Review: Dan for Mayor Season Two
June 5th, 2011
As CTV’s Dan for Mayor – one of my Top 10 shows of 2010, if you non-Canadians remember – returns for its second season, things have changed.
It isn’t just that the eponymous Dan has now officially become mayor of the fictional Wessex, Ontario. The first season was built around that campaign, with all of the show’s characters eventually taking some sort of role in its success. Now, with Dan having taken on the office of Mayor, the challenge facing the show’s writers was how to keep their favorite characters around.
Their solution is more functional than elegant, and it raises a number of interesting questions related to seriality in situation comedies. Treating the first season as a prologue of sorts, tonight’s premiere (airing at 7:30 ET on CTV) wastes no time finding ways to re-establish spaces in which these characters can interact on a regular basis. It’s a transparent re-ordering of the series, one that makes the premiere a bit jarring, but it also transitions the show into something simpler, and more sustainable, than what came before.
And, thankfully, it still manages to be plenty charming in the process.
The basic chemistry of Dan for Mayor hasn’t actually changed in its second season. It still centers on a former bartender turned political candidate, and he is still surrounded by mostly the same people (with no new cast members added between seasons, and only a few characters understandably absent).
However, the position of these characters within the world of Wessex has changed. Dan is now mayor, which means that Alan Duffy has shifted from his former competitor to his new chief of staff. Claire, who was once Dan’s ex-girlfriend, has become his girlfriend. Mike, who was once Claire’s fiancé, has become Claire’s ex-fiancé. Jeff, who was once Dan’s campaign manager, has become the new owner of Fern’s Bar and Grill, which means that Fern has become its head bartender of sorts.
I would argue that these are all logical roles, and there is a definite functionality to the way that tonight’s premiere “A Rink By Any Other Name” sets this up. The problem, as I note above, is that it’s all a bit transparent. The sheer speed at which these scenarios are introduced makes the premiere a bit rough around the edges, jumping too quickly into a setup that has a great deal of potential but doesn’t really get to show it when our attention is on figuring out the reordering of things. I actually think that those coming to the show for the first time might be more easily able to jump into the fray, perhaps less distracted by the rapid fire exposition of how things got from Point A to Point B (or, rather, Season 1 to Season 2).
And yet I’m hesitant to suggest the premiere as an ideal entry point given its characterization of Dan, who goes through the most logical yet most substantial change between seasons. Dan used to be a joke candidate who strived to be something more serious in the first season, and he was allowed a real chance to evolve and grow in the process; he never entirely lived down the sense that he wasn’t running seriously, but I would certainly argue he made strides in terms of learning the ropes of how to be a politician.
Now, however, Dan is actually mayor of Wessex, and “A Rink By Any Other Name” makes him out to be more horrid than hapless. His behavior seems more petty than I remember, and although the episode’s arc unsurprisingly allows Dan a moment of redemption it still feels like there is some early regression to make that stand out more. I understand the impulse behind the decision, sort of viewing the episode as a microcosm of his overall learning experience to establish for new viewers what kind of character we’re dealing with, but the narrative is so condensed within an episode already burdened with transitional exposition and a B-Story for Claire that it ends up a disappointment.
However, next week’s entry turns things around. Once the show gets past the exposition, and once they establish spaces in which these characters can interact with one another on a daily basis, it settles back into comfortable rhythms within a new setting. “The Trash Compact” tells a simple story that feels a bit reductive at first (given that The Simpsons has already made the definitive municipal trash-related episode), but eventually pulls back to create a convergence of characters decisions which results in a charming and well-realized worst case scenario. It’s silly without seeming entirely removed from reality, drawing out the feud with the neighboring Glenbridge and laying the groundwork for a charming sitcom about a municipal government with a small town vibe.
And that is a show, for the record, that I very much enjoy, and one that might sound a bit familiar to fans of a particular NBC comedy. There’s a definite Parks and Recreation vibe to the proceedings here: no, I don’t think it’s as good as that show, but it is on its way to building a framework on which it can evolve less in terms of serialized development and more in terms of the depth of its story world. Parks and Recreation spent its second season evolving beyond the narrow serialization of “the pit”: the storyline still existed, but the show slowly became about something other than that singular goal. Here, that transition happens much faster (necessarily, really, given Dan’s election), but there’s just as much opportunity to redefine itself as a show that may not be as novel but may be considerably more sustainable.
Based on the average lifespan of a Canadian series, one feels as though Dan for Mayor may not quite get the chance to explore this evolution into six or seven seasons. But the first two episodes of the second season establish a baseline sitcom that has a lot of room for growth, and also doesn’t rule out future serialization: there’s always re-election campaigns, or recall elections, and any number of other potential arcs that could be integrated into this story world. That the show is now content to tell episodic stories about an out-of-his-depth mayor and his confidantes does not indicate a lack of ambition. Rather, it shows an understanding of what the show needs to be at this stage; yes, the premiere has its bumps trying to transition to that point, but after that it seems like Dan for Mayor knows what show it wants to be.
And it’s a show that I hope people will watch.
- CTV is building a Sunday comedy block for the summer, which is quite interesting. While it may seem like Dan for Mayor’s early timeslot (7:30 ET) and its position after a repeat of The Big Bang Theory is a bit damning, the latter has become one of Canada’s biggest shows, and I have a feeling it will repeat well. Still, I’m curious to see what kind of numbers they draw – it helps that they’re avoiding the Stanley Cup Finals, although a theoretical Game Six would coincide with next week’s episode.
- I will readily admit that I’m not entirely clear of how Alan Duffy remained as Dan’s chief of staff – I guess it sort of makes sense, as certainly Jeff wasn’t going to be qualified, but the lack of clarification seems like an issue of wanting to get into the new setup as soon as possible. There was some comic potential in the post-election decision-making – I see why they skipped it, but it might have made the transition work a bit more smoothly.
- I’m actually going to be back in Canada for the next few episodes, so I might drop back in on the show later in the month.