Monday, September 14, 2009

Shows I’m Looking Forward to Watch on Canadian TV This Fall

It’s hard to choose just one Canadian show to look forward to this Fall for the essay contest, so for me it’s a tie between two shows. CTV’s Flashpoint, and CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie. Warning our readers now this is a bit of a long entry...

I’ll start with Little Mosque, first. When the show first began, I was a little biased and couldn’t watch it - I was raised of a culture similar to Islam portrayed in the show, but to this day I still cannot stand to watch any aspects of it that are popular today in the western world. Especially Bollywood films. Family and friends love them to death and I don’t understand the appeal. To me, 99% of them are all the same. Boy falls in love with girl, they can’t be together due to family conflict, and either they both find new lovers or they end up being together, somehow. Of course, there is always song and dance in between. I didn’t want to watch Little Mosque because I was afraid that this would just be another cheezy take on culture like so many other productions of the day which exaggerated aspects of those productions that were already cheezy to my eyes (and many other members of the western audience, I might add). Though, I did catch some of the later episodes towards the end of the first season, and watched it off and on in the second season. There were a few episodes which I caught only because former Sailor Moon actors had made appearances as well. I thought it did a pretty good job of writing a lot of the conflicts of trying to stay true to Islam in the modern world - and it definitely incorporated some hometown “Saskatchewanisms” that I at least have come to know... so slowly, I warmed to the show.

But then last season had probably one of the most interesting plotlines - Rayyan’s wedding. The more I heard about it in various media and spoiler sites, the more I had to check it out. Marriage has always been a touchy issue in our cultures - especially over the tradition of arranged marriages. Being born in Canada and living my life here, I have always been against it but I was very curious about how this show was going to handle it, especially since the show was going to feature Rayyan and J.J. dating - which is still something many of this culture aren’t too happy with the idea of! The very last episode featured a wedding that didn’t go right at all, and though not unheard of, I think the show took a big risk in writing this ending and despite many criticisms on the internet, I didn’t think it "sucked". It was very intriguing to see the clashes between the culture and values that Rayyan herself followed versus those of J.J. and no matter how hard they tried to make it work, in the end, they just couldn’t do it. I really look forward to next season - how Rayyan heals from this, and how she moves on, especially. These ideas are relatively new territory for cultures who aren’t sure how to keep old tradition in tune with modern times, and I look forward to seeing this show’s take on them. And hey, it’s a homegrown production that’s close to me so that’s the other reason I look forward to it!

And now, Flashpoint. The show which this blog is devoted to, and which our sister blog Moon Chase spent a significant time covering from August of 2007. When I first learned of this show, it was through not a news search, but random web searches I conduct in my efforts to keep Sailor Moon fans updated on what the voices are up to. Which in itself, was inspired by series co-creator, Stephanie Morgenstern.

In 2004, I got the opportunity to attend my first anime convention in Toronto (CNanime as it was called back then). I had been living there that summer taking a review course, but I remember being just as enthralled as everyone else who was living there watching the TV coverage over the hostage situation that happened near Union Station that July. I was shocked in horror over how something like this could happen and I did keep up with further developments as they came in the paper. A little over a month later, was the anime convention. I knew that the director of my favorite episodes of Sailor Moon, Roland Parliament, was going to be there, but I had no idea who else from the show was going to speak alongside him on the Sailor Moon panel. To my surprise, a blonde woman walked into the room behind him and he introduced her: Stephanie Morgenstern. I was lucky enough to be sitting in the front row and thought to myself... really? When I was much younger, her character Sailor Venus, was my favorite and I was thinking to myself, how totally cool is this to meet one of my favorite characters in the flesh? It was during this panel that Stephanie spoke very passionately about how the show really put Canada on the map for cartoon dubbing and also how much they had invested into not only their characters in the show. I also remember her saying something about how much of a struggle it was for Canadian actors to get recognition outside of Canada. I was very surprised to hear how much they had known about some of the promotional events in Japan , most notably the "big headed" costumes (kirigumi). For them the show had gone beyond just another role that they had played. At the time I was writing for another site, Save Our Sailors, and one of my biggest roles on the site was keeping tabs on the actors and after hearing her speak, she gave me a lot to think about. She signed my empty can of Heinz Sailor Moon pasta (which still sits atop my desk today), recognized the site that I had written for, and I was on cloud nine for the next few days. While the show met an unfortunate end in North America just weeks later, the fandom didn’t die. Over the next 3 years I would infrequently keep fans up to date on the actors, of course keeping Stephanie’s comments in my head, but not really knowing how to act with them.

Fast forward to late 2006, when I decide it’s about time I started my own site, with the help of my friends who have served as very diligent staffers since! March 8th, 2007 was the day Moon Chase went live to a much warmer reception than I had expected. I was fully prepared to shut down the site after 6 months if it just wasn’t popular. Fans enjoyed to read the actor updates as they came, but the vast majority of their appearances were in Canadian productions, which readers in the U.S, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK couldn’t really see, leaving many wondering what the faces behind the voices were. That August was when I came across a WDIC newsletter, where at first I didn’t actually believe it was the same Stephanie Morgenstern that we had all known of, but then when I learned it was actually the same person, I knew this could be a production that might be a little bigger than the others we had covered, so that’s when I refined my newshounding skills and decided to keep tabs on the show’s development. And though the stories that I had posted didn’t receive many comments from the fans, as I posted more about what I was learning about the show, they soon became the most popular posts on the site. The fans were very interested to see how one of the most beloved voices on the show was making her way onto bigger and better things. Flashpoint began in the Summer of 2008, on both Canadian and American TV screens, and was a much bigger success than any of us on staff had expected. And then when it started to pop up on more international markets, we would get a lot of emails from places like Poland, Australia, Czechoslovakia, and the UK from fans who loved the show and thanked us for covering it so well (and asked for more!). The stats had grown to the point where 40% of all hits to Moon Chase were coming just to learn more about Flashpoint. And like Sailor Moon, this show had really made it on an international market and opened the door for Canadian talent. It was through the success of Flashpoint that I finally came to understand just what Stephanie was talking about, many years ago. Actors were finally sailing from the Canadian shores and really becoming known around the world! It was just amazing to see the show’s amazing international appeal. Moreover, the show has done a lot for many Canadian actors in their own country where many aren’t even aware of them! When you read the interviews that the stars and crew have given since the show has begun, you also get a feel that this is just not another show that they work on. They know just what it means to Canada and despite editorial requirements, they still manage to sneak in elements to keep the show true to its Canadian identity.

The actors on the show also make Flashpoint really unique. A lot of the same kinds of shows when they do feature ethnic actors , most times make them seem to be like "big monsters" without really featuring in depth, why. One thing the show does really well is it gives these characters soul - even though they may only be on for one episode, you see more than just one facet of their characters and it gives the show a certain depth over others. Three episodes really come to mind especially with this - "Between Heartbeats", "Eagle Two" and "The Fortress". Both carrying villains that were the "bad guys" in their own right, but their backstories did pose some ethical dilemmas. In "Between Heartbeats" you have a son who wants to avenge his father because he feels he shouldn’t have been murdered , but also has some fight in him from serving in his former country’s army. In "Eagle Two", there’s a Latin American teenager fighting between old country values to fight for her father, yet unsure if she should, given the freedom she has in Canada. "The Fortress" also featured a Russian nanny in conflict.

So, aside from obvious SRU plotline cliffhangers (Are Jules and Sam ever going to get back together? Will Greg finally get the courage to see his son? Will we get to meet any of Spike's large family?) I look forward to Flashpoint’s 3rd season’s deep plots and the diverse Canadian talent that will be featured. I also hope the show will rise again from certain strange scheduling south of the border, and will continue to open doors for Canadian productions all around the world.

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