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December 4, 2013

This year’s Canadian fare holds up to its American cousins


Dave Bartlett / The Telegram

During the last week or so, I’ve been watching a lot of homegrown TV, two new shows in particular.

Both the CTV drama “Played” and the CityTV sitcom “Package Deal” are as good as anything coming from the networks south of the border.

Some people may take that as a slight on Canadian talent, but it’s not. The fact is, some of my readers are as reluctant to give Cancon a try, as its supporters are to figuratively wave the Maple Leaf.

I’ve only watched the first two episodes of “Played” but plan to catch up and stay abreast for the rest of the first season.

It’s a cop show, and it’s formulaic, but the production value is high, the writing is markedly better in Episode 2 than it is in the pilot — a very good sign — and it has an intriguing cast of characters.

“Played” centres around an undercover investigation unit that jumps on the big targets that the regular police around Toronto can’t get the dirt on.

John Moreland (Vincent Walsh) leads the team. He’s a separated father of a teenage daughter and has a problem with the truth. His job has made telling lies very easy.

Lisa Marcos plays Maria Cortez, another team member who is the focus of Episode 2 — not the easiest episode to watch considering it deals with a teenage prostitution ring on top of a murder.

Daniel (Dwain Murphy), Khali (Agam Darshi) and Jesse (Adam Butcher) round out the team. Rebecca (Chandra West) is their commanding officer.

As I mentioned last week, I’ve also been watching a lot of “The Wire,” and “Played” is a little bit like The Wire Light. It crams a season-long case into each episode, cuts the cast to a fraction and doesn’t let you get to know the one-dimensional criminals any more than your average police serial.

That being said, there are some pretty intense and engaging moments, and it’s certainly worth checking out if you like cop shows at all. And there are some great shots of the Toronto skyline for those familiar.

“Package Deal” is less successful than “Played,” but it would fall in the middle of the pack when compared to the half-dozen or more new network sitcoms I’ve reviewed this fall.

It does have potential, and has made me laugh out loud at some good one-liners and situational bits. The more I watch and get used to the characters, the more I find I like the show — despite some really bad one-liners and obvious stuff. But it’s much better than “Satisfaction,” the last Canadian comedy I reviewed.

“Package Deal” centres around Danny (Randal Edwards) and Kim (Julia Voth), who are getting serious about their relationship. Kim is from California, moved to Toronto for grad school and then decided to open a teashop. Her surly employee Nikki (Jill Morrison) is also starting to become a regular.

Things are going well, so Danny thinks it’s time to introduce his new lady to his two older brothers, which raised him after their parents were killed in a car accident when he was 10 or so. They are the most important people to him, and the three are bizarrely close.

While Danny is an up-and-coming defence lawyer, his brothers are less successful.

Sheldon (Harland Williams) is a lay-about who’s always coming up with money-losing scams. Through most of the season so far, he’s selling caskets for the obese.

The other brother Ryan (Jay Malone) is a divorced house husband who’s living off his settlement from his surgeon exwife. He’s also an amazing cook.

“Package Deal” has both moments of greatness and moments of shame.

It’s as corny and scatological as an American show, and except for Williams — and Eugene Levy, the guest star on several early episodes, — you’d never think it was a Canadian production. But that also means, there’s little to make it uniquely Canadian.

Levy is really funny — despite that his character is accused of killing his wife, and maybe others — as a philosophical sounding board to Danny’s domestic troubles, while making suggestive comments (that he’s guilty of the crime with which he’s charged).

I’ve probably watched a half-dozen episodes so far and haven’t wanted to stop yet, so I’ll add it to “The Goldbergs” and “Trophy Wife” as decent new sitcoms and keep the PVR rolling for now.

What’s your favourite Canadian TV show of all time? Send answers/questions/comments to Dave Bartlett at talkingtelevision@gmail.com.