. Very little excavation was to be had; instead, we focused on some of the cultural aspects that are so important for understanding the context of the finds on these digs.

This week’s tally? Jacob: closed end harpoon head. Jenifer: no finds. Jacob is still in the lead!

Wild Archaeology airs Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m. ET on APTN.