Saturday, April 3, 2010

TV: My thoughts on “Hiccups” and “Dan for Mayor”

I was a huge Corner Gas fan. If you don’t know about Corner Gas, you can watch all of the episodes on YouTube. (It originated on CTV in Canada and was shown for a time here in the states on WGN.) And, you should, since it is one of the funniest and well-written shows of all-time (at least in my opinion). Check out this part of the Pink Eye episode as a great example.

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Needless to say, I was saddened when the show went off the air last year. They chose to walk away after Season #6 so it would not go stale. (American TV take note! Especially Scrubs!) But, we were promised that it would not be long before we had two new shows with a Corner Gas connection. This month, CTV finally delivered on that promise with Hiccups and Dan for Mayor.

Before I get started, they both have their different strong points and I am also concerned about their longevity for different reasons.

First up, Hiccups is Brent Butt’s show – starring Nancy Robertson.

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He was the creator and lead of Corner Gas and he created and wrote 3 of the 5 episodes of Hiccups shown so far. He also became a cast member and I am reading that that was not originally planned. The lead in Hiccups is Nancy Robertson (Wanda from Corner Gas and real-life wife of Brent). She is hilarious and her character here is not a far stretch from Wanda. The problem is that her character (Millie Upton) is so far over the top sometimes that it makes you cringe “Michael Scott from The Office-style”. Life coach Stan Dirko (played by Brent) has his hands completely full trying to keep her from snapping in public. Even with the cringing, there are scenes that are laugh out loud funny – such as when Millie declares that all milk cartons are “stupid hunk(s) of crap” or when she tries to eat super-spicy hot food just because her agent does (she is a children’s book author). But, in between the laugh out loud funny scenes, I found myself at times sometimes getting bored and distracted – especially when the story focused on the other characters.

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And that is my longevity concern - I don’t have the buy-in with the ensemble characters that I would like to have. They are all “OK” but each of them can get annoying at times. The agent is smug, the head of the publishing company is too stand-offish, the receptionist is an incredible slacker – it’s all “OK”, but the attachment to the characters I think we need for this one to really take off just hasn’t developed yet. I’m going to keep watching as there are flashes of excellence and truly laugh out loud moments. As the five episodes aired so far have progressed, we’ve seen the focus switch around to the other characters and last week was the best so far. Also, how life coach Stan Dirko (who dresses out of the 1980 Sears catalog) landed a beautiful Latina wife will have you scratching your head. Must be “King of Queens syndrome” striking again.

I give it a solid B+ and declare it a work in progress. I hope it lasts and keeps getting better because we need Brent Butt and Nancy Robertson back on TV. Also, I hope to see some Corner Gas alums making guest appearances!

Next up is Dan for Mayor, starring Corner Gas alum Fred Ewanuick.

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Fred Ewanuick played Hank Yarbo on Corner Gas and his character is not a whole lot different. This is a good thing. Also, the co-creators of Dan for Mayor are the people who were the show runners behind Corner Gas – Mark Farrell, Paul Mather, and Kevin White. This is a great thing. I think this is why so many of the strengths and techniques and sight gags of Corner Gas are present in Dan for Mayor. It’s a totally different show and yet extremely familiar right down to the use of the local Essex newspaper as a media outlet that is just as pestering and judgmental as the Dog River Howler was.

Fred Ewanuick plays Dan Phillips as a metropolitan Hank Yarbo -the character is genuine and extremely likable and that’s all a credit to Fred Ewanuick. When his ex informs him that she is engaged, he blurts out to her that he is running for mayor. Instead of backing off of this, he decides he must live up to his word and actually run for mayor.  Where the creators of Dan for Mayor really excel is that the buy in for the characters is there in heaps. The laugh out loud moments don’t come as often (it’s not a slapstick type of show) but you watch the show smiling and you want to know what happens next. My longevity worry is that the premise is going to be a bit hard to sustain and I am concerned that could be the downfall of the show. The show is interesting because we are taking Dan out of his somewhat slacker element each week and we’re watching him mature and handle all sorts of things by just being, well, Dan. Supposedly, the last episode of the season will highlight the election. I’m sure it will be a cliff-hanger but I would think he has to win (thus renaming the show Dan THE Mayor for season 2). So, if he wins – what is next? I guess we’ll have to stay tuned and find out how they can hold on to the spirit and energy of Season 1 if Dan really wins the election (and a renewal by CTV!).

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Another positive is the ensemble cast is very strong – just like the Corner Gas cast was. You’re not annoyed with any of them and a true breakout star is Ben Ayers (below with his new Blu-ray player). I wonder why I have not seen more of him. He is the new fiancé of Dan’s ex, Claire. He is also hilarious. I also love Laurie Murdoch, who is the vice-mayor and bumbling semi arch nemesis of Dan. And, Paul Bates as Dan’s best friend / campaign manager Jeff is a true gem.

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So, you can tell that I really like Dan for Mayor. I think it would be a perfect fit for the empty 8PM Eastern slot on ABC’s Comedy Wednesday. Match it up with The Middle and Modern Family.

I give it an A and hope it finds an American home that will treat it with some respect (unlike what WGN ended up doing to Corner Gas).

That’s that. Have a good Easter. No blog update tomorrow!

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