Tag Archives: CBC

Murdoch Mysteries star celebrates small-town Canada with laughter

On Murdoch Mysteries, Jonny Harris plays Constable George Crabtree, tasked with aiding Detective William Murdoch (Yannick Bisson) in the solving of crimes in and around turn-of-the-century Toronto. But in his newest series, Harris does some investigating of his own.

The veteran Newfoundland comedian swaps his scratchy police wardrobe for regular duds in Still Standing. Debuting Tuesday on CBC, the series finds the energetic lad discovering small communities across Canada and spotlighting the citizens who call the areas home. As Harris told me at CBC’s upfront announcement, he spends five days in each community, getting to know those who live and work there and doing various chores (like milking goats or lassoing a calf). At the end of it, Harris hosts a small comedy show where he tells jokes based on his experiences, a tough task for a guy who prefers to wait until the last minute to write, even if he does have a couple of guys helping him.

“We write jokes while we’re on the road,” he explains. “We’ll meet someone in the morning and then we’ll furiously write on our laptops. Then we’ll go and meet the next guy or I’ll do the next activity and then over dinner we’ll write. Then we have to out together the set itself in a way that flows and makes sense to people.   At the end of four days I have to try and cram it all into my brain.”

Thirteen episodes comprise Season 1 of Still Standing and among the communities featured are Rowley, Alberta—population eight—a virtual ghost town neighbouring communities support with a monthly pizza night; Berwick, Nova Scotia, a.k.a. the Apple Capital of Canada; Souris, Prince Edward Island; Oil Springs, Ontario, the birthplace of the modern oil industry in North America; and Coleman, Alberta (population just over 1,000), a location fraught with tragedy. Mining disasters, including the Frank Slide of 1903 that wiped half the town of neighbouring Frank off the map.

“They have a very on-their-sleeve attitude about the slide, which made it very interesting for me comedically,” Harris admitts.

Locations were chosen because they were struggling to survive as towns, were locations not on major highways and places most people had ever heard of. The communities may be far-flung, but they all shared the same passion for the land they and past generations call home.

“The goal of the show is to celebrate the towns,” Harris notes. “And if somewhere down the line someone decides to stop in there because they saw it on Still Standing then it’s even better.”

Still Standing airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on CBC.


Will you be watching Jonny Harris in his new role? Let me know in the comments below! Follow Greg on Twitter.


He Said/She Said: Reaction to CBC’s fall lineup

Join Greg and Diane every Monday as we debate what’s on our minds. This week: Our thoughts regarding CBC’s 2015-16 broadcast schedule.

He Said:

When you take into account that CBC is the network that lost the rights to NHL broadcasts and had to make extensive staffing cuts all in the span of one year, what was unveiled last Thursday is nothing short of miraculous. Far from a “woe is me” attitude, CBC’s upfront featured GM of programming Sally Catto, executive vice-president of English services Heather Conway and executive director of unscripted content Jennifer Dettman, smiling, joking and using words like “ambitious” to describe the Ceeb’s upcoming lineup.

Many say the network is so low it might as well throw caution to the wind and swing for the fences with its programming. And while I don’t totally agree with that thinking, I’m mightily impressed with what the CBC has planned for the coming year, especially when it comes to arts programming.

Gone are cable-ready fare like Strange Empire and the long-running Republic of Doyle, but Murdoch Mysteries, Coronation Street, Heartland, X Company, Rick Mercer Report, 22 Minutes, Dragons’ Den, Mr. D, Schitt’s Creek, Canada’s Smartest Person and Just for Laughs are all back to serve as a backbone to intriguing new stuff.

I’m bullish on the espionage drama The Romeo Section, especially after spending 15 minutes chatting with creator Chris Haddock about it. I’m also excited about This Life, the English version of Nouvelle Adresse, the tale of a fortysomething single mom who is diagnosed with cancer. Bruce McCulloch’s Young Drunk Punk gets a second window broadcast on CBC, so viewers will get another look—and the series a bigger audience sampling—at life in 1980s Calgary. Keeping Canada Alive is an ambitious snapshot at this country’s health care system as 60 camera crews visited hospitals, clinics and trauma centres across the nation showing a day in the life at these institutions; Thursday’s teaser contained several “reach for the Kleenex” moments.

The Nature of Things will be followed by a new documentary series called First Hand, designed to introduce viewers to Canada’s most talented factual filmmakers. As a doc fan, I’m particularly excited about this new initiative.

But CBC’s secret weapon to the fall may very well be three new programs under its Arts silo. Crash Gallery is a competition series pitting four artists against one another with a live audience picking the winner. Exhibitionists spotlights Canadian artists of all types and Interrupt this Program delves into the art created in countries where war and political unrest are an everyday occurrence. Art—like good television—is supposed to initiate discussion and opinion, and these three promise to do just that.

Will this lineup turn the tide over at the CBC? That may be too lofty of a goal, but I certainly think they’re headed in the right direction.

She Said:

Greg is so much more optimistic than I am. I’m apparently alone in feeling like Charlie Brown and every year the networks are Lucy holding a football full of shiny new shows.

CBC does know how to put on a good show, and their upfront last week was a good example. It amounts to a lot of rah rah over a slate of programming that’s either old hat or unknown. If you’ve seen Murdoch Mysteries and Dragons’ Den you pretty know what to expect of Murdoch Mysteries and Dragons’ Den next season. If you haven’t seen the new shows, you can only rely on what people who are paid to get you to watch are saying.

Still, amid budget cuts they’re admirably stretching their programming dollars as far as they can go. They renewed low-rated Mr. D at least in part because Rogers is now a partner and will be airing Bruce McCulloch’s City show Young Drunk Punk, which hopefully gets a bigger audience with CBC’s bigger reach.

While CBC doesn’t compete with the simsubbing private networks for American rights, they have a new regime goal of acquiring the best public broadcast programming from around the world (aka England and Australia). Remember last season’s acquisitions such as The Honourable Woman or Secrets and Lies? Of course you don’t. No one watched them … or if they did, it was on Netflix.

CBC is jamming their season with presumably low-cost reality shows both highbrow (the return of more arts programming, a health care special) and appealing-to-the-masses lower-brow (Fool Canada and Hello Goodbye, which sounds like the credits to Love Actually). Nothing wrong with that, but little to suggest break-out hit either.

Will a niche audience be enough for CBC this season?

The answer to that seems to be no, at least on the scripted drama side. Remember last season’s Strange Empire? CBC took a gamble on the cable-esque western by creator Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik but cancelled it when their audience more attuned to Heartland than Durham County didn’t flock to it.

This season they’re bringing back CBC veteran Chris Haddock, whose Da Vinci’s Inquest was a long-running winner but whose more recent Intelligence was unceremoniously cancelled after two low-rated seasons, leaving a couple of bridges burned: between Haddock and old-regime CBC and between fans and CBC. Some of us were a little annoyed at Haddock himself for ending it on such a cliffhanger given the low ratings, but that bridge was strong enough to survive and I trust a Haddock show to be a crazy fun ride. Also I hold out hope that like Michael: Tuesdays and Thursdays (which CBC plans to bring back in fall 2016), an Intelligence revival isn’t completely out of the question. Only mostly out of the question.  So all that is to say Haddock’s The Romeo Section is the show I’m most excited about, tempered by doubts that CBC will stick with it if it earns a cable-like audience to go along with their declaration that they were chasing cable-like shows.

This Life (previously announced as New Address, the translated title of the original Quebec series its based on), is the latest in a string of attempts to recreate the magic of a French-language series. CBC had a pilot for 19-2 but passed on it, leaving it for Bravo to pick up, and the less said of Sophie and Rumours‘ ratings the better. Which isn’t to say I think they should give up the effort to mine for gold in their Radio-Canada stream — only that I look forward to This Life and hope it breaks the streak, but I’m not kicking at that football just yet.

Keep in mind we’ve seen none of the new shows, so any enthusiasm or skepticism right now is based on faith in the creative talent or marketing hype or both. The only way to truly judge a new season is by watching it. Stay tuned.


Preview: Franklin’s lost ship found

I have a fascination with the Canadian north. What has made men and women trek to some of the most inhospitable land on earth? I’ve read the fictional works of Jack London and the real-life triumphs and tragedies of men like Ernest Shackleton and Captain John Franklin, the latter of whom is featured in Franklin’s Lost Ships, The Nature of Things’ season finale.

The news that one of Franklin’s ships, the Erebus, was discovered last year after being missing for 170 years was a discovery that excited and entranced me, and Franklin’s Lost Ships doesn’t disappoint in its exploration into how the Erebus was found. In 1845, Capt. Franklin and 129 men set sail from England  aboard two ships—the HMS Erebus and Terror—headed for the uncharted waters of the Arctic. None survived. Graves and notes left by crew members have been found since, along with Inuit tales handed down through  generations detailing what happened, but the ships remained tantalizingly out of reach.

Thursday’s documentary not only details the six-year search Parks Canada has been on for the duo National Historic sites, but the story of how Franklin and his crew ran into trouble in the first place. Franklin was a decorated war hero, but had failed in earlier overland mission to find the Northwest Passage. On his last mission, he not only had enough food to last three years, but warships Erebus and Terror had been fitted with central heating and propellors. It was expected that the elusive Northwest Passage would be traversed and mapped without problem.

Experts like Ryan Harris and Marc-André Bernier of Parks Canada, John Geiger of the Royal Canadian Geographic Society, historian Huw Lewis-Jones and authors Ken McCoogan and Dave Woodman breathe life into the tale with help from re-creations, explaining not only how last year’s adventure was undertaken with state-of-the-art sonar and satellite maps paired with the last coordinates left by the crew before they perished.

Franklin’s Lost Ships is also a story of British arrogance, of a society that preferred—in the 1800s—to ignore Inuit reports of cannibalism among the crew and reports of one ship locked in the ice and sinking while another was carried south. In fact it was those stories, and luck, that caused last summer’s mission to be a success. Incredible footage of Erebus looming up in the murk, covered in seaweed and dwarfing the divers around her is dramatic stuff. But that’s just the first chapter in the story; future dives will venture inside the ship to search for documents, film and bodies for a more accurate telling of what truly went wrong during Franklin’s last expedition.

Franklin’s Lost Ships airs as part of The Nature of Things on Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBC.


Review: X Company’s explosive season-ender

“You’re going to tell me everything.” And with that, X Company closed out its first season with a cliffhanger. Yes, I did suspect Alfred was a captive of the Germans and this first season was a peek back at what had happened leading up until that point, but it didn’t take away from what has been one hell of a dramatic ride.

Written by series co-creators Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, “Into the Fire” brought the conflicting sides in the war together into a tapestry woven of raw emotion and action. Tom quickly proved to Drabek the woman he’d trusted was actually readying to sell him to the Germans and after Tom dispatched her the men were on the run to the catacombs to prepare for an extraction. Drabek needed to let the world leaders know about the concentration camps, but he passed along the horrible details to Alfred in case Drabek was killed.

Ellis and Morgenstern—heck, all of X Company‘s writers—have been able to deftly mix emotion with action and Wednesday’s finale was no different, alternating between Aurora’s relations being probable victims in a camp and an impressive gunfight between the team and the Germans. You know, the bullet battle that ensued after Siobhan admitted to Harry that she’d betrayed he and the squad to the Germans. Everyone put up a good fight and took out several baddies, but Alfred was eventually captured and hauled away. For one fleeting moment it appeared Aurora would make good and ensure Alfred didn’t fall into enemy hands, but she couldn’t pull the trigger.

The only positive in Alfred’s capture is that Franz is the man in charge. After watching him choose to kill Ulli rather than see him trucked off to an institution, Franz’s emotions are raw and he may equate Alfred’s specialness with his own son. It’s not to outrageous a wish; we’ve seen throughout this season that not all Germans are cold-blooded killers.

The other loose end in the season finale is Tom’s fate. The last we saw of him, he’d taken a bullet to the stomach and Neil was trying to stop the bleeding. Will he survive, and what will become of Alfred? We’ll have to wait until Season 2 to find out.

Notes and quotes

  • “Four months ago, all I wanted to do was forget. Now I realize, if you remember something you’re responsible for it.” Wise words from Alfred.
  • So, Rene is alive and imprisoned somewhere. Has he been leaking information about the team too? And is he being kept anywhere near Alfred?
  • “In three … two … one.” — Aurora, before she unleashed a can of lead-filled whoop-ass on the German soldiers
  • Mayhew told Sinclair to focus on the upcoming Allied invasion of Dieppe for success. Unfortunately, we know that raid was a failure too.

What have you thought of X Company? Comment below or via @tv_eh.


Review: X Company uncovers horror and heartbreak

With just one more week to go in Season 1 of X Company, Wednesday’s cliffhanger left Tom’s life in question. “Quislings”—named after Vidkun Quisling, who headed a Nazi collaborationist regime during the Second World War—focused on the team taking out three French targets in Paris who had been helping the Germans.

Harry, who was still getting over his injuries from last week, was pretty much left out of the equation, though he was chased from the apartment by soldiers with radio-detecting devices. Luckily, Harry had a hand grenade—and a new radio—both of which he used to take out the trio of baddies who tracked him down.

That left Tom, Neil and the duo of Aurora and Alfred to carry out the mission. None of the targets was easy, but Aurora’s was personal. Michel, a local baker she and Rene had hung around with, was accused of accepting money from the Germans in exchange for ratting out his pals. Nineteen pals, in fact, including Rene. Aurora, thrust into the role of team leader when Rene was killed, has evolved from an emotional mess into a cold-blooded killer. She mercilessly shot Michel in the back of the head for his actions and warned his sister would meet the same fate if she revealed anything.

Meanwhile, Neil was still battling his emotions surrounding the death of the German radio man. And what better way to his head back in the game than engage his target in a bare-knuckle brawl? Warren Brown’s face is so expressive; you could read the torment over the radio man in his twisting features. Could he ever kill again? Yes, he could, completing his mission after a bloody, physical battle involving furniture, a wine bottle and neck-breaking chokehold.

Finally, Tom’s target proved not only to be elusive but the storyline was a historical game-changer. After tracking his female target to an apartment, Tom wasn’t able to pull the trigger. He did stick around to speak to the man she had been giving medical attention to, a Jew who produced sketches and a tale of hell on earth: concentration camps. The woman’s arrival back at the hide-out—followed by German soldiers she tipped off—left the episode unfinished. Will Tom use his German accent and/or charm to win the day or will the team suffer another tragic loss?

We’ll have to wait until next week to find out.

X Company airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.