I was having lunch with the creator of Little Mosque On the Prairie creator Zarqa Narwaz the day after Glenn Beck had tried to pick a fight with her on his MSNBC talk show (he's since defected to Fox TV).
Let's see, it was December, 2006, and the sprightly CBC sitcom had yet to go on the air but was already making waves. Beck mumbled something about Michael Landon (star of Little House On The Prairie) rolling in his grave but try as he could Beck couldn't really attack Nawaz.
On the TV link from Toronto she remained poised and confident, beautifully made up, soft spoken, humorous. What was there not to like? Beck soon went on to more combustible subjects and that's the whole point.
Monday night at 8 on CBC the third season of the gently mocking sitcom comes to an end.Some critics have always felt the story lines were not stronger, harder hitting. I beg to disagree. The theme is about bonding --with the community, family, neighbors. Everybody gets their turn at bat to be funny. The tine is quirky, at its heart this is a very traditional sitcom (except it has no laugh track).
Ratings the first season were over 1 million a week, partly because the lead in was Rick Mercer. These days the show must duke it out against tough U.S. competition and ratings have dropped precipitously. But not enough for CBC to cancel --such ratings hits as Royal Canadian Air Farce have already bitten the dust.
Watch the season finale and tell me what you think. I find the show holding up fairly well but in need of some choice perk-me-ups. Thise could be in the form of new characters. Some change is positive but too much tinkering with the format could damage the series' creative center.
The final half hour is titled Can I Get A Witness? and once again the competing philosophies of strict fundamentalists versus reformers within the Muslim faith are comically drawn --the liberal Rayyan (Sitara Hewitt) is finally getting married.
But she wants to pick the dress and finally goes into town to get exactly what she wants without consulting her suitor JJ (Stephen Lobo from Godiva's). Her procrastination worries her Muslim parents (Carlo Rota and Sheila McCarthy). Other members of the cast getting into trouble include Mayor Popowicz (Debra McGrath) who is gin guzzling at the festivities and Zaib Shaikh as Amaar, the hunky Iman, not quite sure just how traditional the ceremony should be conducted.
In short the standard ingredients of LMOTP. The friendly face of Canadian Muslims is on display as per usual. Says the Iman to her honor:"There isn't a drop of alcohol in the place."Just as she takes another swig. And groom JJ argues with his dewey bride-to-be about protocol before letting drop the assurance "On the other hand you do look astounding."
Everything is funny enough, fast paced enough. But --positive changes must be made in the fourth season to prevent a condition known as midseries droop. Creator Nawaz should be making these changes from a position of power and not out of desperation.
I've always favored a crossover with that other merry Saskatchewan sitcom, CTV's Corner Gas which has run out of gas and is going to Rerunland. But a few CG characters still could wander in and out for an episode or two. After all two of the writers, Paul Mather and Rob Sheridan originally toiled on CG.
Far more frustrating to this constant CBC observer has been the failure of the Corp to develop additional sitcoms even half as lively as Little Mosque. Competition these days is so brutal there are no safe havens for new Canadian TV comedies to blossom. Instead a promising show like Becoming Erica has been fighting for a second season pick up ever since it debuted.
MY RATING FOR LITTLE MOSQUE'S SEASON FINALE: B++.
PICTURED: MCARTHY, HEWITT.
CATCH THE FINAL HALF HOUR MONDAY MARCH 23 ON CBC AT 8 P.M.