“The Duchess of George”
January 20th, 2010
Shows like Republic of Doyle may present themselves as fairly straightforward, but in reality there is a lot of nuance to how they portray their characters and their stories. The exact same story could be told in very different ways, and the same characters could interact with that story in completely different ways. The characters could remain detached from the story, largely observing the behaviour of others, or they could become wrapped up in the story to the point of being placed in harm’s way.
There is no “right” way to make a show like Republic of Doyle, but “The Duchess of George” has the show the closest it has come so far. The show still has some problems in terms of its characterization, but there is a sense of clarity and direction this week that was lacking in weeks previous. It may not initially seem to be a different show, but the show has replaced narrative burdens with character burdens, simplifying its storytelling while complicating its characters to counterbalance.
The show still has some room to grow, but I think it actually delivered something of substance in its third week out, which is at least one step in the right direction.
“The Return of the Grievous Angel”
January 13th, 2010
Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of speaking with Angela Antle of the Newfoundland and Labradour Weekend Arts Magazine on CBC Radio One in order to offer some mainland perspective on CBC’s new series, Republic of Doyle. My review of the show was quite critical, although Angela was more interested in my reading of the show’s cultural depiction of the province as opposed to my frustration with its formulaic 80s throwback structure. You can download the interview in podcast episode form at this link (Opens in iTunes), and hear how I spent about fifteen minutes discussing my way around a central question: what kind of cultural statement does a show make when it proves that St. John’s is just as capable of Toronto of housing a generic procedural private investigation series?
My argument is that it isn’t a cultural statement at all. I’ve written thesis chapters on how Corner Gas and Little Mosque on the Prairie can be read as cultural statements in regards to the position of both rural communities and Muslim populations within Canada’s national identity, and this is achieved through stories that challenge and question stereotypes. The problem with Republic of Doyle is that it has no such cultural statement: while I don’t think the show needs to scream Newfoundland every episode, right now it’s not actually saying anything at all.
While I would argue that part of the reason for this shallow representation of place is inherent in the show’s genre, I think the show’s execution is only exacerbating these concerns. By focusing on, and convoluting, the show’s procedural structure, the characters aren’t coming into focus, and whatever chance the show has to actually say anything substantial about St. John’s, Newfoundland, or even Canada as a whole remains absent beyond a Great Big Sea theme song and some pretty scenery.
And that’s not a cultural statement. Or, speaking more critically, a statement at all.
Watching the premiere of Republic of Doyle, a new private investigator series from CBC set in St. John’s, Newfoundland, I came to a conclusion: Burn Notice is a really great show.
Now, it may seem anti-nationalist for me to suggest that a Canadian series only made me conclude how great an American show is, but there is something very frustrating about Republic of Doyle that makes me respect the way Burn Notice has a very clear sense of its identity and doesn’t feel overburdened by either character drama or weekly cases that feel too generic by half. Doyle is not a terrible show, but what it struggles with is feeling like it actually knows what it is: numerous shots of the St. John’s harbour and the colourful houses of the downtown aren’t enough to give the show any sort of distinctive Newfoundland identity, and the show doesn’t bother to get onto its feet before throwing us into a bland procedural structure that needed to be more in order for us to come to care about these characters in any capacity.
There’s a show here somewhere, one where a group of relatively engaging people work together to solve crimes. However, the show has yet to find its own identity to the point where the pilot represents a definitive misfire, especially when you’ve seen Burn Notice negotiate the same types of problems which plague the show with some compelling dramaturgy.