Tag Archives: CBC

CBC’s Ascension stylish, twisty sci-fi mini rockets into primetime

A young woman is murdered, shot aboard a spaceship were no weapons of any kind are allowed. How is was possible and who did it are just two questions posed in Ascension, debuting Monday on CBC.

A co-production between Syfy and CBC, the six-parter is a unique blend of retro science fiction meshed with the classic locked door whodunnit. Viewers are quickly brought up-to-date with the premise of the series, a century-long space mission to find a new world for the human race. Launched over 50 years ago by President John F. Kennedy at the height of Cold War tensions, Ascension the series (it’s also the name of the ship) catches up with the grandchildren of those who first stepped onto the vehicle and launched into space.

Among those aboard are Captain William Denninger (Brian Holt, Cougar Town), Dr. Juliet Bryce (Andrea Roth, Rescue Me), chief steward Viondra Denninger (Tricia Helfer, Battlestar Galactica) and Harris Enzmann (Gil Bellows, Ally McBeal), the son of the man who created the Ascension project.

“When I got this script, it was original and substantive in a way that I felt would not only be a great idea to launch a show but sustain itself for a very long time,” Bellows says. “I love the character that I get to play.” That character, Harris, is driven to continue the work his father started on Ascension at whatever cost; at one point, Harris uses the word “god” to describe what he’s doing.

The investigation into the death of Lorelai (Amanda Thomson, Totally Amp’d), found dead on the ship’s fake beach, is met with confusion. Guns aren’t allowed on board, so where did it come from? And how did the killer enter the beach area and elude being captured on any of the security cameras trained on that part of the ship? It doesn’t take long for several suspects to come under the scrutiny of Denninger and his officers. Those characters are as colourful as the setting they’re placed in; because Ascension was launched in 1963 all of the clothing, furniture and other stylings have remained unchanged and serve as a visual contrast to the washed-out greys and blues that make up Harris’ earthly storyline.

A major plot point early on in the mini-series raises a ton of questions, and Bellows couldn’t be happier a show like Ascension is willing to go in a bold storytelling direction, especially on a network like CBC.

“Quality is important, originality is important and provocative ideas are important to share,” he says. “Not everything needs to be folksy and appropriate.”

Ascension airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

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Review: Mr. D hits a home run with Roberto Alomar

When Mr. D executive producer Mike Volpe told me a few weeks ago that Baseball Hall of Famer—and former Toronto Blue Jays second baseman—Roberto Alomar would be guest-starring this season, I was giddy.

How would he be worked into the storyline, written by my former classmate, Anita Kapila? Would it be baseball-related? Would it involve Gerry knowing Alomar somehow or at least acting like he knew him?

In an interesting twist in “President Jimmy,” Alomar didn’t even appear on-screen with Mr. D at all. Instead, he was part of a secondary storyline involving Robert, Trudy and Malik. See, every year during Xavier’s student council elections, someone plasters the school with posters with Alomar for President emblazoned on them. Fed up, Robert banned all Alomar posters and pins from the premises. And still they magically appeared. The way the storyline rolled out, it was assumed Trudy was behind the whole thing, until the episode’s closing minutes when Alomar appeared on-screen, helping Malik post more election signs.

“I just retired, and I get bored. So I drop by the schools and I mess around,” Alomar said to the camera. (Alomar’s acting skills from those McCain fruit punch commercials paid off.)

It should be noted that Mr. D‘s filming style changed for “President Jimmy,” with cameras capturing the action like a mockumentary. It made for several funny moments (like Alomar’s admission), especially when it came to scenes involving Jimmy, Mr. D, Lisa and new librarian Miss Terdie (Kathleen Phillips, Sunnyside). With the elections in full swing, Lisa’s class project was to record the process for posterity and they captured democracy in all its glory. Like Mr. D convincing Jimmy to run for president because Gerry didn’t want Natalie to three-peat as president.

The best part of the instalment for me—aside from Alomar—was footage of the ongoing feud between Lisa and Miss Terdie. Both ladies have their quirks—the former neatness and cleanliness and the latter a deep love for books and their fair treatment—so when Lisa didn’t put books she’d pulled off the shelf on Terdie’s “To be shelved” cart, it was war. Terdie drew a caricature of Lisa on her classroom board, titled it “Demon Mason” and removed the erasers from the class so Lisa couldn’t eliminate it.

I miss Mr. Leung, but Miss Terdie promises to be a memorable character as well. Especially if her feud with Lisa continues.

Notes and quotes

  • How many teachers use Wikipedia as their source material? I’m hoping not many.
  • “He’s a Golden Glove-wearing baseball slugger.” I love Robert’s sport savvy

Mr. D airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on CBC.

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Review: “Broken Heartland”

“Broken Heartland” certainly lived up to its episode title, as the growing tension between Lou and Peter finally reached an explosive head. Heartland is never afraid to shy away from the drama in it’s family drama description, but even I was a little shocked by how loud their argument was following an increasingly cringeworthy family lunch.

As with most fights between couples, a re-hash of previous mistakes were dragged out into the open: Peter’s failure in Dubai and him insisting on working in Vancouver, Lou buying a house and getting a specialist for Katie without his consent. As Lou rightly pointed out, they’d both made errors. But suggesting he had someone on the side in Van-city seemed like a bit of a stretch, especially for Heartland. How many die-hard fans would be devastated if Peter and Lou’s marriage ended in divorce because he was messing around? Still, it could happen. As an aside, I agreed with Peter when he retorted that he and Lou couldn’t even get enough privacy to have a fight. Although, with all of that land around them, perhaps going out into a nearby field would have been a good idea.

By episode’s end, Lou was jetting to Vancouver to talk to Peter about the state of their marriage. I’m hoping Heartland‘s writers simply have him be happily surprised by her arrival rather than have a nasty shock awaiting Lou when she lands. (Of course, Heartland is on hiatus next week, so we’ll have to wait.)

Like Lou and Peter, Amy and Ty were finding it tough to score some alone time too. The pair were headed off to Montana for a couple of days but had that dashed when an impromptu horse ride resulted in the truck stolen by a hitchhiker. (WHY would Ty put the keys in the sun visor???? He’s got pockets!!! Why would they leave their cell phones in the truck?? What if something had happened??) Luckily for them, Brooke the hitchhiker didn’t get far; they caught up to her when the truck suffered a flat front tire. But rather than report Brooke to the police, they gave her a ride, and it was on that trip—and hearing of Brooke’s relationship struggles with her mom—that Ty realized that, off the wagon or not, his own mother deserved to be invited to he and Amy’s wedding.

Ty’s decision was a mature one, and I was impressed he came to it. I still think that he and Amy are going to elope—maybe with Brooke singing to them under that tree—but offering an olive branch to his mom was still nice.

Notes and quotes

  • I think Katie’s got the right idea; a cupcake tree would be awesome
  • “Your daughter thinks you live in an airplane.” I know this was supposed to be serious, but I laughed out loud at Lou’s line
  • “I’m never gonna live this down!” Luckily for Ty, Tim likely won’t find out about Brooke stealing the truck
  • Georgie and Jade provided much-needed levity on Sunday, first at the vet clinic and then when Georgie finally asked Steven to the Sadie Hawkins dance
  • Where’s Tim?!?

Heartland airs Sundays at 7 p.m. on CBC.

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Interview: Murdoch Mysteries focuses on murderous fashion

Michelle Ricci calls her writing career on Murdoch Mysteries serendipitous, and one can’t help but agree.

It wasn’t long ago that the Toronto native was living in Los Angeles with her boyfriend—writer, producer, filmmaker and military advisor Mir Bahmanyar—when he called her over to the TV. Murdoch Mysteries was on the tube and she quickly became hooked. Unable to work in the U.S., she sat and read scripts and thought she could write better stuff. She enrolled in the Canadian Film Centre‘s Prime Time TV Program on a whim and jetted to Toronto to participate in the course with executive producer in residence Peter Mitchell, who the following year became the showrunner on Murdoch Mysteries.

The rest is, as they say, history. Ricci is now a co-producer on CBC’s Monday night drama, and has written some of the program’s more risqué scenes, including mysteries involving nudist colonies, the beach and this week’s caper regarding a killer corset and an intimate moment between Miss Moss and Dr. Grace. If you want Victorian scandal, call on Ricci.

How did the idea for a killer corset come about?
Michelle Ricci: The world came from an article that I read about corset manufacturing in Toronto. I brought it into the writer’s room and said, “Here’s a world that we haven’t explored. What’s more Victorian than the corset?” We all thought that would be a unique thing to get into. I don’t remember who came up with the idea of the killer corset. It wasn’t me. That just seemed like a such a perfect, Murdoch-ian way to kill someone that we went with it.

We’re still grappling with what is considered beautiful, aren’t we?
Very true. Especially at that time, women were not considered functional beings. They were decorative, which is hilarious because women of the lower classes had to work just as hard as the men did. The fashion had nothing to do with what women had to do every day. I found out a lot of interesting stuff about corsets while I was researching. They were very affordable up to very expensive, depending on the materials used. Every single woman wore a corset, no matter what her social status was and I wasn’t expecting that. It was a mandatory element of dress.

I was on-set during the filming of this episode [check out some rehearsal footage below], and someone joked that your scripts always end up having people in some state of undress. The nudist camp episode, this one …. is it true?
That’s so funny. I have never thought about that before but I guess it’s true. I also did Loch Ness where they were all in bathing suits. Maybe part of it is just a new way to explore the era and the kind of things we don’t get to see all the time. The bathing suits were cool because they’re hilarious. The nudist thing was interesting because it was happening at the time and it’s something that you would not consider from that time period. And for this … I don’t think I went into this thinking that Ogden would get down to her skivvies, but it just seemed like a perfect way to go.

I know that Hélène Joy broke her arm in real life right around when this episode was shot. Was her character’s injury added to the story so that a cast could be shown on her arm?
The injury was written into the script from the very beginning, the only part that changed was her actually breaking her arm in the scene. The whole corset almost squeezing her to death was always in the script. It just turned out to be the perfect plot for her to break her arm so that we could use it in the next episode. She broke it during “Temple of Death” and was broken during “All That Glitters,” but it was covered up. They did an excellent job of covering it up.

The scene between Miss Moss and Dr. Grace was pretty intimate for Murdoch Mysteries. Are you expecting any kind of blowback from the fans? Did the CBC ask you to tone anything down?
Not this time. Everyone was comfortable with our level of boundary-pushing at this stage. Even though it’s edgy for Murdoch, it’s still within the boundaries. It’s still just a suggestion.

What is your writing routine? Do you like to write episodes in the room with everyone there, or do you like to go off by yourself?
I’m actually all over the place. It depends on my mental state on any given day. I do need quiet, so being in the room is great in some ways and not so great in others. [Laughs.] If I have to write a script and we’re in the office I may take a day off to write at home or I’ll go off somewhere else to write, otherwise I’m not getting anything done. If we’re not at that stage, I might go to the library or the coffee shop or stay in bed. I’m all over the place.

I can’t pin down a routine. I live in anger and frustration. It’s horrible. I’m a horrible person to be around.

Let’s talk about the Canadian Film Centre. What has it meant to your career? I’m assuming everything.
Everything. If I hadn’t met Pete … I was at the CFC and was telling everyone how much I loved the show. I was really annoying. Pete told Paul Aitken I was a fan and passed him a sample of mine to read having no idea if they were even hiring. Then Pete ended up getting the job as the showrunner the following season and because I hadn’t shut up about how much I loved the show, he hired me on. I don’t know how I managed to get so lucky in such a short period of time.

Are you at the point where you’re pitching your own ideas for shows?
Yes and no. Yes, my agent would love me to be. No, I just haven’t had the time. This season in particular has been very busy for me.

What’s the best part of the job?
I love the research because we’re researching something different and unique and it’s Toronto history and I’m from here. I find out things that I grew up around that I didn’t know about. I joke that when I walk around the city I know more about Toronto in the early 1900s than I know about the city now.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

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Preview: Mr. D returns with more awkwardness

New season, same old Gerry Duncan. At the end of Season 3, it appeared Xavier Academy had lost its history teacher. After all, Gerry’s dream job was to teach pays. ed., a gig offered to him by St. Pat’s. But in the season finale’s closing moments he returned to Xavier a self-proclaimed victor.

The move apparently paid off, but not without the typical Mr. D twist. The CBC sitcom returns Tuesday night paired with Schitt’s Creek, the newbie project that garnered record ratings in its double-dose debut last week. But where Schitt’s Creek is more of a traditional sitcom, Mr. D is the new wave, a series that relishes in the awkward moments … and milks them for all they’re worth. It doesn’t take long for cringeworthy stuff to start happening in “Mafia Dad” though it all starts promisingly enough.

Principal Callaghan informs Gerry that he is taking over coaching duties for the varsity basketball team and he’s stoked to carry on the team’s winning ways. Of course, the tallest kid on the team, Eddie, is also the worst (“Such a waste,” Gerry whispers to himself at one point) so Gerry plans to bench him. Enter Eddie’s father, who bribes Gerry with steaks, wine and “weal” sandwiches in a bid to get his son on the floor. It’s not until Bobbi pulls Gerry aside for a warning that he realizes Eddie’s dad may be a Russian mobster.

Speaking of Bobbi, she has her own uncomfortable few moments when Trudy upstages her at a birthday party for Lisa. Though Bobbi got up early to snag a personalized pudding-filled cake for event, Trudy’s gift of a pearl bracelet wins the day. The real source of the bauble leads to a very funny bit in the school office.

But perhaps the funniest storyline of the night belongs to Paul Dwyer. The always-positive and beloved Xavier teacher—the ying to Gerry’s yang—has an incredibly bad week full of damage to both person and possession yet he takes it all in stride. Wes Williams, who plays Dwyer, continues to amaze me with his comic chops.

Mr. D airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on CBC.

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