Devoted to ‘Doyle’

Why Wednesday night has become family night at our house

Susan Flanagan susan@48degrees.ca
Published on March 27, 2012
It might be called “Republic of Doyle,” but the hit Newfoundland TV show is all about Des in the Flanagan home. — Telegram illustration

It’s 9:15 on Wednesday evening. No. 4 is adjusting the rabbit ears on our flat screen to make sure we have clear reception for CBC’s “Republic of Doyle” — or “Doylies,” as it’s known in our house.

We don’t have cable or satellite TV, so it’s important to get the rabbit ears just right. Watching “Republic of Doyle” is a family affair. It’s one of the few times we all get together outside of mealtimes. And we do more than watch, we analyze.

We love it when we recognize some obscure place where a scene is filmed. We like to pick out people we know among the extras. Our children even got to see my dazzling debut on “Episode 310: One Angry Jake,” where Jake’s been called to jury duty and Andy Jones (Tinny’s real-life father) plays the judge. You may have to go back a couple of times on your PVR before you catch a glimpse of me. I’m a flash of red passing behind the action for two-thirds of a second when Des fishes Owen’s name out of him.

And I’m there again, not quite as long this time, in the background dressed in black talking to my cameraman while Jake is in the foreground at the courthouse, which was actually the basement of the Colonial Building.

That still doesn’t explain why we’re such big fans.

The answer is one word: Des.

We love Mark O’Brien’s character. Who could resist him with his dimpled right cheek and fantastic lines? Stage lines, I mean.

Here’s Des commiserating with a woman who has a gambling addiction in “Episode 211: Don’t Gamble with City Hall”: “I get the same way with jujubes. … You say you’re just gonna have 30, right?”

And here’s classic Des offering insight into a case in “Episode 112: The Fall of the Republic”: “Apparently the human body digests a lottery ticket at an alarming rate.”

Who could not love him?

To us, Des carries the show. Every time he rambles, we wonder if his lines were written for him or if he’s just making it up as he goes. Des is the character who often discovers key clues to solving the mystery even if he’s not always aware of how they fit into the big picture.

Des is the Kramer of “Seinfeld,” he’s Hank on “Corner Gas,” he’s Milhouse in “The Simpsons.”

He provides comic relief when things get too serious for the Doyles and his escapades provide release for our own stresses.

What’s a family to do when the grand finale of Season 3 wraps up on April 4 and Des and company leave our screens? We’ll live in suspense until CBC announces if they’re funding a fourth season.

For a while we were worried about the future of the show. A few weeks into Season 3 we wondered if the carefree laughs we shared in the first two seasons were a thing of the past. Were we just over-analytical fans or had this season’s shows become too serious? Had the relationship between Malachy and Jake become nasty rather than humorous? Was there too much gratuitous flesh? Wasn’t it more fun when Leslie wasn’t so mean?

And how about loose ends? Will we find out this season why Tinny didn’t go to school in England?

Luckily, things picked up and the last few shows have improved. Of course, it’s not all Des. We enjoy Allan Hawco’s character, Jake, who wants what he can’t have and doesn’t know what to do with what he’s got.

My sister, Marie, who lives in Calgary, just loves Jake.

Every time she and her friend Alison chat about the show, it’s always Jake this and Jake that. His dark hair and eyes, and tight jeans, remind them of their heyday in the late ’70s/early ’80s. Maybe that’s it, maybe the 50-plus women love Jake and the 50-minus crowd loves Des.

Marie loves how Hawco has brought her beloved Newfoundland to the screen, even if Jake’s character is a bit rough around the edges.

In “Episode 205: Something Old Something Blue,” he offers up some bolting-at-the-altar advice:

“Getting ditched at the altar leaves quite a sting, wha? … There ain’t nothing a night at the Sundance won’t cure.”

And then there are the saucy exchanges with his father:

“The blockages in your heart, that’s my fault. It’s got nothing to do with the seven trays of pork chops you shove down your gob every night,” he says when Malachy blames his stress on Jake.

Hawco has done something remarkable with this show: he has made St. John’s a character every bit as important as the human ones.

I know this for a fact. I am a tour guide. Back in the late 1990s, when everyone was reading Wayne Johnston’s “The Colony of Unrequited Dreams,” visitors to the city wanted to see Bishop Feild School where Joey Smallwood had been a student.

Fast forward to 2012 and visitors are still asking to see Bishop Feild School because that’s where exterior cop shop shots are filmed for “Doylies.” They also want to see Malachy and Rose’s house on Gower, and Doyle and Doyle’s office above the Duke of Duckworth.

Now, locals know that it’s not the real Duke of Duckworth, though it may as well be. The entire pub — right down to the carved “Darts” sign and Harlequin lamp — have been recreated up in the old rec centre near St. John’s Airport.

The sets are not open to the public, but if you’re of age, you can head to the real Duke on a Wednesday night to watch the show at the bar.

This is a family column, so I must add that during the first two seasons I wondered if it was appropriate to allow the middle two to stay up until 10:30 on a school night and watch episodes featuring not-so-family-oriented plots.

Luckily this season things have been tamed down a touch. Except for Jake’s gratuitous six-pack scenes, it’s downright family oriented.

I’ve had to bring visitors to see Jake’s GTO. Hawco himself has said the best reason to star in your own TV show is so you can bomb around in a 1968 Pontiac GTO with its 400-cubic-inch V8 engine, hidden wipers and headlights.

One of the hottest pieces of “Doylies” merchandise is the GTO T-shirt. I’ve had people almost miss flights because they insisted on swinging by The Rooms gift shop to pick one up on the way to the airport.

Some of the best Rick Mercer TV I’ve ever seen featured him and Hawco performing synchronized classic detective driving stunts in twin GTOs.

“Never be afraid to fail,” Hawco tells Mercer before they set out. That’s a lesson we should teach our children. If Hawco had not failed on his first few pitches to CBC, we would never have “Republic of Doyle.”

We wouldn’t have Russell Crowe (a.k.a. Robin Hood) and the Merry Men jury-rigged into the plot of the Season 3 premiere. We wouldn’t have Mark O’Brien, Krystin Pellerin, Marthe Bernard, Gordon Pinsent, Alan Doyle, Shaun Majumder, Mark Critch, Pete Soucy and Shannon Tweed getting to do a shoot in their home province.

We wouldn’t get the great acting of Sean McGinley and Lynda Boyd coming to our screens with the beautiful St. John’s in the background.

“Republic of Doyle” would not be seen in 96 countries, including Bolivia, Latvia, Kenya, Australia, Russia, Germany and Brazil.

So with only two shows left this season, we’ll have to resort to watching old episodes over and over until we know them so well we can point out inaccuracies. We recently rewatched the first couple of episodes from Season 1 where Jake catches Des spraypainting his beloved GTO. My nephew, Joshua, had noticed that in Episode 2 Des is scrubbing away at his artwork on the car back in the garage on Gower Street while Jake is out investigating. But lo and behold, the GTO appears in the background not once, but twice, when Jake is out and about.

Inconsistencies like this only make us love the show more.

Susan Flanagan can be reached at susan@48degrees.ca.