Last night I purposely watched what may be the single-most "Canadian" piece of television that has ever aired in the Great White North. I'm honestly afraid to even type out the premise of this show lest I inadvertently conjure a Canadian Beetlejuice who is just waiting for someone to write too many words about hockey in one sentence before being unleashed.
In Global TV's Private Eyes, Jason Priestley is Matt Shade, former pro hockey star turned struggling, absentee dad who's just trying to make a buck in the cutthroat world of junior hockey talent scouting. His dad is his hero and he's not sure he'll ever be as great a man or player as him. That's until he meets a buxom private eye who helps him solve a hockey mystery and shows him there IS life beyond the sport—like solving hockey-related crimes. They drive around Toronto in Danier's finest leather coats. Dougie Gilmour's name is mentioned four separate times in the pilot. There are several jokes about the doggedness of Leafs fans. This. Is. Canada.
To love and purposely consume Canadian television is to be in a constant state of turmoil over the successes and failures of our homegrown content. Degrassi, Are You Afraid of The Dark and Kids In The Hall all shaped my tiny child brain and enriched my life with a million "30 Helens" jokes. In fact, the entire YTV kids slate is permanently embedded in some dark corner of my mind just waiting for a PJ Katie mention in the wild so it can finally be utilized. So I have high expectations for the kind of programming we should be making here. Canada is a weird, dark place with an abundance of corrupt and caustic humour, more than enough to satisfy a few half-hour multicam sketch shows and dramedies. The filmmakers and comedians we export have historically produced bizarre, uncomfortable, weird and awesome shit for the world (think David Cronenberg, Xavier Dolan, Jim Carrey, and Mike Myers). And yet our increasing focus at home has been on putting forth our most mild, milequetoast stories and populating them with the same five faces as if Allan Hawco is the only Newfie that can jump out of a moving car at medium speed. We're deep into the middle-ages of the so-called "Golden Age of Television" and I defy you to name a single Canadian program that even begins to parallel the inventiveness of Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones or Mad Men.
And to be clear, Private Eyes is not even technically a bad show. It is a colour-by-numbers, live-action Scooby Doo-style procedural with just enough sexual frisson between the leads to qualify as at least a third-rate CSI spinoff (Cyber or NYC). They even splurged and paid for the rights to the eponymous Hall and Oates song, so the usual low-budget hangups of our national television don't yet plague Private Eyes.
But it's also embarrassing to see our broadcasters adhere SO stringently to the CRTC guidelines for Can Con. Hockey isn't even our most played sport anymore and with the Raptors in the conference finals and zero Canadian teams in the NHL playoffs, it's never been less a part of our national conversation. It feels like the pitch for this show was found in one of those time capsule's left by fifth graders 30 years ago. It's Brandon Walsh as a former hockey player! Private Eyes is a parody of what people think they are contractually obligated to air in Canada so they can continue to run seven consecutive hours of The Voice hassle-free.
This point has been bemoaned for years (so apologies for bringing it up again but what can you do), what purpose do Canadian Content rules serve if studios feel handcuffed by what they can and can't show. And our new Liberal Heritage Minister Melanie Joly has openly said the system that governs our content needs to be overhauled, though she's unsure what that would actually look like or how quickly it should change. But I don't know that the underlying problems that ultimately produce shows like Private Eyes are overbearing Can Con restrictions. I think it's risk-averse media conglomerates that continue to be run by the same MBA-schooled white men who still think the face of Canada is Paul Gross and Corner Gas was a documentary. Yes, thankfully a few passable hits manage to eek through that system (Orphan Black is amazing, Schitt's Creek is a fully watchable show) but the majority of our TV still runs along the lines of that bizarre reality show about crossing the border.
There are a ton of amazing Canadian storytellers begging to be heard - some might even have a better role for Priestley to play. But when their ideas are processed through the same fearful, tiny hive mind we end up with programming that's designed to fail with the masses rather than flourish with a few.
Sorry Brandon Walsh.
Follow Amil Niazi on Twitter