Wednesday, July 21, 2010 | Categories: Q Blog
Violent police dramas from our peaceful neighbors to the north keep the US market in mind
By Alex Beam, Boston Globe Columnist
Call it the attack of the culturally compromised Canadian cop shows, a couple of which are crummy. The one that is good is very good.
It all started a couple of seasons ago, when CBS picked up "Flashpoint,'' a series about a Toronto police SWAT team that was popular in Canada. "Flashpoint'' celebrates everything the Canadians say they hate about us Americans: It's gratuitously violent and stupid, with the Kevlar-vested lads in blue armed to the teeth with the latest weaponry. They cruise the world in caravans of gas-guzzling, black Chevy Suburbans, just like Canada's favorite son, Kiefer Sutherland, in "24.'' They even use the phrase "set up a hard perimeter,'' which I thought had been trademarked by the lazy writers on "24.''
Here's the thing. Absent the gorgeous scenery and the occasional glimpse of an Ontario license plate, you would never guess this was a Canadian show. The cops work for a "big city police force,'' with no identifying uniform or cruiser markings. Toronto-based logophobe Naomi Klein, author of "No Logo,'' would approve.
The actors speak generic North American. Nary an "eh?'' or "aboot'' passes their lips. It's obvious that "Flashpoint'' -- and its partners in Canadian crime, "Rookie Blue'' and "The Bridge'' -- were produced and shot with the lucrative US market in mind. Mission accomplished! "Flashpoint'' and "The Bridge'' are on CBS, and "Rookie Blue'' is part of ABC's Thursday night lineup.
I had an interesting conversation with Susanne Boyce, creative and content president for Canada's CTV, which produced "Flashpoint'' and "The Bridge.'' She spent most of the time laughing at my suggestion that these no-label cops shows had been jumped up for resale to America: "They are written and commissioned first and foremost as Canadian shows, created for Canadian audiences. We don't do generic shows.'' When I remarked that "Flashpoint'' made Toronto look like Fort Apache, the Bronx, which it is not, she said the country I once praised as the Peaceable Kingdom has changed: "There are definitely crimes here,'' she said. "It's not a place without guns. It's not like the old days.''
Yes and no. In 2008, 41 American police officers were killed in the line of duty. In Canada, zero. Per capita, there are more than twice the number of homicides in the United States compared with Canada, where handguns are tightly restricted. I'm saying this is a good thing. I just don't see why Canada has to pimp itself out as Dodge City North to earn some simoleons south of the border.
What about the shows? Forget "Flashpoint''; it's mindless bang-bang. "Rookie Blue,'' about an incoming class of gorgeous runway model-cops, is even worse, a real embarrassment to its creators and to ABC. Apparently it is intended for female audiences -- " 'Grey's Anatomy' with rookie cops,'' explains Andrew Ryan of the Toronto Globe and Mail -- which excludes me.
"The Bridge'' is by far the best of the three, but you may have trouble catching up with it. CBS has successfully hidden it in a Saturday night time slot, and if you missed the two-hour pilot, it might be hard to understand what is going on.
"The Bridge'' is about corruption at the top levels of the Toronto police force, and is based on the actual career of a crusading police union leader. Michael Murphy of "Nashville'' and "Tanner'' fame plays the ethically compromised chief of police, and Aaron Douglas -- Galen Tyrol of "Battlestar Galactica'' -- stars as the union boss. In one forthcoming episode, he has to convince the mayor to back away from her campaign for mandatory drug testing of police officers. (Sound familiar?) I loved the shout-out to the Punjabi mob in the two-hour pilot. It reminded me of my favorite TV cop, Vic Mackey, and the salad days of "The Shield.''
I know what you are thinking: You're prejudiced! (That hilarious line uttered by Kirsten Dunst in the movie "Dick.'') But I'm not. I love Canadian TV: "This Hour Has 22 Minutes''; "The Newsroom''; to say nothing of "Slings and Arrows,'' maybe the best TV series I have ever seen. It's American TV I can't abide. And to see Canada lowering itself to our level is depressing.