I didn’t expect to dig Diggstown as much as I do, but I do.
The story takes place in North Preston, Nova Scotia, billed as Canada’s Largest Black Community. At the centre stands Marcia Diggs (Vinessa Antoine, above left with Karen LeBlanc), a rising star, big city, corporate lawyer who – for reasons unclear in the pilot but amplified later on – is knocked back down to her rural roots in Nova Scotia.
That’s where we find her working out of a utility room for a street level legal aid boutique. Natasha Henstridge (Species) plays her shrewd, no-nonsense boss and former Street Legal original C. David Johnson the grey beard in the office. Stacey Farber (Grace and Frankie), Brandon Oakes and Shailene Garnett round out a solid cast.
The cases are run-of-the-mill and, in the first episode at least, resolutions a tad too tidy. Nonetheless, Diggs and the others are defending those who have fallen through the cracks of the legal system. A simple truck driver in the pilot, for example, can sure use the break Diggs provides, and thus is easy to cheer for.
Same with the writing, with dialogue that is both sparse and crisp. Floyd Kane is creator, executive producer and showrunner; the Dalhousie law grad — who has been a producer/story editor on everything from 22 Minutes to Continuum — was at one time Salter Street’s legal council so he knows this turf inside and out.
The Atlantic setting helps too, with Diggs zipping herself into the extra thick wet suits worn by anyone crazy enough to attempt surfing in the chilly waters off the coast of Nova Scotia. Antoine, familiar from both Being Erica and General Hospital, seems very at home as a lawyer who knows what it’s like to be facing long odds in society as well as in the legal system. There are many family scenes in the pilot, and none feel tacked on; in fact, I dig them the most.
CBC is launching two new legal dramas this week — the other being Street Legal –and to me, Diggstown seems the more lively and original. The public broadcaster already has a third legal drama centred on a woman on its schedule, Burden of Truth. There’s no law against that, but it does seem a bit much. Burden of Truth also relocated a big city lawyer and dropped her into a small town community. Again they’re all on the same network.
I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that, if you’re going to re-invent Street Legal‘s Olivia Novak, place her in another province. Canada has so many amazing corners to tuck characters and the farther from Bay Street the better. But, fine, somebody’s got to stay and fight the good fight in T.O.
Watch to the very end of Diggstown‘s premiere episode for a couple of bracing left turns. Beautifully photographed with picture postcard shots of Halifax harbor, all set to occasional blasts of funky soul music. The six-episode season launches Wednesday on CBC. ***1/2