When I first weighed in on The Border two weeks ago I acknowledged the trap TV critics often fall into–judging a series by its pilot, as bad as judging a book by its cover. Time to turn that page. Tonight at 9 p.m., the CBC action hour returns with a third episode and, three chapters in, I’m hooked.
Guess I’m not the only one. Of the four shows CBC launched this month, The Border remains the most-watched, pulling 710,000 viewers the first week and 599,000 in Week Two. It also won last week’s TV Feeds My Family’s totally unscientific poll, with 37% of respondents voting it their favorite new CBC show, ahead of MVP at 27%, jPod at 24% and Sophie at 10%.
What delighted me about tonight’s episode, “Bodies On The Ground” (written by Mr Busy Keys himself, Denis McGrath) was the sure-handed growth in both plot and character. The episode got off to a flying start with an unidentified private jet making an emergency landing on a remote stretch of road in rural Quebec. Mike Kessler (James McGowan) and his elite Immigration and Customs Security squad zero in, only to learn from special agent Bianca LaGarda (sizzling CSI: Miami babe Sofia Milos) that terrorists were on board and that a hostage situation is in play. Suddenly, three armed terrorists are roaming free throughout rural Quebec. Zut alors!
Now you’ve got Quebec cops pissed that the Feds are all over their crime scene and the Canadian super cops pissed that the Yanks are threatening to invade their turf. What could be more Canadian in a crime drama?
Which is a big reason why I liked this episode so much. I no longer felt like I was watching a clone of an American action hour, a CSI: Niagara or Toronto. The Border is a slick, exciting, all-Canadian show, with CN Towers and Parliament Buildings in backgrounds for essential plot reasons, not just to wave flags.
Gone, too, were a lot of the one-dimensional aspects which I felt diminished almost every character in Episode One. The Father Figure, the Cowboy, the Computer Nerd–all grew beyond their sketchy pilot profiles. We had time, for example, to get to know the show’s beat cops a bit better this week, especially Al “Moose” Lepinsky, played by ubiquitous Canadian actor Mark Wilson. Det. Gray Jackson (Graham Abbey) also seemed more real after coming under fire in the field. Catherine Disher continues to shine as a level-headed ICS field commander. Unlike the pilot, there are real characters to care about and root for tonight.
Cranking it all up a level is Milos as LaGarda, the Yankee thorn in Canadian squad leader Mike Kessler’s side. Milos makes everyone sexier on this show, especially McGowan, who, as the Canuck in control, benefits from having a formidable sparring partner. “You guys are not good with quiet,” he lectures LaGardia in one of tonight’s he said/she said face offs. “You have to stop swatting flies with bunker blasters.”
Which brings up a point raised by Robert Fulford in the National Post last week and given a thorough airing on McGrath’s wonderfully insidery blog, Dead Things On Sticks: how much is too much when it comes to pushing the Ugly American button on Canadian TV? Have to admit the Yankee bashing felt a little forced when I watched episode one and it pops up over and over again tonight. There are snide cracks about the war on terror and American aggression and imperialism, with the bitchy Homeland Security hottie dismissing the Canucks as “just so naive.”
Pushing the Canadian pride button has become a popular TV shortcut. Those beer ads where the smug Yankee dude yammers on about how bland Canucks are with their hockey and their beer before he gets duct taped into submission are all about what unites Canada more than anything else these days–anti-Americanism. If it can sell beer, it can sell TV shows, and it might even help export them everywhere but in the U.S.
I guess, but The Border doesn’t need to play this David and Goliath card quite so often. There are plenty of other reasons to watch, including 24-level action, intriguing characters and snappy dialogue. Take this lament from frustrated computer geek Hieronymus Slade (Jonas Chernick), who at one point can’t stop a sensitive posting from popping up all over the Internet: “Doesn’t anybody just surf for porn anymore?”
TV Feeds My Family should have such problems. Maybe if I keep writing about The Border…