Glam and glib for Degrassi, the next generation

Glam and glib for Degrassi, the next generation
By JOHN DOYLE

Friday, October 12, 2001 Print Edition, Page R2

One of the great things about television is the predictability. American network execs admit that they devote time to reading up on hit shows from decades ago, wondering in their weird little way whether the concept can be revived.

Successful shows are copied and old hits brought back from the dead. It doesn’t only happen in La La Land — this weekend in Canada, the big deal is the return of the Degrassi franchise. My friends, you haven’t seen the last of Joey Jeremiah and his hat.

One of the other great things about television is that it makes fun of itself. There are movies about the making of movies, but they always seem precious. The drudgery of making a movie — even with idiotic, egotistical stars and a skirt-chasing director — isn’t all that interesting.

TV, on the other hand, is sensationally stupid on a daily basis and the business is filled with megalomaniacs, morons and a few decent people.

Beggars and Choosers, The Larry Sanders Show and The Newsroom were terrifically entertaining at the expense of TV. There’s never enough of it.
Made in Canada (CBC, 9:30 p.m.) is back tonight, thank goodness. Rick Mercer’s deft deflation of the Canadian TV production business — and by inference, all television — is addictive. It’s not that you have to know about the internal politics of TV. Everybody watches TV, so everybody knows about its inanities.

The head of Pyramid Productions, Alan Roy (Peter Keleghan), is as shallow as ever. He wants to end a season of the long-running Beaver Creek by killing the cast, the better to help with contract negotiations.

He also hires a guy for some show ideas — “I love you creative people. If you didn’t work in TV, you’d be in a mental hospital.”

Among the creative ideas that emerge is a new version of Moby Dick that is — wait for it — told from the whale’s point of view. That’s just goofy, but there’s a vicious edge to a remark by the ruthless Richard (Mercer): “In showbiz, you fail upwards, not down.” So true.

By the way, This Hour Has 22 Minutes also returns tonight (CBC, 8 p.m.). Yeah, I know — putting it on Friday nights seems strange. Let me know if you think that’s a dumb move.
Shot in the Heart (Saturday, TMN and Movie Central) is one reason why you pay extra for some cable channels. This HBO movie based on the book by Mikal Gilmore about his notorious brother Gary — the man who demanded to be executed in 1977 — is excellent.

Directed by Agnieszka Holland and produced by the team that gave us Homicide: Life on the Street, it is a tough, flinty film about complex family relationships. Gary Gilmore was the subject of Norman Mailer’s The Executioner’s Song, but his younger’s brother’s perspective is far more intimate. Giovanni Ribisi plays Mikal, Elias Koteas is Gary, and much of the movie is a dramatization of their prison conversations just before Gary was executed.

Asked to try to persuade Gary to withdraw his acceptance of execution, Mikal talks, argues, cajoles and sometimes consoles the fiercely independent, wily and soul-destroyed Gary. It is a deeply troubling picture of life in the underbelly of America.
Blue Murder (Saturday, Global 10 p.m.) is also back, and jazzed-up. I never liked this shallow crime drama, with it’s fashion-model feel (the police boss and main detective are glamorous figures played by Mimi Kuzyk and Maria Del Mar) and forced coolness. Mind you, it’s up for a bunch of Gemini Awards, so somebody loves it.

The second season has the welcome addition of Maurice Dean Wint as an RCMP officer dropped into the Toronto beat. Tonight’s story features several murders of young women and one nerdy suspect who, of course, didn’t do it. It’s a competent crime drama of average quality.
Degrassi: The Next Generation (Sunday, CTV, 7 p.m.) is, well, a must-see for curiosity value alone.

To set up the new series, we get a high-school reunion featuring much of the old cast, and then the new kids take over. Joey (Pat Mastroianni) is selling cars and a widower. Caitlin (Stacie Mistysyn) is a TV star and brings her Hollywood boyfriend (Don McKellar), of whom nobody approves. (Caitlin’s stardom is established with a bit of convergence/product placement. Twice, we see her picture on the cover of The Globe and Mail’s Globe Television magazine. It’s unnerving from this end.)

In the introduction of the new generation, it is Emma (Miriam McDonald), the daughter of Spike (Amanda Stepto, who doesn’t have a spiked hairdo any more) who dominates.

Directed by Bruce McDonald, this Degrassi revival will please the numerous fanatical followers of the original, but lacks its charm. The appealing ordinariness and sometimes awkward sincerity is missing, replaced by a sheen of glibness.

The secret of Degrassi’s success was its low-key cordiality and utter lack of glamour. This one’s aiming for glam, but that won’t matter much to the fanatics.
Dates and times may vary across the country. Please check local listings or visit http://www.globeandmail.com/tv
jdoyle@globeandmail.ca

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