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September 21, 2013

City’s ‘Package Deal’ will finally premiere — and not a moment too soon


Scott Stinson / National Post

It was something of a coup when Rogers announced it had secured the services of Andrew Orenstein to develop a sitcom for its City stations. Orenstein, a transplanted Canadian in Hollywood, has producer and writer credits from such successful shows as 3rd Rock from the Sun and Malcolm in the Middle.

It was something less of a coup when the show he ultimately produced, Package Deal, was removed from City schedules in the spring before it had premiered. (Technically, it did premiere, but it was a one-off, under-the-cover-of-darkness thing that must have had something to do with meeting regulatory or funding commitments.) Officially the word was that they didn’t want the series to bump up against the NHL playoffs, which ran longer than expected due to the fall lockout, but it’s rarely a good sign when a series has its launch date pushed back by months.

But with the premiere date almost here (again), it’s worth noting that Package Deal is exactly the type of series you might expect an L.A. sitcom veteran to deliver. It has a solid pilot with some decent laughs. Nothing has been reinvented here, but presumably that’s not what anyone had in mind.

Shot in Vancouver but set in Toronto, Package Deal is about a young lawyer, Danny (Randal Edwards), who has a serious new girlfriend, Kim (Julia Voth). He also has two older brothers, played by Harland Williams and Jay Malone, who are strangely overbearing, which makes no sense — what brother discourages his sibling from having a hot girlfriend? — until it is explained that they raised Danny from a young age after the death of their parents.

I tend to be biased against multi-camera sitcoms because they follow predictable beats, and this one begins no differently. Danny and Kim have dinner at his apartment. They start to get frisky on the couch. He tells her he wants her to meet his brothers soon. Then, from stage right, in come in the brothers to interrupt the canoodling. What a surprise! (Not a surprise.) Once the expository stuff is out of the way — being de facto parents, the brothers don’t trust the girl — the show finds its legs. Sheldon, a meat salesman who prefers the term “beef liaison”, is at his best when Williams plays him relatively straight as opposed to over-the-top goofy. He has many of the good lines, and doesn’t need to force the comedy by playing up his naturally odd delivery.

As with all sitcom pilots, the key question is what comes next. We’ve established that the brothers have an uneasy truce with the girlfriend. And, next?

A colleague passed along a report from Al Jazeera English about a new type of television programming from the Norwegian public broadcaster. It is called “Slow TV,” and it consists of hours upon hours of nothing much at all. The view from a train as it rolls across the countryside for seven hours. A 12-hour campfire. The view from a cruise ship. A producer of the cruise broadcast explains to AJE that the ship was socked in by fog for much of the night, which doesn’t make for great visuals. It’s pretty boring, he says, but also kind of soothing. That last part, apparently, has made Slow TV a huge hit. The broadcaster claims viewership of more than a million for the train program, which is about a fifth of the country’s population. If that proportion was applied to the Canadian audience, it would be the most popular program here by some distance.

What the hell, Norway?

The report, which I am pretty sure is not satire, goes on to talk to viewers who claim to find the shows a respite from the busy realities of modern life. Who needs the Twitter and the Facebook and whatnot when you can just sit back and watch the sea roll by? Or, here’s a crazy idea: turn off the damn TV! Go for a walk!

Thankfully, a Norwegian TV critic appears to rail against the whole concept. “It’s horrifyingly, painfully boring,” she says. “I know it’s beautiful, but it has no meaning.” Preach on, Brita Moystad Engsteth. Preach on.

The Amazing Race Canada finished its first season on Monday, and to the surprise of absolutely no one — save the hosts of the After the Race special who kept pretending otherwise — it was renewed for a second run. The show averaged well over 3 million viewers a night, even with a summer schedule, which makes it the most-watched Canadian series of all time. As with other Canadian versions of hit U.S. franchises, it was a fair approximation of the original, but if this space has one wish for Season 2 it’s that they dial down the cross-promotional efforts a notch, before the contestants end up stopping at Tim Hortons every week, discussing the comfort of their Sketchers, and paying for everything with Canadian Tire money. (Note to producers: don’t get any ideas!)