Saturday, January 4, 2014

CBC's The Best Laid Plans : Worth Watching

For decades Canadian TV programmers were told to stay away from Canadian politics as a source for drama.
The only CBC series I can think of way back was the fine 1966 series Quentin Durgens, M.P. starring reliable Gordon Pinsent.
I fact when I once suggested a sequel that would have Durgens returning to Ottawa to help his cabinet minister daughter (to be played by Leah Pinsent of course) CBC forces were properly aghast.
Later on came the "comedy" series Not My Department  (1987)  which had terribly producing problems and that was that.
When Arthur Hailey published his first novel In High Places (set in Ottawa) he told me there was absolutely no interest from any Canadian producer about securing TV or movie rights.
Later on Dick Nielsen skewered the politics of separatism in the TV movie Quebec Canada 1995.
And last but not least there was Paul Gross's fine two season mini-series H20 --CBC turned down Gross's proposal for a third season on the grounds the material was too difficult to peddle to any U.S. broadcaster.
So when I watched the first hour of the latest TV venture into politics The Best Laid Plans I was properly skeptical about its success.
But this time, happily, I was wrong.
The six-parter might best be described as "Mr. Smith Goes To Ottawa".
The premiere is on CBC-TV Sunday night at 9 with the second episode on Monday at 9 p.m.
Jonas Chernick is just fine as bumbling political  neophyte  Dan Addison who wanders into the office of Opposition leader George Quimby played with absent minded charm by Mark McKinney.
Addison is the bookish type who has high moral standards in a profession inhabited by low lifes --think of how the super brilliant Nigel Wright is being treated by the Tories of today.
Addison catches his gal pal (well played by Sarah Allen) in bed with a political enemy and promptly decides to ditch politics for good and get back to the academic life of the University of Ottawa.
But to extricate himself fully he first must sum up one more feat of help to Quimby --he must find somebody to run in a bye election against the most popular hack in Commons history.
It's while he's busy finding a new pad that Addison happens to stumble upon such a candidate: an aging professor of engineering  named Angus McLintock and played to the hilt by veteran Kenneth Welsh.
I haven't spoken to Welsh since his brilliant turn as Watson in several Canadian made TV remakes of Sherlock Holmes but he's perfectly cast as the bombastic professor.
What ensues reminds me of that fine series Ed --everyone here is just a bit larger than life.
And Chernick emerges as a Jimmy Stewart for our age.
And for once Canadian politics doesn't seem as dull as a stack of dirty dishes.
For one thing the screenplay from Susan Coyne (Slings And Arrows) and Jason Sherman (The Listener) is quite respectful of Terry Fallis's sensational best seller.
Director Peter Moss and producer Phyllis Platt have peopled this comical saga with some of the best Canadian names around: Sonja Smits as the cagey prime minister, Ron Lea, Peter Keleghan, Lea Pinsent, Raoul Bhaneja.
Shooting in actual locations really helps --the actual corridors of the Commons can be glimpsed more than once.
With the Wright-Duffy scandal unfolding and the Rob Ford fiasco at Toronto's City Hall Canadian politics has never seemed as lively and comically relevant.
Mark down The Best Laid Plans as the first big new Canadian TV hit of the winter season.
MY RATING: ***1/2.

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