Due South was a Canadian cop show that ran for four series from the mid to late 90s. Normally, I can’t stand crime shows. Though I haven’t seen many Canadian shows in general.. So, maybe they do things a bit differently. Let’s find out.
We open with an elderly Mountie going over a stretch of wilderness when he stops to address someone. Then he’s shot and killed. We cut to Constable Benton Fraser, the son of the dead Mountie. He transfers to the Consulate in Chicago in hopes of being able to find his father’s killers. There, he meets Detective Ray Vecchio. The pair solve the case and become partners, working together on a variety of cases.
There are some narrative issues. The first two series tend to be a bit weak with their finales. These aren’t bad episodes, mind you. They’re just weak compared to the rest of the series. So, 6/10 episodes. The issue with the two part Victoria’s Secret is that a lot of the emotional core is based on informed bonds. We hear about Fraser’s first encounter with Victoria a couple times, but it never seems natural for his character. And when they actually meet on screen, they really have no chemistry. I get what they were trying to do. They wanted to show Fraser do something stupid for love in order to make him less super human. Which they do successfully accomplish in latter episodes like Bounty Hunter or All the Queen’s Horses. But in that one, it just comes across as more out of character than anything else. And the second series finale is a clip show episode.
A more minor gripe I have is that the series repeats its premise far too many times. It loves to explain why Fraser came to Chicago. Yeah, half the time it makes fun of itself for explaining it, but it still gets old quickly.
Those issues aside, I have a lot of positive things to say about this series. First off, Due South is brilliant about taking elements that frequently don’t work and making them not only work, but work fantastically. Fraser as a character is a great example. It’s difficult to make a paragon character interesting and complex, but they absolutely nailed it. The series also has an animal companion with the deaf wolf, Diefenbaker. In any other crime show, I would not expect to see an animal companion survive the whole thing. I’d expect to see it die for cheap drama. I also have to mention the supernatural elements. Which are not a thing I expected to work, but they fit surprisingly well and actually add some flair to the series.
Due South is also one of those rare shows that hits the perfect aesthetic balance to allow them to have some really strong serious episodes, notably Juliet is Bleeding, while also having a lot of really strong, comedic moments. Part of it is just a matter of never going too far in either direction. The comedic moments are funny and a bit goofy, but never at that level where seriousness becomes impossible while the more serious moments can be very tragic but aren’t of the dark and edgy variety where joyfulness just becomes impossible. Another part of it is that the lighter episodes will still have some serious undertones. A strong example is the Wild Bunch episode where there are a lot of funny moments but Diefenbaker also almost gets put down as a “dangerous” beast.
On the topic of elements that frequently don’t work, but Due South makes work, there’s the recasting of Ray in series three. A lot of times when a live action show switches actors, they’ll just act like nothing’s happened but here, they completely embrace it and give both a proper explanation and a proper introduction for the second Ray.
There’s also the way so many women are attracted to Fraser. Usually it’s a bit cringey and doesn’t really work when a piece of media decides to emphasise how greatly attractive and irresistible to the opposite sex its hero is. But here, it actually works. Not only does Fraser have those qualities that science says are most attractive in a romantic partner like kindness, selflessness and being approachable, but he also has a lot of desirable physical traits. A fantastic singing voice, well defined muscles, a handsome face, gorgeous, piercing eyes, kissable lips and a really sweet bum. It’s like Canada hired Doctor Frank-N-Furter to sculpt the perfect male specimen and boom, Constable Fraser.
I also credit the series for having a really strong finale and being very well written overall.
The cast in this is pretty fantastic. Fraser may be the best paragon character I’ve ever seen in media in terms of still being highly compelling and complex. And a big part of that is that he does make mistakes. Some from letting himself get too emotional. Some from expecting more from others than they can reasonably offer. Some from simply not having all the information. But he’s always striving to do the right thing and ready to risk himself for that purpose.
Ray Vecchio and Ray Kowalski are both very interesting characters and it’s interesting to see the different ways they react to Fraser as a partner. I kind of prefer the stuff with Kowalski in general. I think he and Fraser have a stronger dynamic and the Kowalski series definitely have stronger endings. The series is also great about giving Diefenbaker a strong sense of personality. Even when Fraser isn’t actively explaining what he’s trying to do, he has very specific , deliberate movements and a very expressive face. The animal trainers did a phenomenal job.
You also can’t forget the side characters like Inspector Thatcher, Lieutenant Welsh, Constable Turnbull, Elaine, Francesca, Dead Bob or Detectives Huey, Dewey and Louis. The cast is just very memorable.
This series has some of the best chase sequences in anything, ever. They’re appropriately intense and also very visually arresting. The camera work in this series as a whole is just excellent. The directing knows what to focus on, how long to hold the shots and what to do with the backgrounds.
Acting & Music:
The performances are fantastic. Paul Gross, David Marciano, Callum Keith Rennie, Gordon Pinsent, Beau Starr, Catherine Bruhier, Camilla Scott, Ramona Milano, Tony Craig… All of them are strong actors. The dogs that play Diefenbaker perform excellently while being adorable.
The series also has some really good guest appearances from actors like Leslie Nielsen, Jan Rubeš and Anne Marie Loder.
There are quite a few musical numbers. They’re all worked into the series pretty well and Paul Gross does the singing for a lot of them and he’s fantastic in basically every conceivable way.
The incidental music is really well composed as well. Jay Semko, Jack Lenz and John McCarthy all did a really good job.
Areas of Improvement:
- Don’t tell the story of how Fraser came to to Chicago so many times.
- Work harder with the writing to make the Victoria’s Secret stuff more believable.
- This series did not need a flashback episode.
To be honest, this is the best Western crime show I’ve ever seen. While it has a few weaker episodes, the series is by and large superb with a lot of very memorable, strong moments. Great characters, excellent acting, fantastic cinematography. It’s just an amazing product. And this is coming from someone who doesn’t usually like crime shows. But I absolutely loved this one and I’m giving it a 9/10. Now if you’ll excuse me, I really need a cold shower.