Personally, Corner Gas had overstayed its welcome when Brent Butt chose to end its run after its sixth season, but the Canadian public didn’t feel the same way: the show was still a success to the point where CTV would have gladly rode the train to Dog River for as long as possible even if it meant diminished returns (or, for me, more diminished returns). I understood Butt’s decision at the time, in terms of being able to end the show on his terms, but I didn’t particularly care about his decision since I wasn’t, after all, watching the show.
But with the arrival of Hiccups and Dan for Mayor, two new CTV comedies that debuted to impressive numbers on Monday, I have come to see the logic behind his decision. CTV has effectively gotten two shows out of one, with Butt creating (and starring in) Hiccups featuring fellow Corner Gas alum (and wife) Nancy Robertson, and Fred Ewanuick taking on the title role in Dan for Mayor as a follow-up to his role as Hank on Butt’s former show. And as someone who had lost my taste for Corner Gas (while maintaining my respect for the show’s starting point, considering I wrote a thesis chapter about it), it’s nice to see the talented people involved bringing two new series to the table. Butt’s decision kept CTV from leaning on a crutch for too long, and instead pushed them to introduce two new series that can only help the state of original Canadian programming.
I don’t necessarily want to pit the shows against each other, but I don’t know if I have enough to say about either to justify separate posts, so I’ll say this much: I really like Dan for Mayor, and I think that Hiccups is pleasant enough.
I like Brent Butt, and I like Nancy Robertson, but I thought the Hiccups pilot had a few, well, hiccups. My issue isn’t with the basic setup for the series, which I think works fine; rather, the universe doesn’t feel particularly coherent, a fact that the pilot sort of just brushes aside. Stan is a sadsack of a man, who has named himself a Life Coach without any sort of real training as far as we can tell, and he gets sucked up into Millie’s world. And rather than serving as a point of conflict for Stan or Millie, it’s all a bit too convenient: of course he’s been looking for a client for six months, and of course Millie happened to need someone new to satisfy her publisher. And while Millie’s intensity and openness to new changes makes the pilot flow pretty smoothly, I don’t entirely buy that it would happen quite like this. Butt is unquestionably playing the straight man to the loose cannon that he’s given Robertson to portray, but the cannon is slightly too loose to make the show feel grounded.
Part of Corner Gas’ charm, I thought, was that the characters were recognizable, that even if the comic hijinks were out of control these were real people who just happened to live in a sitcom universe. However, my worry here is that the archetypes are much less human: the sleazy agent, the uptight boss, the aloof secretary, and the attractive but a bit naive Latina feel like they don’t necessarily fit together quite as well as the pilot makes them try to fit together. What’s interesting is that Stan is, arguably, our window into this world (in that he would find the agent sleazy, the publisher uptight, Millie crazy) and yet we enter into it through Millie. Robertson is the star, but Millie is too crazy to be sympathetic or grounded early on, and so I wonder why we didn’t start with Stan’s situation before introducing Millie into his world and having it “taken over.” The pilot feels like it got ahead of itself, knowing that they would be eventually asking us to accept the publishing/Millie/Stan parts of the series as separate entities and cramming in as much basic setup for all of them to make us think “Gosh, I bet this is what the series might be like!” And while I’ll give them that I think there’s potential for a comedy series here, I felt like the characters took a few too many shortcuts through the torrid pace of it all: I think there was a better Pilot to be found in here that wouldn’t have rushed quite so much, which was actually one of the things I thought Corner Gas did quite well early on.
While I’m kind of lukewarm on Hiccups, I really enjoyed Dan for Mayor, a show which even earns my approval despite adding to the long pantheon of “people getting hit by buses.” I always liked Ewanuick, and the role of the hapless bartender who runs for mayor in order to make something of himself is both perfect him and treated with the utmost care by Mark Farrell and Co. The show’s world might treat Dan’s mayoral campaign as a joke, whether in the form of his boss or the local newspaper, but it never feels like it’s a joke for Dan; it isn’t just a way to respond to his ex-girlfriend getting engaged, but rather a culmination of a number of circumstances (including his run-in with the current mayor, Bud, at his front door) that bring him to the point of radical self-actualization. And somehow, the pilot makes it not feel all that radical, as we end up rooting for Dan to stick it to the haters (to use the vernacular) and run for mayor against Bud, who really is a bit of a douchebag.
While Hiccups suffers a bit in terms of setting up its universe too quickly, I thought Dan for Mayor did a great job of keeping the other characters from seeming too one-dimensional in terms of their position in Dan’s life. Claire’s struggles to tell Dan the news of her upcoming engagement help to make the character more sympathetic without making their relationship uncomplicated, and her relationship with Mike avoids the obvious drama of jealousy or insecurity in favour of some healthy disagreements that show some nice hypocrisy on both sides of things. Similarly, Jeff is a close friend without being an uncritical friend, his own life “better” than Dan’s but with its own forms of insecurity. Dan runs for mayor within a somewhat unconvential but nonetheless supportive structure, which gives the show’s cast a nice sense of community that Hiccups was lacking. It sets the show up nicely for the conclusion, wherein we learn that Dan’s race for mayor becomes a one-horse race with the tragic death of the incumbent. It’s a brilliant little move because it means that the pilot’s “plot” is out the window, but its premise remains intact, just the right sort of ragtag group that will make the upcoming mayoral campaign that much more engaging. The show has a clear purpose moving forward, which isn’t to say that Hiccups is vague but rather that Dan for Mayor focuses more on clarity than mystery, and signals more potential in the process.
I’m willing to give Hiccups some time to move on from its pilot, so I’m not writing off the show as a result of my concerns; however, I’m actually really excited to see where Dan for Mayor goes next, and that’s the kind of feeling you want to have coming out of a series premiere. All in all, I think it’s a good trade off: more Canadian development, more Canadian talent, and more long-term success stories for Canadian comedy. My long-term engagement with the shows is dependent on quality, but my short-term enthusiasm is satisfied thus far.
- Unfortunately, in the wake of these debuts, CBC’s 18 to Life has become a sort of sad footnote in these conversations, which is all sorts of unfair but also all sorts of inevitable. The show is too dependent on its premise at some points, but last night’s episode about sex offered a number of nice variations on the central theme which demonstrate the versatility of that premise. There’s nothing here that sitcoms haven’t done in the past, but the show has a nice breezy pace to it which makes its investigations into two generations of two families seem really natural, and it seems that it has found its rhythm. I didn’t particularly miss the show during the Olympics hiatus, but I quite enjoyed it when it returned, so I’m looking forward to seeing it continue its season.
- In terms of other Canadian programming, I’ll admit to falling off from Republic of Doyle: it wasn’t purposeful, really, but one episode got deleted from the DVR without getting watched, and the Olympics sort of kept me from even considering getting caught up.