Credible Can-con

Dave Bartlett
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A few contemporary Canadian dramas worth a watch

The cast of the Victorian crime drama

A friend recently remarked that Canadian TV shows are the little league of broadcasting.



I have to admit, I've dismissed our home-grown productions in the past. But with the fireworks of Canada Day still ringing in my ears - and a little prodding by my wife, who holds a degree in Canadian studies - I decided it was time to be patriotic and talk about some of the current crop of shows coming out of this country.

First of all, I don't need to talk about "Republic of Doyle." If you live in this province, I'm sure you've at least seen an episode or two and have formed an opinion of Jake's adventures one way or the other. I think it's a good bit of fun.

A new show was airlifted onto to Global a few weeks back as part of its summer lineup, and if you like medical dramas, you may want to give it a try.

"Combat Hospital" is about a multinationally run field hospital set in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2006. I've heard it referred to as MASH-ganistan, as the premise isn't that much different than the long-running Korean war dramedy "MASH" of the 1970s and 80s, but updated for modern times.

I don't remember MASH well, as I was only nine when the last chopper left the 4077 in 1983. But if my memory serves me correctly, "Combat Hospital" is more about the high-tension emergency surgery and less about the antics of the doctors who want to go back home. I'm typically not a fan of hospital dramas, but it's a pretty good show from what I've seen so far.

CityTV has been airing "Murdoch Mysteries" since early 2008. The show, heading into its fifth season, takes place in the 1890s in Toronto and follows Det. William Murdoch who's in the know about all the latest forensic techniques such as fingerprinting. It's an interesting complement to shows like "CSI" or "Criminal Minds" which are set in the modern day.

I'm not sure I've actually seen a full episode of Murdoch, but flip to the show more than occasionally in between commercials. I often forget to click back to what I was watching before - always a good sign. It reminds me of the shows I used to watch with my mother, such as "Murder, She Wrote" and the Sunday morning mysteries series on NBC. My favourite was always the bumbling, yet efficient Columbo, played by Peter Falk. If you haven't heard, Falk, who played the cheap cigar-chomping sleuth in the oversized trench coat, died late last month.

One of the main reasons I like "Murdoch," and want to give it a more thorough viewing, is because Newfoundland's Jonny Harris plays the eager young Const. George Crabtree. Harris's goofy grin and wide eyes remind me of what the Columbo character might have been like as a rookie on the beat. And the show looks fantastic.

I have to say, I got quite the pleasant surprise when I tuned into the season premiere of "Rookie Blue," another Global summertime series. The second season of the cop show, set in modern-day Toronto, began a few weeks back. The promos didn't do much for me, but the first season - which I failed to watch - was well received.

The first 10 minutes of this year's opener were pretty banal - a young woman dances to classic rock in a small apartment's kitchen while making breakfast, before kissing her boyfriend - an older cop - she just moved in with. Yawn. The young rookie then shows up for work to be assigned the bland task of providing security at a rock concert. Yawn again. And then shots are fired.

After 10 minutes of drawn out character establishment, the next 40 were as fast paced and intense as any American cop show. Calm down, "The Wire" fans - it doesn't touch that slow-burn of a series, which I look forward to writing about soon. But as a weekly cop drama on a main network, it was fantastic.

I realized after the episode ended why the low-key beginning worked perfectly. By showing us that police officers have normal home lives and often perform routine and unexciting duties, the action seems more real when the characters need to test their mettle. I'm looking forward to watching Episode 2, patiently waiting for me on demand.

So there you have a handful of current Canadian dramas that illustrate Canadian TV is coming into its own. All of these shows have been picked up for international broadcast, and, with the exception of "Doyle," all are being watched south of the border. And they are not alone - check out the fourth season of "Flashpoint," which debuts on CTV tonight. Maybe Canadian TV isn't so bush league after all.

Dave Bartlett covers municipal affairs for The Telegram, when he's not watching television. He can be reached at


Organizations: CityTV, Young Const., The Telegram

Geographic location: Toronto, Kandahar, Afghanistan Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • Carl
    July 08, 2011 - 20:14

    Interestingly, most of the shows mentioned in this article air on networks other than CBC. This proves we don't need a publicy-owned, taxpayer-subsidized television broadcaster. Canadian content can do quite well without being subsidized - if it is of high enough quality.