Everything about 21 Thunder, eh?

21 Thunder: Fixed

I knew, prior to 21 Thunder‘s debut, there would be a lot of action on the soccer pitch as well as off. I envisioned the sexy times between players and girlfriends (and perhaps fans), a little painkiller addiction and coaching scuffles thrown in for good measure.

But 21 Thunder has been so much more than that. It’s a complex interweaving of stories where some are kind of what I expected. Others have been a total shock, like Guy, the thrice-mortgaged referee who, at the beginning of Monday’s new episode “Fixed,” opened his front door to reveal an envelope full of cash on his stoop. The story, involving Thunder’s team intern Lara Yun, was a total departure from my expectations for 21 Thunder. I watch a lot of television, and I didn’t see the angle coming.

I chuckled when I tuned to the debut episode and was presented with Nolan’s gang member past. At the time it seemed cheesy and over-the-top, an unnecessary character trait added to a guy that seemed engaging enough. I was wrong about that too; that backstory was integral to what’s quickly turned out to be one hell of a back and forth between Nolan and Declan. Colm Feore is a damned national treasure and can do nothing wrong in my book, but RJ Fetherstonhaugh has been a revelation in the scenes he shares with Feore as son and father attempt to outwit the other in their prison visits.

This week’s scene at the prison between Declan and Nolan was particularly good. With Emma there to meet Declan, Nolan’s papa took the time to reminisce on his son’s childhood, connecting her with the elder Gallard and infuriating the younger one because of the guilt he feels over his mother’s death.

The drama hasn’t strayed too far from the pitch, however. “Fixed,” featured the Thunder matched up against the worst team in the league. Coach Rocas explained that meant the Vancouver team would be playing loose and with nothing to lose: a dangerous combination. Adding to the tension? The first-team coach was in attendance looking to poach talent. The match didn’t start out well; it appeared Guy was living up to the bribe when he nailed goalie Alex on a little-known—and almost never called—penalty. That, of course, lead to a Vancouver goal and a 3-0 hole by halftime. After Rocas and Nolan were tossed, it left Davey Gunn running the show. And, with some major help from Christy and Junior Lolo, it seemed the Thunder would win. Until that is, Guy blew the whistle ending game play just as Junior was closing in for this game-tying goal. Lara may have said this was a one and done game, but having $75,000 sitting in front of you is a sufficient enticement to keep the payoffs coming, especially with a desperate K pulling Declan into the whole mess.

The loss didn’t sit well with Christy, and she was going over game tape when a drunk Davey showed up at her home. He was looking for a roll in the hay but Christy’s mom had other plans: whiskey. Christy appreciated Davey tossing back booze and talking soccer with her mom; her mouth may have told him their night together was a one-time thing but her eyes were saying something else. (I wish more time was spent showing Davey and Mom getting drunk.) Christy followed up with Ana, expressing her concerns about Guy’s refereeing. Ana dismissed the allegations and doled out some advice: Christy needed to be more “active with the brand on social media.”

Finally, we got a little more insight into Junior’s brother, Gregoire. According to Mr. Bamba, he is “a very bad man.” At least, that’s what he told Fatima when she confronted Bamba and accused him of defrauding Junior of the $10,000. Turns out Bamba did find Gregoire and was the worse for it. He handed back the remaining $500 of that cash and told Fatima he was washing his hands of the whole thing.

I said off the top how pleasantly surprised I’ve been with 21 Thunder‘s first season. The writing is taut and the characters are anything but cookie-cutter; 21 Thunder has turned into my sleeper hit of the summer.

21 Thunder airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.





21 Thunder: Freefalling

Freefalling: (verb) moving downward under the force of gravity only; fall rapidly.

This begs the question: who will survive the fall?

Last week on 21 Thunder, we were left wondering the purpose behind Nolan’s (RJ Fetherstonhaugh) prison visit to his father Declan (Colm Feore). We didn’t have to wait long to find out, but more on that in a moment.

This week, the team ventured into the world of public relations, having donated time to the “Concordia Open Door Festival,” a.k.a. the Concordia Fall Festival? Team members were required to engage with their young fans, signing autographs and assistant coaches Christy Cook (Stephanie Bennett) and Davey Gunn (Ryan Pierce) dove into the action, each leading a team of youngsters in an exhibition soccer match. Going deep, sparks flew both on and off the pitch with these two on screen.

In other news, it seems Mr. Bamba (Clauter Alexandre) did indeed defraud Junior Lolo (Emmanuel Kabongo) of all his money. And I think it is reasonable to assume that Mr. Bamba may still believe Junior is an easy mark. The introduction to Fatima Gossa (Gabrielle Graham) seemed innocent enough, kicking the soccer ball at Junior; it led to small chat, junk food and a bit of dancing later. But by the episode’s end, we saw her willingly(?) getting into a car with none other than Mr. Bamba. And so did Junior.

We also learned Stefan (Kevin Claydon) has fallen hard in his affair with team physiotherapist Marie Tremblay (Kimberly Laferriere), who happens to also be the fiancée of first team star Damien Lacroix (Lucas Chartier-Dessert).

Then we watched team intern Lara Yun (Eileen Yi) delve deeper into the world of illegal sports betting, convincing referee Guy Desjardins (Trevor Hayes) to toss a game in order to pay off three outstanding mortgages. And finally, team captain Alex (Andres Joseph) was accepted to Cornell. All in all, a busy episode, even without the Nolan/”Special K” action.

And that brings us to Nolan and Kevin, and of course, Declan. The cold open saw Nolan feigning sickness and ditching both practice and the team meeting. Knowing “Special K” (Kyle Mac) was upset about his missing drugs, Nolan made himself accessible to K and his crew. No doubt as planned, their meeting went south quickly for K as an unknown party pulled up in a big shiny black Escalade whose driver “encouraged” K to go for a ride. Turns out Kevin was summoned to the prison where his boss, John Mangano Jr. (Bruce Ramsay), was waiting in the conjugal visit trailer. Unbeknownst to K, Mr. Mangano had sold his substantial debt to none other than Declan Gallard. Seems Kevin is now in the employ of both Declan and Nolan, with Declan summarily ordering K to leave “Nolan alone and let him play footie.”

Nolan later made his own way to the prison, albeit voluntarily, for a status report from his mob boss father. Seems there was a significant price for his little transgression with K? And daddy wanted him to pay with weekly visits. I smell a lying, dirty stinky rat.

Following all of the festival sequences, we closed out the episode in celebration of Emma’s (Clark Backo) acceptance to medical school.  But who decided to crash the celebrations? Kevin. Clearly, he has no intention of following Declan’s orders when it comes to his buddy Nolan, but Nolan proved he still has his gangland moves. Trouble is, how much of that former life is going to spill into his new life as a footballer? We know it already is, as evidenced by tonight’s closing shot!

My Laugh-Out-Loud moment: coach Rocas (Conrad Pla) asked assistant coach Davey Gunn if he is sleeping with  assistant coach Christy Cook—before they did sleep together, and after a very, pregnant pause Davey replied: “I honestly can’t remember.” OH MY WORD, these faces! (Admittedly, the humour was lost when I crawled back and replayed this four-second scene more than 10 times to get the captures I wanted, but the first time I watched it I LOL’ed)

So we are once again left with several questions for next week:

1. Will Declan ask Nolan to get involved with some of his more nefarious goings on? And how is Kevin going to figure into those activities?

2. How is Fatima going to play out in the Junior/Mr. Mamba storyline? Is she a bad girl playing good, or a good girl in a jam?

3. Will Guy go through with it and throw a match for Lara, and will it affect her position as team intern or medical school?

4. How will Christy and Davey’s new status affect the team? Or will it? Or, is it even a status?

I loved this tightly-scripted episode. At first, I was not truly feeling the Thunder Love, however, this episode won me over. The chemistry between the actors is superb! Subtle glances, body language; it all works. Overall the writing is strong, and I for one am curious to see how the stories play out. Bravo #TeamThunder.

21 Thunder airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC. (Missed an episode? You can catch up here!)

21 Thunder: Road Game

When last we met, Montreal Thunder U-21 was basking in the glory of their first home game of the new season thanks to a last-minute goal by James Tran (Jonathan Kim).

This week’s episode of 21 Thunder saw the team preparing for their first road trip to Philadelphia.

Former gang member turned pro soccer player, Nolan Gallard (RJ Fetherstonhaugh), had several hoops to jump through this episode. Having reconnected last week with his gang brother “Special K” (Kyle Mac), this week K called in past debts. He asked Nolan to mule 50k of ecstasy from a drop point he would arrange in Philadelphia. Nolan, knowing all he stood to lose, tried to back out, and deliberately lost his spot on the trip. However, using the video they captured from last week’s deal gone bad, K’s boys made it crystal clear that not going was not an option for Nolan. Nolan turned to Coach Rocas (Conrad Pla) and appealed to his “kinder and gentler” side, earning himself a second chance. Rocas’ decision proved beneficial to the team as Nolan scored the game-winning goal on the road trip. Just before returning to Montreal, Nolan took the drop but obviously had a change of heart; Nolan got smart! But how is he going to avoid K and his boys now?

Meanwhile, Christy (Stephanie Bennett)—Thunder’s first female coach—was still having trouble balancing the pressures in her life. Her brother Peter (Chris Cavener), has taken full advantage of Christy’s presence and abdicated all but the bare minimum of responsibility for their difficult mother’s care. The severity of Grace Cook’s (Susan Bain) condition was driven home with her disappearance when Christy was late to take over supervision from her brother. In her effort to care for her, Christy missed the team bus to Philadelphia and needed to find her own way to the match. Once there, Christy again butted heads with Rocas and earned herself a ban from the bench.

We also learned more about new midfielder, Ivory Coast’s Junior Lolo (Emmanuel Kabongo) and his back story. Having secured a life in Montreal for himself and his younger brother, Sly (Thamela Mpumlwana), Junior contracted an agent Joseph Bamba (Clauter Alexandre) to find their other missing brother. Spotting an easy mark, the agent coerced an extra five grand out of Junior to speed up the job. Was it me or does it look like little brother Sly is on to Mr. Bamba? Junior also began to carve out a niche for himself, wagering—and winning—a hilltop run up Mont Royal against team veteran Stefan Arnaud (Kevin Claydon). Whether this proves a healthy competition, we have yet to see.

As well, this week saw the introduction of team physiotherapist/med student Lara Yun (Eileen Yi, Kim’s Convenience) and the underground world of booking. Lacking sufficient funds, and having been cut off by her father, she begins to learn her way around game fixing and international sports betting courtesy of Zhen (Anthony Shim) and her insider knowledge of the team.

We closed the episode just as Nolan finally arrived to pay a visit to his incarcerated father, Declan Gallard (Colm Feore), but we are left to wonder if Nolan is asking for his father’s assistance with “Special K.”

I have to admit, I am disappointed with how little Feore has been used thus far. Yes, it is only Episode 2, but clearly he is one of the most recognized actors on the program and we have seen next to nothing from him. I truly hope this is merely a device to build suspense and we actually get to see more than these stoic glares in weeks to come.

Despite the couple of  weaknesses I mentioned, this was overall a great episode. The story lines are moving forward at a nice clip and we are gradually learning more about additional characters.  Notwithstanding the varied storylines, I am finding most of them believable in this urban setting, and I am enjoying how they are twisting upon each other as they unfold.  I especially love what Kyle Mac is bringing to the role of “Special K” and I am looking forward to seeing how team leader Alex el Haddadi’s (Andres Joseph) thread will take shape.

What are your thoughts on the episode? Leave your comments below.

21 Thunder airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.



Links: 21 Thunder

From James Bawden:

Link: CBC-TV’s 21 Thunder Is Promising
In ye olden days–say about a decade or so ago–every major TV network would sport summer series worth watching. So three cheers to CBC-TV for trying to revive that tradition with the Montreal made 21 Thunder. which premieres Monday night at 9 on CBC-TV. Continue reading. 

From Victoria Nelli of The TV Junkies:

Link: 21 Thunder: Stephanie Bennett talks her important new role
“I knew that this was a role I wanted to play and a project I wanted to be a part of from the first audition. The scenes were exciting, the writing was gritty and real, and I felt a connection to the role of Christy right away. Christy is a very driven character who has worked extremely hard to get to where she is.” Continue reading.

From Brendan Kelly of the Montreal Gazette:

Link: 21 Thunder is not only about soccer and much of drama is off the field
“We were committed to shooting Montreal as Montreal and I have to tell you that without exception, the international buyers bought the idea that it was the perfect backdrop for an international story about soccer. (Montreal) has that international appeal and that cosmopolitan flavour. So we tried to build on that to sell the character of Montreal as a character in the drama.” Continue reading. 


21 Thunder: Diversity

A “show about soccer,” they say. “Lots of sex and violence,” they say. OK, it is summertime and not much is going on. I will check it out. Admittedly, I know next to nothing about the game. I never played it in my youth. My kids never played soccer either; hockey and basketball were their choices. A lack of soccer in your life is fine because unless things change, the premiere episode of 21 Thunder on CBC actually showed much less soccer than it did the lives of the players involved with the franchise.

And this just may work. With the influx of new Canadians, and the popularity of players like Messi, Neymar and Agüero, soccer is gaining a strong foothold in the public’s consciousness—particularly our youth—and so what better foil to tell the story of diverse backgrounds than a football pitch? Toss in storylines that appeal to millennials, and we have 21 Thunder. CBC’s newest drama explores the diversity that is so prevalent in urban Canada through the storytelling of co-creators Riley Adams (Flashpoint), Kenneth Hirsch, and Adrian Wills.

The opening scenes in the premiere episode of CBC’s 21 Thunder  welcomed viewers to the Thunder family and introduce viewers to Christy Cook (Stephanie Bennett, The Romeo Section) turned coach, unwanted and ignored by the coaching staff but nonetheless slotted into the coaching team by upper management; Davey Gunn (Ryan Pierce/Ryan O’Leary, a former professional Scottish footballer) a soccer superstar on the run from his past; former gang member Nolan Gallard (RJ Fetherstonhaugh, Wayward Pines) struggling to resist his wayward habits of youth; Ivory Coast midfielder Junior Lolo (Emmanuel Kabongo, Hemlock Grove); and team captain, goalie and academic prodigy Alex el Haddadi (Andres Joseph, The Flash) who all play under the leadership of head coach  Albert Rocas (Conrad Pla, 19-2). They’re all part of the struggling U-21 Montreal Thunder soccer franchise. Yes, there are big egos here, but you just know that with hubris comes gigantic falls and that spells drama!

Following the introductions—as much backstory as you can cram into 15 mins—the pace quickened the moment Nolan ran into a former friend/gang member from his youth: “Special K” (Kyle Mac). The call of Nolan’s past rang deep and with barely a second thought he jumped headlong back into his criminal ways. Nolan followed Special K and the rest of the Point Soldiers as they tried to recoup their losses from a drug deal gone bad. The gig quickly went sideways and ended in bloodshed. Nolan narrowly escaped capture by the police—good thing he is such a fine soccer player! However, the Point Soldiers have Nolan’s participation recorded on video, and “K” found Nolan’s missing medallion which was lost at the scene of the crime. Seems our pretty boy Nolan has a whole lot of ugly coming down!

And just in case you didn’t think Nolan had enough going against him in this opening episode, we learned about his father, Declan Gallard (Colm Feore, whom I had the privilege to see play Romeo at Stratford in 1984!) currently serving time at the same facility where “Special K” served out his sentence. I suppose we have to wait to learn how far-reaching Declan’s past will interfere with his son’s future. Or in a twist, will Declan’s connections be what saves Nolan from his impulsiveness? In any case, Nolan’s play on the pitch was affected by his extra curriculars and the coaching staff took notice.

Other questions that remain as we await next week’s episode: how will Christy and her brother, Peter (Chris Cavener), manage to care for their ailing mother, and how will that affect Christy’s coaching responsibilities? How are Junior Lolo (Emmanuel Kabongo) and his younger brother coping as they adjust to life in Montreal? And how is Assistant Coach Davey Gunn going to influence all of the various players on the team as the season plays out?

Overall, I found this episode visually appealing, looking more akin to the productions we see coming from BBC. I was also reminded of the cult-favourite Dream Team, which appeared in the late 90s to 2006 on SKY; the football drama featured an underage team in the English Premiership, chockablock with crazy storylines, lots of sex and gratuitous violence. It remains to be seen if 21 Thunder intends to follow that same path, or if it will generate the same fan following that Dream Team did two decades ago.

A couple of little things did niggle at me. Coach Cook’s little “header hack” was a bit too amateur for pro soccer, and actor RJ Fetherstonaugh is just too pretty and clean to portray a former gang member—yes, I know, I am falling for the archetypes here. Both were distractions for me as I watched. However, those aside, I am very curious to see how the show evolves and I am quite interested to see how both newcomer Pierce and veteran Feore’s characters develop through the season.

What were your initial thoughts following tonight’s premiere? Let me know in the comments below!

21 Thunder airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.