Meet the folks on Liberty St. CBC-TV's new prime-time family drama airs tonight

The Toronto Star
ENTERTAINMENT, Wednesday, January 11, 1995, p. D1
Meet the folks on Liberty St. CBC-TV’s new prime-time family drama airs
tonight

By Greg Quill Toronto Star

Liberty St. is a Canadian TV curio.

It couldn’t have been made anywhere else. Even if its prinicipal character
wasn’t played by Pat Mastroianni, the DeGrassi stamp is imprinted on every
lovingly crafted, well lit, well dressed, well intentioned scene.

CBC-TV’s new prime-time family drama, which premieres tonight at 8:30 on
Channel 5, seems to exist in a righteous world of its own, a world
imagined and sanctified by sober, wise, socially conscious adults, but
inhabited by young people who bear little or no resemblance to the
cynical, embittered, disenfranchised twentysomethings we see in our homes,
streets and places of work.

The 30-minute series, created by award-winning DeGrassi producer Linda
Schuyler’s Epitome Pictures and underwritten by CBC, serves up, not unlike
popular American Generation-X TV programs Friends, Ellen and Party Of
Five, a cocooning group of post-adolescents struggling to find a place in
the greater scheme of things, while barricaded behind the walls of some
sunny, adult-free, ad-hoc communal living system, in this case the
crumbling facade of a west-end Toronto warehouse disguised as a new-age
apartment building named The Pit (the remnants of its original title, The
Epitome). Tonight’s opener is little more than a more precise reworking of
the movie-length pilot, which aired in the summer and earned scant praise.
In it, we’re introduced to the occupants of The Pit, to wannabe
songwriter/music entrepreneur Frank Pagnozzi (Matroianni), the outcast son
of wealthy and temperamental artists, who is offered the job as the
building’s super and substitute landlord by his uncle, Drive Home Dave
(Reiner Schwartz), a shifty “golden oldies” radio personality and
real-estate operator who plans to flip the dump as soon as he hooks the
right condo developer.

We meet Mack Fischer (Joel Bisonette), a recovering crack addict who knows
the building’s quirky works and with whom Frank reluctantly agrees to
share digs; Annie Hamer (Henriette Ivanans), a well meaning, hard working
idealist whose beauty and libido, not to mention a hot fling at university
with Frank, constantly thwart and haunt her; Teena Siracus (Ihene Erwin),
Frank’s jealous and sexually possessive girlfriend; Janet Beecher
(Kimberly Huie), a single mother from Dartmouth, Nova Scotia’s
African-Canadian district, who’s trying to enter law school and is
determined to give her 7-year-old daughter a better life than she had, who
finds herself inexplicably attracted to and repelled by Mark.

There’s Nathan Jones (Billy Merasty), a homosexual Cree who is constantly
victimized by the macho, bottom-line values of the bicycle courier
business in which he wants to succeed, and his overly active heteroseuxal
roommate/protector Marsha Velasquez (Marcia Laskowski). And Lucille
Trudeau (Katherine Ashby) and Ernie Kravitz (Richard Zappieri), a young
married couple who run a breathtakingly decorated retro diner, The Wreck
Room, in The Pit’s basement, and live for 1950s and ’60s kitsch.

It must have involved years of extraordinary effort to come up with
characters so politically correct in the larger metaphorical context. Yet
they fail utterly as credible human beings, even given that TV in recent
years, from Beverly Hills 90210 and Melrose Place to Seinfeld, offers
every character as a fish-out-of-water.

Americans exaggerate. Their drama is arch, their humor weird, sexy, or
slapstick, their characters larger than life. God forbid Canadians should
emulate them, that we should even want to copy someone else’s style.

I just wish I could figure out what Liberty St. is all about. It’s not
funny (unless you dwell for a minute or two on the wackos who run The
Wreck), and it’s not about serious family values in a parentless
situation, in the way Party Of Five is.

I suspect it’s just too earnest, too democratic, too all-encompassing for
its own good, too darn moral, too much an adult fantasy constructed to
instruct, to edify. It reminds me of a PBS-TV documentary series that
aired a couple of seasons ago in which American adolescents from different
socio-economic and regional backgrounds were brought together in a New
York loft and forced to live communally for a year while the cameras
examined their every foible.

Nothing about it was real. It was a scientific experiment so removed from
the imperatives of free association and choice, that its revelations were
meaningless.

I felt the same way about Liberty St.

Subject(s) – The Toronto Star : television review
Edition: MET
Length: Medium, 603 words

Copyright ) 1995 Toronto Star, All Rights Reserved.

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