100 Greatest Television Series

99: Due South

Posted in 1990s,Dramas,Greatest TV Series by Kirsten on July 24, 2009
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Canadians like myself love to mock our television industry. It’s easy- the top rated Canadian program of all time is Hockey Night In Canada. Our homegrown industry has not been without it’s successes, but the failures are spectacular. There was 20 years between truly successful sitcoms in Canada.

We do, however, do hour long drama better ( think- Flashpoint,  the multiple  Da Vinci series, the multiple Degrassi shows, which are truly half hour dramas and not sitcoms, Street Legal),  and occasionally, we hit one out of the park. Due South is the one we hit out.

It’s a TV show that is very Canadian- the references alone are hilarious ( Forbisher, Fraser, Diefenbaker, the Jay Semko music, Dawn Charest, Mackenzie King, hockey, Esther Pearson, Red Green did a guest spot, ” Northwest Passage”, the veritable who’s who of Canadian actors in the four seasons) . I always have an amusing time watching episodes with non- Canadians and having them stare at me blankly while I’m laughing my ass off.  But tone and inside jokes aside, it’s not like the show is wildly groundbreaking in theme. It’s a cop show ( granted, one with a lot of humor and even some supernatural influences, and one mighty red serge). The crime of the week was always a bit over the top ridiculous, and then there is the suspension of belief you needed to think that Chicago PD would let a Mountie help them.

The true highlight in the series was the characters. Start with the headliner, Paul Gross’ charmingly straight arrow, by the book Benton Fraser. He would stand outside the consulate like a Beefeater, stone faced and dutiful, while people would have complete conversations with him. He was law abiding to a fault ( he would never shoot a gun, as he had no permit to do so… in the US, but cross the border on the Great Lakes, all bets are off, man). His trusting nature got him into many a sticky situation. Then there was the dirt tasting… among other things. He was a good cop who was also completely uncynical, a rarity on a cop show. Match him up with Ray Vecchio ( played by David Marciano), the more typical TV cop, and you got yourself a sweet buddy-cop pairing. Oh, and then the fabulous Diefenbaker, the deaf half wolf who can read lips. Genius right there.

Due South had been picked up by CBS to air in the States and the first season did air there. But they cancelled it due to low ratings. The show continued on for three more seasons in Canada, where it remains one of the top rated homegrown shows of all time. It left the air in 1999, due more to Gross’ desire to do other projects than anything else ( he would later produce and star in the now classic Canadian cable theater drama Slings And Arrows,  the movies Passchendale and Men With Brooms,  and is showing up this fall on US television as the devil in Eastwick). It remains in constant rotation though on Canadian cable networks specializing in classic TV ( it aired at one point on TVtropolis).

100: Friends

Posted in 1990s,Greatest TV Series,Sitcoms by Kirsten on July 23, 2009
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Honestly, if I had been a NBC exec in the early 90s and heard the pitch for this show- six single friends living in New York City- I would have passed. Why? On the surface, it all seems kind of- blah. But then again, I would have passed on Seinfeld’s ” It’s about nothing” premise, so all this tells you is that I should never be a T.V. exec. But it’s also meant to illustrate that once upon a time, simple premises made for likable T.V. pilots that turned into really funny T.V. shows.

Would Friends succeed today? I actually believe it would. The show holds up well for multiple viewings, and while certain references may be dated, the core conceit of these six twenty-somethings living and loving in NYC is anything but old.  Jokes still come fast and furious, the cast still charms, and the writing is still sharp.

Friends is also one of the first sitcoms I can remember that came with what we now call a mythology, but is really more of an accidental series long question. Creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane admitted that the romance that fuelled the show was originally to be between Monica and Joey. It takes some smart, flexible TV show runners to throw original plans out the window upon seeing the chemistry between two secondary costars like David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston. The Ross and Rachel love story also did not play out like a TV cliche. Yes, there were moments of sitcom cuteness, and the will they/won’t they was drawn out to ridiculous extremes, but the point is it wasn’t easy. Real life is never easy, why should TV be so simplistic. The Ross and Rachel break up episode ( ” The One With the Morning After”) remains one of my personal favorite half hours of television in history- it was real. It wasn’t pat, it wasn’t irrationally over the top, it was the way two people would behave when trust is broken down in a relationship. Ross and Rachel were never the same again, even as they repaired their friendship, had accidental name slips at the altar, drunkenly wed in Vegas, have a baby, and go through numerous other relationships.

Then there was the surprise of Courteney Cox Arquette’s anal Monica and Matthew Perry’s clownish Chandler. I never saw it coming, but that relationship again seemed grounded in reality. They were both scared that the friendship would change, only to realize it did, but for the better. It’s the type of romance that can only come with growth and maturity, particularly for Chandler. Again, it was never easy, and even after the wedding, the realism of infertility hit them, and that and the adoption story were well done.

I guess my over riding point about Friends is this: there were six stock characters- dumb guy, funny guy, geeky guy, flaky girl, the princess, and the neurotic girl. This show could have flailed for six episodes and then been pulled. But the writers refusal to allow their stock characters to remain static and never fearing change, this sitcom about latte loving people remains fresh, funny, and real.