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TV,eh? What's up in Canadian television

Review: The name’s the thing in The Book of Negroes

The historical book of Negroes finally gets its starring turn in the miniseries The Book of Negroes, and Canada as Canada is poised to show up in the next episode.

In part four, Aminata is recruited to collect the names of every black person who assisted the British during the American Revolutionary War. That ledger will determine who can earn a berth to Nova Scotia and freedom, and the process allows them to claim their names and their stories, and for Aminata to live her dream of becoming a djello — storyteller — for her people and their ancestors.

The U.S. title for the Lawrence Hill novel this miniseries is based on is Someone Knows My Name, and it has a resonance of its own. Stolen from their homes, their families, their continent, the slaves are stripped of so much of their autonomy — often down to their own names. Aminata Diallo, for example, was anglicized to Meena Dee, though she reclaims her name and ultimately her freedom.

Yet in the course of the episode her true name almost costs her that freedom. Though she more than earned her place in the book of Negroes, her name appears on another list: of runaway slaves. She is ripped from the boat and Chekura, who must proceed to Nova Scotia or lose his place forever, while she can challenge her designation as another man’s property in court and sail on a later ship.

Their love is the beating heart of this story, making the scene where they are torn apart again, and the one where they are forced to admit that he aided the slave traders and tore her from her family, particularly heartbreaking.

Her assumption — and mine — is that Solomon Lindo has finally caught up with her. Instead, the supremely creepy Robinson Appleby is making a false claim, denying he ever sold her. Sam proves his love again through actions, finding the only way to counter that claim: he produces Solomon Lindo to testify and bring the papers that prove he bought her — and sold her baby — and then to finally, officially, grant her freedom. She’s as grateful to stalwart Sam as she is unforgiving of Lindo.

Aunjanue Ellis is transcendent in this role, of course. Allan Hawco gives Lindo a regretful sweetness which belies the ugliness of his position. He was a better master than Appleby — played to slimy perfection by Greg Bryk — but selling her baby to a good family and getting her away from the brutal Appleby is still selling her baby, and calling her a servant instead of slave didn’t prevent him from treating her as property.

Her declaration about the new United States: “There is nothing united about a nation that proclaims all men are created equal, but keeps its people in chains.”

There are clunky moments in the episode. Some — such as when Aminata questions General Washington about why he owns slaves if he opposes the institution of slavery — because they come across as jamming a plot point from the sprawling novel awkwardly into the script — and some feel like small missteps in direction or editing. You could almost hear the DUN DUN DUNNNN when Solomon Lindo was revealed in court.

I’m not a fan of voiceovers in general, but in The Book of Negroes it feels crucial to translate the gaps that couldn’t be jammed into the script and explain the time jumps, and to give Aminata her rightful role as the author of her own story.

How was the west(ern Canadian TV industry) won? Nominate your picks

For their 30th annivesary issue, Reel West Magazine is celebrating how the west was won with a look at the movies and TV shows that made the western Canadian industry real – and they want your help.

Which films and TV shows had the greatest impact on the western Canadian industry? Which launched careers or studios or locations or… fill in the blank.

This isn’t a “best of” or a “critic’s choice” list – they’re looking for productions that had a lasting impact. Productions can be 100% made in western Canada or they might be Hollywood hits.

TV shows will likely focus on series BUT if there’s a one-off TV movie or special or live event that had an impact on the industry, make a case for it. Hit them with your top ten lists – or just make a case for the one production you think matters or mattered most.

All nominations will be reviewed by an industry advisory panel who will determine which 30 movies and which 30 shows will be featured in the anniversary issue, which hits newstands and appears online in March.

By midnight February 9, send email nominations, post to their Facebook page, or Tweet at them. Include your name and contact info so they can quote you or let them know if you’d prefer not to be quoted.

Event: Writers Talking TV in Toronto with X Company creators

From the Writers Guild of Canada:

The WGC is hosting a sneak preview of the upcoming CBC TV World War ll spy thriller, X COMPANY, from award-winning showrunners and Flashpoint creators Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis. Stephanie and Mark will be interviewed by WGC screenwriter Michael MacLennan (Bomb Girls, Queer as Folk), and following the screening audience members will have an opportunity to ask questions.

What: Writers Talking TV, X COMPANY, featuring WGC showrunners Stephanie Morgenstern and Mark Ellis
When: February 9, 2015, 7 p.m.
Where: TIFF Bell Lightbox, 350 King. St. West, Toronto
FREE, but RSVP to Elaine Jacob e.jacob@wgc.ca to reserve a seat

X COMPANY, broadcast on CBC TV starting February 18, 2015, is described by the broadcaster as “an emotionally-driven character drama, set in the thrilling and dangerous world of WWII espionage and covert operations. It follows the stories of five highly skilled young recruits – Canadian, American and British – torn from their ordinary lives to train as agents in an ultra-secret facility on the shores of Lake Ontario. These agents parachute behind enemy lines, where they’re fair game for torture and execution. From elegant hotels to hellholes in the field, it’s one risky operation after another, masterminded by the brains of Camp X.”

Ratings: Canadian series rock the top 30 for January 12-18

In the Numeris ratings for January 12-18, Canadian scripted series earned five of the top 30 spots, including both episodes of Schitt’s Creek‘s double-header premiere:

  • # 14: Book of Negroes – 1.607 million
  • #16: Schitt’s Creek – 1.581 million
  • #17: Schitt’s Creek – 1.554
  • #19: Murdoch Mysteries – 1.387
  • #20: Saving Hope – 1.384

Spun Out broadcast plans “indefinitely suspended”

In the wake of voyeurism charges against Spun Out actor J.P. Manoux, CTV has announced that Masterchef Canada will replace the sitcom in the post-Superbowl slot, and future broadcast plans have been “indefinitely suspended.” Season two was scheduled to premiere on March 5 after Sunday’s sneak peek.

CTV’s statement:

CTV was shocked to learn tonight of the arrest of Spun Out actor J.P. Manoux. The charges against him are serious allegations. CTV will work with Spun Out producers Project 10 Productions to assist the Toronto Police Service in any way possible in their investigation. We can confirm that all future broadcast plans for Spun Out, including this Sunday’s post Super Bowl sneak peek, have been indefinitely suspended.

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