Slings and Arrows - more Paul Gross and Canadian TV

Discovered the first big drawback of TMDb - they don’t have TV serials implemented yet *sigh* I am therefore resorting to IMDb for this review - I had most of the links already in my drafts anyway.
My review structure has changed again, but it’s very simple now - I think this one will be much pleasanter to read.


"Slings and Arrows" (Canada, 2003-2006)

Seen: June 2010
Creators: Susan Coyne, Bob Martin, Mark McKinney
Writers: Susan Coyne, Tecca Crosby, Bob Martin, Mark McKinney, Sean Reycraft
Cast: Paul Gross, Martha Burns, Don McKellar, Mark McKinney, Oliver Dennis, Stephen Ouimette, Susan Coyne

Season One
Trailer: Promo for season one
Episodes: 6 (45′ each)
Rating: +0 (Liked It)
Story: The New Burbage theatre is already in decline and debt when the director in charge of their production of Hamlet suddenly dies. In the chaotic scramble that ensues, an actor, who has spent most of his recent years in a mental institution (the direct result of essaying the role of Hamlet), gets involved.

The best thing about this series is the writing. The way the whole situation and characters are constructed is beautiful. And it has some of my favourite lines ever *grin*
My top line was when, in the middle of an explanation of Oliver’s eccentric burial wish, Geoffrey states - I believe the state has no place in the nation’s bedrooms and by extension their graves. Another of my favourite pieces of dialogue happens in a rehearsal scene - the actress playing Ofelia, having no experience of madness, concludes that being stoned is probably a close approximation and Geoffrey (who has first-hand experience of insanity, having himself been in a mental institution for years) tries to explain to her that being stoned and having a mental breakdown are very different feelings ;)
The characters are very colourful and the casting is great. But it’s the way these very eccentric characters interact with each other that makes the whole thing come alive. There’s a huge amount of detail in the relationships. I particularly loved the chemistry between Paul Gross and Martha Burns (who are married in real life). It’s a love-hate kind of relationship and they work really well like that. It’s a lot of fun watching them together - often when I’ve seen married couples act opposite each other the spark hasn’t been there, but in this case it sure as hell is *grin*
But on the downside (and it’s why I didn’t enjoy it enough to rate it higher), this sort of plot has certain pitfalls and they fell into them :-/ The obvious problem is that when you’ve got so many levels on which action plays out (life, bad performances, good performances, rehearsals etc.), establishing conventions for all of these gets very tricky - especially when some of the characters are quite theatrical even in their day to day life. They didn’t find a good way to resolve this, so a lot of the acting is hammy and exaggerated.
Stylistically, I also found it very disappointing. It’s the kind of story that, IMO at least, really needs some quirky visual ideas. The reality is very layered. Apart from the already mentioned there’s Geoffrey’s lunacy to deal with too (he keeps seeing Oliver’s ghost and he has weird dreams). Yet they pretty much stay with a very standard, boring TV style.

Season Two
Trailer: Promo for season two
Episodes: 6 (45′ each)
Rating: +2 (Adored It)
Story: The New Burbage theatre is in trouble again, but this time it’s the production of Macbeth that’s causing all the problems.

In season two, the chemistry amongst the cast improves quite a bit and there’s generally more nuance in the acting. Geraint Wyn Davies does a very good job playing Henry Breedlove. Henry is, essentially, a good actor who is too set in his ways to do a good performance. Somehow that point gets put across quite believably which, I think, is a huge achievement :)
In every season, the relationship between Geoffrey and his lead actor plays an important part and I think the reason this season is by far my favourite is how satisfying I find the relationship between Geoffrey and Henry. You can see exactly why Geoffrey is having problems with his Macbeth, but also exactly why Henry might work if he was just a little bit more open-minded. And the rivalry and tension between them is just so satisfying *grin*
The relationship between Geoffrey and Ellen develops further also. On the one hand they’re sort of back to being a couple, but on the other whether they can stay as a couple is very questionable. There’s a particular moment between them that really does it for me - when he realizes that she’s told Henry about how unstable his sanity still is. Just the look on his face… It’s the worst way Ellen could have betrayed him.
The series still has a lot of the problems it had in its first season (standard TV style, a somewhat hammy feel etc.), but they did manage to find a somewhat better balance and it makes all the difference!

Season Three
Trailer: Promo for season three
Episodes: 6 (45′ each)
Rating: +1 (Loved It)
Story: The New Burbage theatre’s troubles seem to have finally been resolved… but then the rehearsals for King Lear start…

The problem with this season for me is that I never believed that Charles Kingman would make a good King Lear. Geoffrey is so certain of this that he banks everything he’s got on it, but I just never saw what he does… I knew what it was that he wanted to get out of Henry in Macbeth. I understood why he wasn’t giving up on Jack in Hamlet. But I never got why he believed so much in Charles Kingman. As this lies at the very heart of all the action, it makes it much more difficult to get involved.
There’s a lot of side plot that’s very satisfying though *grin* And as I love the cast and characters so much, it’s still a lot of fun to watch.
Geoffrey is very stressed in this, which results in him having sudden attacks of weeping in the middle of public speeches - a side plot I absolutely adore ;) There’s one scene I love in particular - when he cries on the first day of rehearsals for King Lear. Most of his crying scenes are rather hammy (which I suppose isn’t so bad, as it is comedy after all), but that one has something real about it, which makes it all the more hilarious ;)
I also love how Ellen reacts to Geoffrey’s problems. She’s not particularly worried that he’s been crying in front of thousands of people with no apparent reason. In fact, it seems to bother her much less than him talking to imaginary people (i.e. Oliver). Geoffrey’s stress levels only become a problem once they effect their sex life ;) Ever since season one, the point that sex is a very important part of life for Ellen, has been made abundantly clear (she is rarely without a steady or casual lover and her lovers have often been about 20 years younger than her). So this plays into that beautifully (and I also think it’s refreshing to have a female character like that!).
Geoffrey’s counselling sessions at the church are absolutely wonderful as well *grin* (and it’s nice to see a less stereotypical view of the church there!).
And a lot of the other characters have great side plots… Richard, who does the financial part of running the theatre, is going through his own crisis. This means that Anna, who is basically the one and only person that keeps the theatre miraculously running, has even more work to do. On top of that she’s trying to figure out what to do with a group of Bolivian musicians who can’t return home because of a coup in Bolivia. Nahum, the Nigerian security guard, has his usual refreshing perspective on things…
The final episode and the way everything gets tied in together is also very satisfying - a good end to the whole series :)

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