Tag Archives: CBC

Being Erica – “Battle Royale”

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“Battle Royale”

September 29th, 2009

Two episodes into its second season, you can see Being Erica retreating back to the formula that proved winning in the first season. While it wants to play around with some questions of time travel, expanding the show’s universe to include other therapists and other patients, it also wants to be the show that delights in making Erin Karpluk play a teenager and perform early 90s dance routines.

But I think it’s important to note that this is a formula that does work, and which perhaps more importantly feels as if it is capable of evolving with the character. The show leapt into the relationship between Erica and Ethan (Tyron Leitso) at a breakneck speed at the end of the season, and while the premiere normalized their relationship to handle the amount of drama elsewhere it was clear that there would be some bumpy road ahead. “Battle Royale” does what you’d expect, presenting a complication in that relationship before sending Erica back to a moment earlier in her life that lets her know what might be going wrong in the present.

In doing so, it certainly ends up feeling like a step down from last week’s highly emotional premiere, but it proves that “complicating” the story hasn’t particularly changed the show’s DNA.

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Season Two Premiere: Being Erica – “Being Dr. Tom”

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“Being Dr. Tom”

September 22nd, 2009

Sometimes, as a television critic based in Canada but reviewing primarily American television, it’s easy to let “home grown” shows slip by. However, last year I made a vow that I was going to try to look at more Canadian television (likely since I’m writing a thesis about the subject), and as such I committed myself to Being Erica largely sight unseen. What I discovered was a show that took a premise bordering on gimmick and turned it into something emotional and effective, delivering a first season which emphasized the comic and the dramatic in the confrontation of one’s past. Central to the show was the sense that Erica Strange’s journeys into her own past facilitated by the mysterious and philosophical Dr. Tom were fundamental to he putting her present day life together, a quality which made the somewhat procedural storyline (each episode featuring a different event from her past) feel serialized in how it constructed Erica as a character. When the show ended its first season with the starkly emotional return to her brother’s tragic death, and even before that with Erica’s attempts to break off her sister’s marriage, you learn that there are some things she isn’t able to change. This isn’t an issue of cause and effect, but rather an intersection of fate and desire in which the latter doesn’t always win out.

Going into a second season, which seems as if it has arrived awfully fast for some reason, the show has one problem: for the most part, we have seen Erica’s most fundamental regrets. We saw her confront her relationship with her parents, and her brother’s passing, and her life is pretty great: she has a boyfriend she loves, a job with serious upward momentum, and is closer to her family than ever before. With Erica no longer quite the damaged patient she was, with her life largely together, where is the drive for her to remain in therapy?

It’s a question that the second season premiere answers in spades, something I don’t think I was really expecting. While the easy route is to throw Erica’s life back into turmoil and unearth a whole other set of regrets in her past, the show does something completely different. Picking up where last season left off, with Dr. Tom gone (due to their confrontation after she saves Leo’s life) and a new therapist in a sterile white office waiting for Erica, the show plays around with the definitions of student and teacher, and patient and therapist, while expanding on (in a number of different ways) just what this cosmic therapy is exactly. The result is a highly compelling premiere that reveals a whole new side to Dr. Tom, and a whole new path for this sophomore series.

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Blood in the Water: “Dragon’s Den” becomes ABC’s “Shark Tank”

ABC’s Shark Tank

August 9th, 2009

I wasn’t going to bother saying anything about ABC’s Shark Tank, which debuted tonight following Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, but then my brother made a pretty reasonable point: as a Canadian critic, I have more experience with CBC’s Dragon’s Den, the Canadian series based on the Japanese series that inspired this ABC series, than most. And since I’m in the process of analyzing Canadian television in my thesis, I figure it makes sense to take some time to consider just how the different sensibilities of these two countries have inspired the way these two series differ.

However, I came across two problems when I tried to do this watching tonight’s premiere. The first is that I don’t particularly like Dragon’s Den – no, it’s not a bad series, but I find that its back and forth between “look, embarrassing entrepreneurs!” and “legitimate success” to be like American Idol but without either the humour or the enjoyment. Because they’re real people, you feel bad when they’re clearly so far off the mark, and when they are successful I don’t really know them well enough to know just how much of a success it’s been. It just does nothing to appeal to me (I don’t particularly like Idol auditions to begin with), and the “cruelty” of the dangerous Dragons (cutthroat business people) isn’t really all that interesting.

The second problem, however, is that the differences between these two programs are driven less by national differences and more by economic ones – while Dragon’s Den was brought to Canada during a relatively successful period, Shark Tank was developed in the midst of an economic recession and emerges at a time when this kind of success seems legitimately rare, and where dreaming big and failing big are both staples of the American (and for that matter, North American) experience. It makes my own opinion of these entrepreneurs kind of moot, and shifts the show’s responsibility from entertainment to topical connectivity, a burden that has little to do with nationalist discourses.

And a burden the show deals with as best it can, really.

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If I Could Turn Back Time: SoapNet and CBC’s “Being Erica”

erica2When 2009 began, I didn’t know that I intended for this to be the year that Cultural Learnings lived up to its Canadian heritage by covering more television from my home and native land. Sure, it’s really only been Project Runway Canada, but I was really going to give ZOS: Zone of Separation a try before it was clear that I wouldn’t be able to watch it weekly, and I have been watching another show under the radar. My decision to not yet blog about Being Erica, CBC’s drama series starring Erin Karpluk, has been largely because I knew this day was coming: tonight, Being Erica makes the leap south across the 49th Parallel, and begins airing on SoapNet in the United States.

The fact that I’m still watching seven episodes into the show’s run is probably enough of an endorsement itself, but I really do find Being Erica a charming diversion, the kind of show that occassionally boils down to romantic comedy cliches but more often than not transcends its generic boundaries to prove quite resonant. Yes, this is the first time I’ve watched a show that airs on SoapNet but, even more than most shows on the “prestigious” CBC, the story of Erica Strange has achieved something approaching a sense of balance: the show can take Erica from pratfalls to tragic remembrances of her less than glorious past, and what could be a gimmicky “time travel” mechanic is used less to place Karpluk in period fashion and more to actually question the role of time, and memory, in one’s life.

There are signs that the show’s pickup by SoapNet has begun to impact its equilibrium, but I feel as if there is a foundation here that won’t be able to be corrupted by partial male nudity and a few more potential mates for our title heroine. None of those elements are present in the show’s pilot, airing tonight on SoapNet at 10/9c, but the show has proven capable of evolving with grace and hijinx both.

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The ‘Little Mosque on the Prairie’ That Could: NBC shows interest in CBC Comedy

When CTV’s ‘Corner Gas‘ was picked up by WGN in the United States at some point last year, it was a bit of a surprise: not only is Corner Gas outrageously Canadian, it’s also not that funny…although I guess that that makes it fit right in at an American superstation, no? It didn’t seem like it had anything to make it stand out for an American audience outside of being a quirky attempt to play off of Canada’s reputation south of the border. However, things are different for CBC’sLittle Mosque on the Prairie’: it has a buzzworthy cultural commentary at its centre, and is apparently actually quite humorous. And, it appears that Ben Silverman (New Head of Programming for NBC Universal) is interested in the series for the American market.

For clips from the first season (Almost the entire shows, actually) and for some fascinating discussion on the various intricacies and cultural issues raised within the series, head to Little Experiences…, here on WordPress.

First off, I would expect to see the series picked up by USA Network (Irony is fun) as opposed to NBC proper, considering that NBC lacks a comedy slot and the production values aren’t quite ready for primetime network television (Just sayin’). Also, The CW is launching ‘Aliens in America’ on its Monday comedy block that covers a young pakistani who ends up smack dab in the middle of a suburban nightmare; two shows with such similar themes would be a bit overkill. However, even if only on USA Network, this would still be a huge coup for the show, and for CBC. The idea of having one of their own series picked up by an American network shows that their development cycle is putting out shows good enough to expand their market range, right? Right?

Actually, CBC might well be very, very nervous right now. Because Little Mosque on the Prairie is thus far the only successful, new, original, CANADIAN series they’ve launched in quite some time. And if that show is co-opted and taken into an American audience, what it proves is that CBC isn’t making content uniquely for Canadians when it can so easily be taken south of the border. This, anyways, will be the argument from the CBC critics out there. And I don’t know how I feel about it.

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Why Sidney Crosby Has Ruined CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada

I knew it would happen eventually. As a resident of Halifax, Nova Scotia, I felt it was my duty to be annoyed at the amount of media coverage received by Sidney Crosby. While I would never doubt his ability, I got sick and tired of hearing about it in the municipality of his childhood throughout his QMJHL days. It came to the point where Crosby was receiving more attention than Halifax’s actual Quebec Major Juniour Hockey League team, and this frustrated me to no end.

It is therefore mildly fitting that Crosby’s newfound superstardom, including a well-deserved Art Ross Trophy this season, has officially come back to bite Canada in the ass.

CBC Livid as NHL Bows to Americans

(The Globe and Mail – April 10th, 2007)

The CBC is furious over the National Hockey League’s decision to schedule Saturday’s Pittsburgh Penguins-Ottawa Senators match in the afternoon instead of prime time.

The Canadian network wanted the game in the evening timeslot to maximize viewership for the traditional Hockey Night in Canada Saturday night show.

But the league bowed to NBC, which limits telecasts to the afternoon and wants the game because of the marquee potential of Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby.

That’s right: because of the apparent stardom of Canadian superstar Sidney Crosby, Canada will not be able to watch its only Eastern Conference hopeful in prime time. It’s a rather bitter pill to swallow for the CBC, and I think for good reasons.

There is no guarantee for prime time Saturday Night broadcasts featuring Canadian teams unless Dallas/Vancouver goes to 6 games.

They’re being forced to show Tampa Bay vs. New Jersey in Primetime on Saturday, which is just an embarrassing Hockey Night in Canada lineup.

The league is arguing that NBC deserves to have the game scheduled for them because it will give the game a chance to grow in the U.S. Guess what, NBC? It ain’t happening, Crosby or no Crosby.

Really, Crosby’s fame has begun to work against Canada; he’s officially the next great hope, the one who will be able to save the game in the eyes of broadcasters. I think this is a fairly huge mantle to be placed upon him, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a fair one either. Crosby cannot be expected to carry the entire game of hockey forward, it’s as simple as that.

But from a broadcasting perspective, the CBC should be pissed right now. Hockey Night in Canada is a tradition that has treated the NHL incredibly well over the years, and yet they’re willing to bow to U.S. pressure. They’re abandoning their core audience of Canadian fans for an American audience who really doesn’t care in the least. So often I think the CRTC are just worthless hacks who fail to see the reality of programming, but their principles are something I agree with in a scenario like this. If a game features Canadian teams, one of only three in the playoffs, then that game should be played in prime time on Hockey Night in Canada. I don’t think it’s that hard, really, and it’s a principle which the NHL should have been following from the beginning.

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