While I’m feeling under-the-weather and avoiding client visits to keep from spreading this d*mned cold, I thought I’d review two television programs you probably haven’t seen, and strongly suggest you expend the energy to seek them out. Both are “foreign” programs (that is, produced outside the United States), and both are well worth the trouble it takes to find and watch them. Reviews and photos from first the drama This is Not My Life, then the comedy Men with Brooms after the jump.
This is Not My Life
|Charles Mesure as Alec Ross, a man who doesn’t belong|
From New Zealand, of all places, comes this sci-fi-mystery-thriller-whatever program, with an impressive cast and a sideways story. Charles Mesure stars as a man who wakes up in a bedroom he doesn’t recognize, with a family he doesn’t recognize, fleeing into a street he doesn’t recognize, and running almost-naked through a town he doesn’t recognize. While we’ve all at one time or another felt we don’t belong in our lives, Alec really doesn’t seem to belong…even though his PeC (the credit-card-sized Personal Entertainment and Communication device, which is a phone, credit card, camera, book, personal computer, and pretty much anything else you’d need) shows him to be one Alec Ross, and the photos throughout the house show a happy and healthy home life.
To even try to describe any more risks giving something away, since I’ve seen all thirteen hours, but let me just say it’s a fascinating trip through a future just this side of tomorrow where Waimoana is the perfect world, and asks if we really want to live in a place where free will is a perceived illusion, and perfection comes at the price of our souls.
From a production standpoint, it’s clear there isn’t a whole lot of money here compared to the usual American production, which forces the writing and acting center-stage. Like any long-form storytelling, it has its share of false-starts and false-leads in the middle (much as 24’s middle-twelve hours were generally exciting thumb-circling after the setup and before the end-game), but usually builds in a “reasonable” (given the situation) fashion to a quite satisfying ending…should New Zealand’s One Network not shoot a second series (the international equivalent to “season”), the viewer doesn’t feel cheated as in most American television series, yet there are plenty of threads to pick up should there be more adventures for these characters.
|Miriama McDowell as Jessica with Charles Mesure as Alec Ross – Yeah, can’t
really blame the guy…
I want to single-out Charles Mesure here…as you can see from the photos, he’s a pretty big guy, yet Alec is not your usual action-adventure hero. Frequently he is called to action, and manages to get the snot kicked out of him…Mesure seems to actually shrink when Alec is unsure, making his trouncing from those less-imposing absolutely believable. I cannot tell you how impressed I was with Mesure throughout the series…Alec carries the entire series on his back, and Mesure never disappointed. In short, Alec isn’t a typical hero, but rather is us, even if taller, stronger, and better-looking. The pity is Mesure has done a good bit of American television and I’ve never noticed him before — but then, this role is a breakthrough role, and the actor gives a tours de force performance.
Tandi Wright plays Alec’s wife Callie, who is not what she seems and changes somewhat throughout the series; while she seems bedrock-confident early-on, her self-assurance begins to slowly crumble as Alec seems to pull away. Jessica Wilmot, one of the reasons Alec is retreating from his family, is portrayed by Miriama McDowell, who has the largest brown eyes this side of a “sad child” painting so I had no problem understanding Alec’s attraction to her. Tania Nolan is Dr. Natasha Collins, who submerges her beauty (no, really, search for non-TINML photos) deep inside the ice-water running through Natasha’s veins. Dr. Collins is neither friend nor foe, always serving her own agenda not Alec’s. The real villain of the piece is played by Joel Tobeck who reminds me of nothing so much as the evil clone of David Letterman, but he doesn’t arrive until later so I won’t mention his character so as not to give anything away.
The real shame is that this program will never air unaltered on American television…the network executives don’t believe we have the maturity to handle other countries’ accents (while, I should note, having the hubris to expect others to accept American accents!), so if this arrives on American shores at all, it will be some over-budgeted re-written and “re-imagined” mish-mash (see the U.S. version of Life on Mars), so check around on the Internet and see if you can watch this amazing and original series. Trust me, you won’t be sorry having to decide whether or not you would sell your soul for perceived perfection.
Men with Brooms
|Brendan Gall and Siobhan Murphy
Ok, I have a confession to make here. When I first watched this series, I had every assumption I would hate the show and ridicule it in every way possible…after all, it’s a Canadian comedy series based on a Canadian movie from 2002 that no one ever saw, about a sport no American would admit to knowing anything about, curling. I mean, c’mon, this show must be ripe for ridicule, right?
What I found instead is a charming little character-driven comedy, with gentle family-friendly humor. This is the only comedy program on television today that satisfies the two mutually-exclusive requirements that 1) it makes me belly-laugh, and 2) doesn’t embarrass me at least once per episode when my daughter is in the room. It’s a really funny show about a sport I still know nothing about, but we’ve all met people like these folks, and can relate to their somewhat over-the-top yet painfully realistic foibles. Saying it’s a “family-friendly” show doesn’t make it something to avoid; just because most comedy on television today feels the need to shock with profanity and sex (the most extreme example being The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret which is nothing but a curse-fest completely devoid of humor) doesn’t mean a show can’t be funny and safe for pre-teens.
There’s no real plot to the series, it’s about the adventures of a bunch of folks who have real jobs during the day and have a curling team in the evenings – substitute bowling or softball and the show wouldn’t change one whit. You don’t need to know anything about curling (trust me, I don’t) to enjoy this show…it’s the people that will make you laugh. Paul Gross as Chris Cutter from the film is the narrator and sometimes-guest-star, the rest of the cast is uniformly likable while all having their own quirks, and the amount of ice-time is the least-amount necessary to remind us why these misfits gather together. It’s great fun, and unless you are a stoned teenager looking to be shocked out of your marijuana haze this show will make you laugh. Heck, now that I know Leslie Neilson and Peter Outerbridge co-star in the 2002 film, I’m going to need to track it down and rent it.
This show could actually show up on American television, although network execs will probably miss the whole comedy-comes-from-character thing and think it’s all about curling, so don’t bet on it.
Neither of these series are currently available on American television, so you’ll have to look around the Net to find places where you can watch them on your computer or spool them to your set-top box. But both shows are well worth the effort it will take. Give ’em a try, and let me know in the comments what you think about them.