It’s difficult, and usually a little unfair, to judge a series by one episode. That’s especially true of Northern Rescue, a drama about a family facing a devastating, life-changing loss.
The first 20 minutes of this series catches the West family during a heartbreaking time. The “Rescue” in the title is as much about them as it is about the citizens of the northern town where they eventually reside (real location: Parry Sound, Ont.).
Alec Baldwin’s kid brother Billy (“Backdraft”), billed here as William, gives a mature, sympathetic performance as dad John West, who uproots his family from the big city to command a local Search and Rescue Unit in a small town. The move takes place after the sudden and unexpected death of his wife from cancer. She was the glue who held this family together, according to the narration of 16-year-old eldest daughter Maddie (Amalia Williamson). The grieving family just has enough time left with their mom for a teary, hospital scene goodbye.
John West’s spunky sister Charlotte (Hamilton, Ont. – native Kathleen Robertson, best remembered from the original Beverly Hills, 90210) has enough steel up her own spine to have this family’s back. She quickly assesses that her brother is not going to be able to put out this family fire and suggests they all relocate to her small town. She can help them all heal between shifts at her cozy country cafe.
Grander outdoor adventures ensue but not so much in the somber pilot. Even after that, it will be the stories around the dinner table that will bring viewers back. That, and, perhaps, a penguin named “Tux,” played by two African penguins (Dayo and Skadu) rented from the West Edmonton Mall. Hey, every rescue family needs a rescue penguin.
Veteran Canadian movie producer Don Carmody (“Goon,” “Chicago”) gives it a Hollywood sheen, with Mark Bacci, David Cormican and Dwayne Hill breaking stories that will resonate with real families. The series eventually takes full advantage of the breathtaking Muskoka scenery. Viewers will have to sit through a lot of hurt in the pilot, however, to get to the heart of Ontario’s cottage country.
Northern Rescue begins streaming Friday, March 1 on CBC Gem.