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April Bonus Review: Due South

Due South

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.

Story:

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.

Characters:

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.

Visuals:

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:

  1. Don’t tell the story of how Fraser came to to Chicago so many times.
  2. Work harder with the writing to make the Victoria’s Secret stuff more believable.
  3. This series did not need a flashback episode.

Final Thoughts:

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.

April Bonus Review: The First Doctor

Doctor Who has been a staple of Science fiction since the early 60s. There have been comics, novels, audio dramas, video games and a whole lot of merchandise. Obviously, I can’t review the whole franchise in one go. Not only is it impractical, but the various runs have had vastly different qualities. So, I’m going to look at the first Doctor’s television run. I even watched the reconstructions of those episodes which have been lost due to stupidity within the BBC. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, it used to be common practice at the BBC to cull old archived shows to save space. a a result, a bunch of the first and second Doctors’ runs were destroyed. Leaving only some still images and the audio. 

First Doctor.png

Story:

We open with two teachers, Ian and Barbara, discussing a strange student, Susan. They ultimately decide to go to her supposed address, which leads to a junk yard, to investigate what’s happening with her. They end up in a conversation with an elderly man outside of a police box. This eventually leads to them entering and finding Susan inside. Strangely, the inside is larger than the outside. After an argument, the old man uses the control console to take them all to the past. Thus begins their adventures through time and space. 

the first issue that comes up is that it does take the series a couple serials to settle into an aesthetic. The early episodes are a bit off in that regard. Even after it settles, the serials do vary in quality. You get some, like Planet of the Giants or The Gunfighters, that aren’t very good. Gunfighters is outright boring, actually. You also get serials, most notably The Daleks’ Master Plan, that meander and drag. 

That being said, there are a lot of clever and/or creative ideas on display and there are certainly more strong serials than bad or weak ones. Basically every serial featuring Vicki is really good, particularly The Space Museum. 

Characters:

Here’s an area where the First Doctor’s run falls a bit short. While he is an interesting character (once they get past the early stage and settle on a character for him), most of his companion characters are pretty flat and dull. He also has Katarina, possibly the most pointless character in the franchise. She shows up, takes a short ride on the TARDIS and basically dies immediately. There are really only two companions who aren’t just inoffensive and boring.

The first is Susan. She’s a really annoying character. Honestly, part of the problem with her is just that they didn’t think her through. Here’s a girl who’s loomed from the same genetic cloth as the Doctor (because people from Gallifrey aren’t born, they’re loomed). She’s travelled with him for a while. Supposedly, she’s been on quite a few adventures. Really, she should be the most seasoned of the companions during her time in the group. So, why is she absolutely terrified of absolutely everything even slightly unusual? I’m not even exaggerating when I say that this girl screams all the bloody time and with little provocation. See a plant move? Scream. See something odd looking at you? Scream. See a tiny black and white dog in a bunny costume? Scream.

DSC01018.JPG

How did she manage to travel with the Doctor at all? You’d think that she’d have had a heart attack or mental breakdown long ago given how high strung she is. 

The other exception is Vicki, the first great companion in the franchise. Not only is she a breath of fresh air after dealing with Susan, being plucky and adventurous, but she’s also pretty badass. She can use her cleverness to not only get herself out of bad situations, but the others as well. A trait which is highlighted in the aforementioned Space Museum serial. Honestly, it’s no surprise that the serials with her tend to be the best. She’s got more personality than most of the companions and she’s a delight. 

First Doctor1.png

Visuals:

By today’s standards, this series is pretty dated. They’re very much at that mid 60s level. A lot of the alien designs are goofy by today’s standards and there are definite times when the sets look cheap. But, in all fairness, the effects were pretty good for their time and they don’t really spoil the series. 

Acting and Music:

The acting is largely competent. The best performances come from William Hartnell and Maureen O’Brien. Probably because they’re playing the most interesting characters. The other companion actors, Jacqueline Hill, William Russell, Peter Purves, Jackie Lane and even Carole Ann Ford are decent enough. The music is largely good. The theme tune in particular. There are occasional exceptions, however. The song that they keep playing during The Gunfighters is boring the first time they play it and gets grating when they play it the next fifty times. 

Final Thoughts:

All in all, the First Doctor’s run holds up pretty well. While it does suffer from Susan, early episodes not knowing where they’re going, Susan, the occasional weak serial, Susan & dated effects it also has quite a bit going for it. It has creative, interesting ideas. Vicki is amazing. The Doctor quickly becomes a great character and it’s just a solid start for the franchise. All in all, I give it a 7/10.