John Doyle on Television

From Wednesday’s Globe and Mail

Back in my day, we didn’t have Canadian Idol on TV. Dimly, through the mists of time, I cannot recall anything similar. It must have been only Canadian pip-squeaks on TV.

Back in my day, we didn’t have Ben Mulroney on TV, showing off his underwear and being insincere, stiff and irritating. We had his father, Brian Mulroney, doing that. All except showing off his underwear, of course. Back in my day, people didn’t flash their underwear on Canadian TV.

Back in my day, old Mulroney was known to like a song. He even sang on TV, once. He sang a bit of When Irish Eyes Are Smiling with Ronald Reagan, who was his American Idol.

Mind you, back in my day, old Mulroney was better dressed than young Mulroney is now. He would never have shown up on TV in the getup that young Mulroney sports. The trousers young Mulroney was wearing on Monday looked liked they had been the victim of somebody going berserk with a Handy Stitch. Back in my day, the only person who could sing a worse, woeful version of Credence Clearwater Revival’s Down on the Corner than that Ryan kid did on Monday night was Tommy Hunter. Now there was a Canadian Idol.

Back in my day, when teenagers gathered and screamed at some singer at a location in downtown Toronto, they were screaming at Teenage Head. Now there were Canadian Idols. They did the Wobble and the Watusi too. The teenage fans didn’t hold up signs saying they loved them. No. Back in my day, they ripped up the seats and caused a riot.

Back in my day, when somebody was called “the King of Kingston,” as young Mulroney called Ryan the other night, they meant Dougie Gilmour or some guy from The Tragically Hip.

Back in my day, wannabe Canadian Idols didn’t go to Vegas in order to ask some Canadian freak of nature for tips on how to survive in show biz. Going to Vegas was what you definitely didn’t want to do. It meant you had failed.

Back in my day, the place where they held Canadian Idol in Toronto was fields and railway tracks. The long road to being a Canadian Idol meant writing songs about fields and railway tracks. It often worked.

Degrassi: The Next Generation (CTV, 8 p.m.) is back tonight with a one-hour episode. Back in my day, the Degrassi show was more charming than it is now. It still featured awkward performances and more than a little bad acting, but it was so down-home then and delightfully free of flash. Now it’s dizzying.

Back in my day, the idea of Melissa DiMarco being on Degrassi was outrageous. The standout Canadian babe was the opposite of everything that Degrassi stood for. Now she’s playing a teacher on Degrassi. And very well, too. The world has changed, apparently.

Anyway, on tonight’s fast-paced episode Emma (Miriam McDonald) seeks out her biological father, Shane (Jonathan Torrens). This doesn’t go well. In fact, it ends badly for everybody. Then Miriam realizes the true value of family. The connections between this Degrassi and the original are further emphasized in the opening of this new series. Now, Joey Jeremiah (Pat Mastroianni), Spike (Amanda Stepto) and Snake (Stefan Brogren) are joined by Caitlin (Stacie Mistysyn). It’s almost like back in my day. Almost.

Paul Brandt Presents (CBC, 9 p.m.) is a typical CBC special devoted to a Canadian singer. Brandt, a country singer from out Calgary way, in the new Tommy Hunter. That’s the impression I got from watching this.

Brandt ambles onto the stage and sings a semi-lively number about being a kid. He talks about “making music my life” and has a whole bunch of guests. It’s a variety show, in other words. There’s a choir (“Calgary’s own Inner Voices,” according to CBC) and a young lad named Jonathan Pierce is introduced. Brandt says he’s sure Jonathan is going to be a big star. Not with bland, Canadian Idol-style material such as he sings here, he’s not.

Inevitably, along comes Natalie MacMaster. She’s wearing the ugliest pair of pants. They’re uglier than what young Mulroney pranced around in on Canadian Idol the other night. She’s also got her fiddle, which is a relief. Natalie does her Celtic thing. Two things are noticeable: Natalie’s got fabulous hair, and there’s a fella playing the bagpipes with her. You can’t really hear the bagpipes, which is a relief. Natalie does some step dancing and twirls around to show the audience her derrire. Nobody is going to complain about that, but dear God, those pants.

For reasons unknown, we also see Natalie shopping and having lunch in Banff with Brandt’s wife. Then Patty Loveless comes along and sings. She just kills. It is an awesome performance of soulful, roots-country music. Before you know it, the thing is over and what you remember is Loveless and her drop-dead cool. Thankfully, it almost erases all thought of those pants.

Train 48 Outtake Special (Global, 10 p.m.) is what it says it is. It didn’t arrive in time for review, but it sounds like a hoot — outtakes and mistakes from the hot-to-trot improvised soap. I haven’t been able to keep up with the antics of Train 48, being away for a while, but the last time I got the gist, Dana was telling Zach that she cheated on her girlfriend Sue. She cheated with Michelle, the stripper who entertained at Randy’s stag party. How wild is that? Somebody fill me in before the next series starts. Back in my day, people used to do that.

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