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From Dwayne MacKinnon:
I’ve decided to write today about a recently concluded (hopefully just for the season) show: The Listener.
I’m a big believer in giving a Canadian show a try, as long as the subject matter is interesting to me. So lately, I’ve been really happy, as there are more and more Canadian shows available that are interesting to me. Everything from sitcoms (Little Mosque on the Prairie) to comedy-dramas (Being Erica) to action/dramas (Flashpoint, The Border) to, just lately… science-fiction.Â Which brings us to The Listener.
The Listener is what you would call “light” sci-fi. The world it inhabits is our own world… specifically, Toronto. The only fantastic element of it is that the show’s protagonist, Toby Logan, can read minds.
One of the things I found fascinating, as a sci-fi and comic-book fan, was the particular slant they took with Toby’s telepathy. For one thing, Toby can only receive thoughts; he can’t broadcast his own. For another, he can only pick up on what someone is thinking of at the time that he’s listening. The only way he can go digging around in someone’s head is to engage them in a conversation and try to lead their thoughts to the right place.
The limitations make things a lot easier to handle. It allows for realistic drama. Toby has a real edge, but he can be wrong. If somebody is deluding themselves on a particular subject, Toby will be misled as well.
The show itself had a 13 episode season that was played out fully both on CTV and in several overseas markets courtesy of Fox International. On NBC in the United States, it was cut short. Thankfully, NBC made the remaining episodes available online.
I found the show had a very decent arc. When we first meet Toby, he’s been living with his telepathy for years, and has learned how to tune out the thoughts of other people. Something has changed, though: now when he’s near a person in genuine trouble, he can’t block them out. As he’s a paramedic, being around people in trouble happens to him a fair bit more then the average joe. It leads him to become more engaged in the world, when he’s become used to a certain amount of detachment to stay sane.
Over the course of thirteen episodes Toby reveals his secret to the people closest to him. First his partner, Oz, and then the police detective that he’s been helping solve crimes. Finally, he reveals it to his longtime on and off girlfriend, Oliva. And I have to say, the revelation scenes were a particular strength of this show. The Oz one, in particular, was hilarious. The editing team did a great job of having Craig Olejnik’s Toby parroting the thoughts (done in voiceover) of Ennis Esmer’s Oz.
Other nice touches included the police detective, Charlie Marks, taking advantage of Toby’s gift once she’s informed. Particularly fun were the several occasions when she intentionally “thought at” Toby in order to get him to do something. Even one-way communication can be useful when it can be done silently and quickly, and the show capitalized on this.
Besides Toby’s engagement with the world and opening up to his friends, the other main arc of the first season was Toby remembering his past. We learned quite early that Toby believed his mother was dead, and that his memories of his early childhood were quite shaky. By the time the season finale was done, he had made numerous discoveries, including the fact that his mother was alive and that people were after them both because of their gift.
Acting and story wise, things were solid with this show. Not as strong as they could have been … there is room for improvement. I’m really hoping that CTV will greenlight a second season.
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