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Preview: CBC’s excellent The Detectives recalls more crimes from Canada’s past

When Season 2 of The Detectives was greenlit by CBC, I was thrilled twofold.

Not because I was celebrating the deaths of human beings but because the true crime documentary series spotlights the law enforcement officers who refuse to give up on a case no matter how long it remains unsolved. I was equally excited because the project—returning Thursday at 9 p.m. on CBC—boasts an extensive stable of Canadian actors embodying the roles. Where Season 1 featured the likes of Jewel Staite, Eric Johnson, Hugh Dillon, Aidan Devine, Mylène Dinh-Robic, Marianne Farley, Mark Ghanimé, Tiio Horn, Michael Ironside, Daniel Kash, Lochlan Munro and Ron Lea, Season 2 aims for the same lofty heights with Maxim Roy, Janet Kidder, Michael Shanks, David James Elliott, Gil Bellows and—in Thursday’s return—Currie Graham.

Graham plays Greg Brown, an Ottawa detective who was called to the scene of a homicide in 2005. Like most nights, 18-year-old Jennifer Teague took the 10-minute walk home from her late shift at work in Barrhaven, Ont. But this time, she never made it there. As the missing person case turns into a homicide, Det. Brown chases down one promising lead after another until he’s left with nothing but the knowledge that the killer is a local.

Produced by Petro Duszara, Scott Bailey, Jennifer Gatien, Hans Rosenstein and Debbie Travis—yes, that Debbie Travis—The Detectives is head and shoulders above other true crime series because it includes the actual detectives telling their stories to the producers. This awful stuff really happened and affected the investigators for the rest of their lives. Throw in excellent recreations of the events as they unfolded, real news report footage and pictures of the victims and The Detectives is don’t miss television.

The Detectives airs Thursdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.

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Preview: Baroness von Sketch Show deals more hilarity in Season 3

Hot on the heels of Baroness von Sketch Show‘s well-deserved Canadian Screen Award wins and continued kudos from American attention thanks to IFC picking the program up, the funny Canadian ladies are back for Season 3 on Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Once again, writers, stars and executive producers Carolyn Taylor, Meredith MacNeill, Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen simply nail it with hilarious characters and dead-funny views in sketches both timely and evergreen. While some Canadian periodicals write lazy columns decrying a lack of funny at the CBC, I say the network has never been stronger because of Baroness, Still Standing, Schitt’s Creek, Mr. D and Kim’s Convenience. (The jury is still out on 22 Minutes, thanks to behind the scenes shakeups.)

The return episode, “Is that you Karen?” bursts out of the gate with immediate laughs, as two ladies who haven’t seen each other in 20 years reconnect in the oddest and most ludicrous of ways. And that’s before the revamped opening credits roll. Then, in the rat-a-tat roll out of sketches, viewers get reflections on the rites of spring (with three of the four ladies dressed as dudes), the dangers of accepting a ride home from a co-worker, rogue cops and what could happen when the barista gets the name wrong on your coffee cup.

Whenever I speak to folks about the television shows Baroness von Sketch almost always comes up. There’s a reason for that. With tight writing, stellar performances (MacNeill’s over-the-top physical comedy is a standout) and truly relatable topics, the baronesses are hitting a comedy home run every week.

Baroness von Sketch Show airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

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Preview: Jonny Harris showcases more Canadian communities in Still Standing

At long last, Jonny Harris and Still Standing are back on our television screens. In a bit of a shakeup, the programming folks moved Still Standing—and its Tuesday night partner Baroness Von Sketch Show—from summer until fall. That gives folks of Harris a double dose of the baby-faced comedian in this and his long-running gig on Murdoch Mysteries.

In the Season 4 return, Harris arrives in Tignish, PEI, a small community to—as is the series formula—showcase the place, the people, the struggles they’re enduring and then celebrate them through laughs and anecdotes. It’s a formula that works by playing to Harris’ strengths as a storyteller and wry observationalist. Still Standing isn’t a “woe is me” tale but one of making the best of things and/or striving to make them better.

That’s certainly the case in Tignish, located on the western tip of the province. Far away from the Confederation Bridge and Anne of Green Gables is this group of just over 700 citizens. The area, it turns out, was a favourite stomping ground for Stompin’ Tom Connors. The legendary singer-songwriter even wrote of the area in his tune “The Song of the Irish Moss.” The moss industry may have long gone, but the memory remains in that song and hoping to cash in on that Tignish built the Stompin’ Tom Centre. The facility, in addition to including Connors’ boyhood home and the one-room schoolhouse he attended, houses a concert hall where his gold and platinum records, guitar and hat and boots are on display.

Also keeping Tignish on the map is, of course, the lobster industry, which Harris gets an education on, and the life of dew worms. Both make it into his stand-up act and are very, very funny.

Upcoming locations on Harris’ journeys include Carcross, Yukon; Rogersville, Nova Scotia; Fraser Lake, British Columbia; Cobalt, Ontario; and New Denmark, New Brunswick.

Still Standing airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.

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Comments and queries for the week of September 14

I welcome [the Street Legal] sequel to the original series. Admittedly, I was a young kid when my mom watched it back in the day so I only remember bits and pieces about it but I’m glad they are doing this as a sequel series rather than a reboot. I hate reboots and find the idea of a reboot lazy. Charmed, for instance, could have done much better as a sequel than a reboot. —Alicia

My wife and I were 37 and 32, our son was 10 in 1987 when the original Street Legal with its dynamite theme music showcasing Toronto and iconic CN Tower, the dynamic cast and crew and the fantastic episodes blasted onto TV sets in Canada, wowing Canadian viewers like never before. The 1980s were exciting times for Canada in many ways including Canadian TV shows. —Steve


It was an epic finish to the end [to The Amazing Race Canada]. Any of the three teams could have won. I wished CTV had an after show wrap-up like they did in the previous seasons. It would have been nice to see all the teams who competed all together. —Donna

I am so happy for Courtney and Adam. They overcame obstacles and having fans say they did not deserve to be in the finale. They sure did. I picked them to win right from the start. They saved the best till last. I am so proud of them and they deserve the win. Congratulations Courtney and Adam. —Debbie

A decent finale and quite an upset for the underdogs to take it all. Congratulations. Also, Canada’s first co-ed team to win. The airport calling was a good mental task. The dog/skiing task didn’t seem hard but had some good scenery and that epic face plant-flip of Taylor’s. I liked the tension of shopping for the memory task rather than just a typical puzzle. I particularly enjoyed the journey to the Mat at the end rather than just having it right next to the memory task. A decent finale and an OK season. Still, the overall sameness of the locations/tasks/casting archetypes does prevent it from being as great as it could be. No After the Race this year? I hope that’s not a bad sign. —DanAmazing

Got a question or comment about Canadian TV? Email greg.david@tv-eh.com or via Twitter @tv_eh.

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Preview: The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco

When ITV’s The Bletchley Circle premiered in the UK in 2012, it was a clever spin on a British specialty: the period whodunit.

Instead of Sherlock or Father Brown or Detective Foyle outsmarting murderers and villains, we had four female cryptographers who used to work at Bletchley Park. Feeling bored and boxed in by their post-Second World War lives, the women dusted off their code-breaking skills to outwit a London serial killer. Along the way, they also had to outplay many of the men around them—including homicide detectives and their own husbands—who were prevented by secrecy laws from knowing what they did during the war and wanted them to simply go back to who and what they were before the bombs started falling.

Many of those qualities are still present in the new eight-episode, four-mystery spinoff series, The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, which premieres on Friday, Sept. 14, at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv. However, a change of location and some intriguing new characters shake it up enough to make it feel fresh and worthwhile. Set in 1956, three years after the original series ended, sleuthing codebreakers Millie (Rachael Stirling) and Jean (Julie Graham) set off for the Bay Area to investigate a death that has shocking similarities to the murder of a young Bletchley Park colleague in 1942. Once there, they meet up with former American servicemembers Iris (Crystal Balint) and Hailey (Chanelle Peloso) and convince them to help track down who’s responsible for the killings.

Like the women in the original series, Iris and Hailey have struggled to find satisfaction in the post-war era. Jazz pianist and former codebreaker Iris now works in obscurity as a research assistant at Berkeley, while former weapons designer Hailey is desperate to find a new outlet for her mechanical genius. In learning about their lives, viewers also get a look at some of the social issues percolating in 1950s San Francisco. For instance, the first episode, “Presidio”— written by former Bitten executive producer Daegan Fryklind—gives viewers a taste of the historic Fillmore District, an area known both for its bustling jazz scene and for being targeted by various gentrification efforts. In an early scene, Iris’ son sets off to protest a plan to drive African Americans from the neighbourhood, and later, Iris’ former Presidio colleague laments that her Japenese American family was also driven out of the area.

Iris, in particular, breathes new life into the codebreaker conceit of the show, giving viewers a peek into the little-known history of black women in the Signal Intelligence Service. On that front, Calgary-native Balint gives a strong performance as a woman who has much to lose by going along with a couple of Brits who show up in her jazz club one night. Meanwhile, Vancouver-born Peloso is irresistibly plucky as eager go-getter Hailey. And what more can you say about Stirling and Graham? They were great in the first series and they’re great here. Graham is particularly good in a London-set scene where she learns her age and gender mitigate her smarts in the eyes of a young Foreign Service Office agent.

Speaking of London—and of San Francisco, for that matter—this series wasn’t produced in either location. It was filmed in Vancouver. However, there are enough shots of trolleys and Victorian houses to give it a convincing Northern California feel. There’s also a splash more colour and light in the production design when compared to its UK predecessor, highlighting both the change in climate and the contrasting post-war conditions of bomb-riddled London and unscathed San Fransisco.

As for the wisdom of transplanting a British show into an American setting and then shooting it in Canada, showrunner and executive producer Michael MacLennan points out that Canadians are “uniquely qualified” to act as translators of British and American sensibilities. And based on the screeners, he appears to be right. Produced by Omnifilm Entertainment in association with BritBox and World Productions, who made the original, the series retains its British pedigree while shining a light on some infrequently explored—and still painfully relevant—American stories. And it offers up some solid mysteries and compelling female camaraderie along the way.

The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Omnifilm

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