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Monthly Archives: September 2011

“We came to this planet a group of strangers. And now we head out, still strangers, but united toward a single purpose, braving this new land. Four days ago, aliens landed on a distant planet, and we are them. Now, we struggle across an unknown planet, an uncharted world, looking all the while for that moment when we must fulfill our promise, and wondering what will stand in our way.”
–Devon Adair

We’ve all heard the old adage “History repeats itself,” but have we really ever thought about it?  My grandmother used to say that she believed humans were destined to live history over and over again until we got it right, but so far we hadn’t.  Perhaps she was on to something…

The 1994 series Earth 2 started with a world that definitely hadn’t gotten it right quite yet.  In the year 2192, much of mankind was living in giant space habitats, orbiting humanity’s birthplace.  Previous generations had pretty much used up their homeworld in terms of natural resources and livable space.  Although great stations had been built to house most of the people, the youngest generation, born in the sterile controlled environment, was soon discovered to be suffering from “The Syndrome”.  Physically weak and unable to even breathe without extensive technical support, these children typically didn’t live past the age of nine.

The mother of one of these children is Devon Adair (Debrah Farentino).  She is a wealthy builder of the very stations which may have contributed to this new malady, and dreams of a better life for her son, eight-year-old Ulysses (Joey Zimmerman).  Distraught by guilt over her possible role in the advent of “The Syndrome”, she decides that the disease was caused by “an absence of what nature can provide — an absence of Earth”.  Against the wishes of the planetary government, she organizes The Eden Project, colonization of a world 22 light years away.  In all, 250 Syndrome families and crew enter “cold sleep” (suspended animation) for the journey to planet G889, braving the unknown to build the colony they hope will become “New Pacifica”, and creating what they hope will be their brand new world.

Unfortunately, the mission goes awry, and the colonists are forced to leave the space station early (due to sabotage by the tyrannical Earth government).  Then they must hazard a crash landing on G889, with many of the people in the advance party arriving on the opposite side of the planet.  Devon, and those others stranded nearby, decide to make the journey back to the intended site of New Pacifica, in the hopes of finding their lost comrades.  Having few of their original supplies, their harrowing trip through unknown territory begins.

Danziger and daughter True

Others on the trek include John Danziger (Clancy Brown) and his daughter True (J. Madison Wright).  John is a former worker (read: slave) on one of the space stations, and becomes a protector of the group, while True ultimately develops a bond with Ulysses (“Uly”, for short).  Yale (Sullivan Walker) is a cybernetically-altered former prisoner, now a tutor to Uly whose memories have been erased.  He’s beginning a different life on the new planet (although not with the approval of all the colonists).  Unwillingly along for the ride are Morgan and Bess Martin (John Gegenhuber and Rebecca Gayheart, respectively).  Morgan is a lower-level functionary for the government who had no knowledge of the sabotage, but is now the only apparent representative on-site.  His relationship with his wife Bess is rocky, to say the least, but with a fresh start (but no preparation) she’s ready for a new adventure with the colonists (much to Morgan’s chagrin).

Antonio Sabato Jr. as Alonzo

Dr. Julia Heller (Jessica Steen) is a genetically engineered human, youthful in medical experience and yet the only doctor around for the stranded colonists.  She starts to develop a relationship with  Alonzo Solace (Antonio Sabato, Jr.), the “cold sleep” pilot who helped the colony ship get to G889.  Alonzo’s “dreams” become important windows into the native populace of the planet, uncovering some of the mysteries the colonists have to face in their adventures.

“This time, WE are the aliens….”
–Promotional tagline for the series

A Terrian, one of the natives

The indigenous population and their relationships with the newcomers are complicated at best.  Contact is made with the Grendlers, traders who scavenge for anything of value.  We learn of the mysterious Terrians, who communicate their essential connection with the environment through Alonzo’s dreams.  Kobas seem like friendly leather teddy bears, but react violently to protect themselves.  Although they may seem strange to the humans,  it is no wonder the natives feel threatened.  It is we who are the invaders

And humans are definitely a threat… especially when it’s discovered that the Earth government (known as the “Council”) has been using G889 as a penal colony, much like Australia was used in the old world.  To cover up their hidden prison, the Council was willing to sabotage the colony ship… and perhaps one of the colonists is an agent for the Council, so the threats aren’t just from the unknown planet.  Our people have brought the enemy with them….

“On this planet, we are a new generation of pioneers, moving westward as fast as we can, trying to outrun our own dangers – I’d like to think danger is less likely to hit a moving target.  And while I push us forward, I can’t help thinking of the one danger we can’t outrun – the danger within.”
–Devon Adair

Yale

The reference to Australia and the old world isn’t the only parallel to our history.  In some ways, Earth 2 is reminiscent of the colonization of North America.  History saw various peoples from Western Europe sail across the Atlantic to settle in this new land of what became North America.  Many of those colonists were just as desperate to find a new life as Yale (with his criminal past) and John Danziger (who sought freedom far away from a life of indentured service).  What those long-ago pilgrims found here after their journey from Europe was a land already inhabited by an indigenous race, the Native Americans.  They found new customs, unfamiliar ways of living, and a raw and untamed world, just as the New Pacifica colonists did on G889.  And, as both old and new groups discovered, their past lives were something they couldn’t completely get away from, no matter how different their “new world” was.

Braving a New World

You could easily make the case that both the colonization of America and the later westward movement of the early settlers both have parallels in the travels of Devon Adair and the future New Pacifica residents.  While many wanted a new, fresh start, old ways warred with both new ideas and newly encountered cultures.  When one of the colonists is found to have been an informant for the Council, the rest of the group has to decide what to do.  Killing them is abhorrent to most, but stranding them along the route is hardly merciful… and yet, the resources are scarce and there is no infrastructure for dealing with major transgressions against their new society.  Leaving one type of social order, good or bad, means having to set up another… which could also be good or bad, depending on the specifics.  Earth 2 dealt with these issues, plus ones of racism, fear of the unknown, and even mystical belief.

“In the last 200 years, we’ve formed some pretty good theories about the origins of emotions. Now, halfway across the universe, we stumble around on this new planet finding that we know so little about what makes us human – what makes our hearts shiver with grief, our chests pound with fear, and why is it that a species so different from us can possess these same feelings we hold so essential to humankind.”
–John Danziger

While literary science fiction has long handled major social issues, science fiction on television has lagged behind.  Unlike Star Trek:  Voyager (which premiered at approximately the same time), Devon Adair was the leader of this errant colony because, quite frankly, she had the necessary skills to be a leader.  Her gender was never an issue, whereas much was made in the press about the first female starship captain to lead a Star Trek series.  While many female leads on television up to that time had existed, their characters always had an element of sexual attraction as part of their makeup.  Debrah Farentino certainly was not unattractive by any means, but her character of Devon was there because she was the leader, no more, no less.

So, Earth 2 was a great series, and its premiere garnered great ratings.  But airing on Sunday nights, often delayed for odd times due to NFL Football, meant even dedicated viewers had trouble accurately finding the show.  The continuing plotlines meant audiences had to follow along, because situations and characters would change over the course of a couple of episodes.  And the mysteries of the indigenous races on planet G889 were, at times, almost as inscrutable to the audience as they were initially to the colonists.  NBC didn’t help matters by airing episodes out of order.  Although Earth 2 was nominated for 3 Emmys (winning one), ratings went down, until the final episode aired late the next spring to only 9% of the Sunday television audience.  Despite hope for a second season (and ending the show on a cliffhanger), television viewers never learned if the colonists ever made it to New Pacifica to start their new lives.

DEBRAH FARENTINO (Devon Adair) has been featured in more one-season series that you can count on one hand.  She had regular roles in Hooperman, Equal Justice, EZ Streets, Total Security, and Wildfire, before becoming a recurring player in longer running shows like Eureka and Wildfire.  She’s also an accomplished stunt driver, trained in performing precision auto maneuvers.

JOEY ZIMMERMAN (Uly Adair) has grown up in the acting business, having been nominated for Young Actor awards five different times.  He starred in the Halloweentown series of Disney movies, and has become an avid swordsman, challenging Earth 2 co-star Clancy Brown to a match at a convention.

CLANCY BROWN (John Danziger) is best known to genre fans as The Kurgan, villain in the original Highlander movie.  He was also seen in the HBO series Carnivale, and in a pivotal role as a brutal prison guard in The Shawshank Redemption.  He’s much more often heard in numerous animated shows, the voice of Mr. Krabs in SpongeBob SquarePants, Lex Luthor in various Superman-related series, and Raiden in Mortal Kombat.

J. MADISON WRIGHT (True Danziger) had a brief but stellar acting career, having been specifically cast by producer/director Steven Spielberg in Earth 2.  While she had other guest roles, she gave up acting a few years later and moved back to Kentucky with her parents.  At the age of 15, she was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, which required a heart transplant.  Although healthy for a few more years, she passed away of a heart attack at the age of 22.

SULLIVAN WALKER (Yale) portrayed Dr. Huxtable’s colleague as a recurring character on The Cosby Show prior to his adventures on Earth 2.  His career has turned to theatre, where he was featured on Broadway in August Wilson’s Two Trains Running.  He’s currently active in efforts to assist fellow Caribbean actors in their professions in America.

JOHN GEGENHUBER (Morgan Martin) guested on Star Trek: Voyager, Seven Days, Murphy Brown, and Mad About You.  He’s currently working with the Open Fist Theatre Company in Los Angeles, coordinating their educational outreach program, in addition to acting and directing in various productions there.

REBECCA GAYHEART (Bess Martin) jumped from Earth 2 into a recurring role on the original Beverly Hills 90210.  She was later a regular on Wasteland, Dead Like Me, and Vanished.  Gayheart should have been featured in the Firefly article on this site, as she was originally cast in the role of Inara.  But creative differences led to her being replaced after only one day of filming, and her scenes were reshot with new actress Morena Baccarin.

JESSICA STEEN (Dr. Julia Heller) actually has been featured here previously, for her role as Pilot on Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future.  She was also a regular in the short-lived series Homefront, and was featured in the movie Armageddon.  She’s currently appearing in the successful Canadian series Heartland.

ANTONIO SABATO, JR. (Alonzo Solace) is a soap opera heartthrob, originally appearing in General Hospital for three seasons before making the jump to prime time.  A regular on Melrose Place, he later returned to his soap roots in both The Bold and the Beautiful and General Hospital:  Night Shift.  He was also the winner of the short-lived competition series Celebrity Circus, likely due to his grandfather and mother both having performed under a Big Top.

Earth 2: Building a better world for our children

Earth 2 was released on DVD in 2005.  Sadly, there are no extras, but at least the series can be enjoyed in its entirety, complete with the never-resolved cliffhanger ending.  (Of course, it would have helped tremendously if NBC had aired the episodes in order, instead of the cliffhanger ending airing before two other episodes that had no mention of it!!)  Interestingly, a few college thesis papers have been written using the show as a significant reference point, talking about Earth 2 and “The Gaia Hypothesis” (illustrated by the relationship between the Terrians and the environment); and also the nature of fans to want closure, and their desire to write their own “fan fiction” conclusions to unfinished sagas (specifically, Earth 2).  A great FAQ on the series can be found here.

“I’m the queen of critically acclaimed failed television series.  After all these years in television, I never have known a series to go more than one year.  I’ve got friends who have been on shows for five years and I go, ‘What’s that like?”
–Debrah Farentino

There are no guarantees, in television or in life.  Earth 2 ended after 22 hours of episodes, with uncertainty about what would happen to the brave souls who set out towards an uncharted world and a fresh start.  Much like their ancestors who set out for the New World, or made the trek across unknown territory in the hope of better lives, their story had no ending already planned.  While the characters could hope for the best, it was the journey which made them stronger, exposed their weaknesses, and melded each of them into the mothers, sons, fathers, and daughters of the future.

While parts of humanity may never change, it is in the challenge of discovery and the desire for a better life that we find the better parts of ourselves.  Earth 2 helped us, by showing the historical process that made our lives great and our world greater, sometimes despite our own foibles.  It reminded us once again that, no matter how dangerous the journey, exploration is not just into the unknown world around us… but into the world we create for ourselves and those we love.

Vital Stats

21 episodes aired (one 2-hour pilot and 20 hour-long episodes) — none unaired
NBC Network
First aired episode:  November 6, 1994
Final aired episode:  June 4, 1995
Aired on Friday @ 8/7 Central?  Sunday nights for Earth 2, which as noted caused problems with sports delays.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

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A visit into our future, and the challenges awaiting those brave enough to dare the unknown.  Much like the hardy souls who made the voyage to the New World from Europe, or trekked across the plains in search of hopes and dreams, these particular settlers hoped for a shining new way of life while confronting wonders (and dangers) so very different from themselves….

Five quotes:

“Four days ago, aliens landed on a distant planet, and we are them.”

Our people have brought the enemy with them….

…old ways warred with both new ideas and newly encountered cultures.

“…finding that we know so little about what makes us human…”

…exploration is not just into the unknown world around us…

Our old world was no longer a home.  It was time to find a new place, and a new way to live.  Revisit that journey right here on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

“I’m about to take you on the greatest adventure of your life.  You’ll probably never even thank me for it.”
–Austin James to Michelle Castle, in the pilot of Probe

The mysteries of the universe... in a grain of sand

By any estimation, many of the investigators on television have flashes of brilliance.  Whether it’s street smarts, understanding people better than most, or just plain book knowledge, heroes on television use their brains to figure out the most impossible mysteries.  But when it comes to putting together the clues, their level of intelligence pales in comparison to Austin James, the lead character of a 1988 ABC television series called Probe.  And Austin James was either the smartest man in the world… or he was justifiably crazy.  And no one could really tell  which description was true… except maybe Austin himself.

Parker Stevenson starred as Austin James, a scientist and inventor with an intellect that would make most geniuses jealous.  He set about each week to discover the answers to offbeat mysteries, aided by his assistant/secretary Michelle Castle (Ashley Crow).  Known as “Mickey”, she was the duo’s heart paired with Austin’s intellect.  They were drawn into the strangest of stories, detailing unusual, scientific crimes and odd situations that only Austin’s brainpower might be able to understand… and only Mickey might be able to lead him to, through the unpredictable maze of human behavior.

Austin had started a company, Serindip, designed to be a home for the most cutting-edge scientific developments of the era… and then he walked away from it.  He lives in a combination workshop/lab, sleeping in a cabinet (which he refers to as an “isolation chamber”).  Mickey, of course, doesn’t understand any of this, but she’s never met anyone quite like Austin.  Rather than return to her previously humdrum life, she takes on the role of assistant to either the most brilliant person she’s ever met… or a certifiable crazy man.  She’s just not sure which yet.

“What do you use for a heart?  A pocket calculator?”
–Mickey, to Austin

Back at Serendip, Austin has left Howard Millhouse (Jon Cypher) in charge.  Howard is trying to hold the place together, but would like the attention of Austin at the think-tank, given Austin’s formidable intelligence and what he could offer.  (Besides, it IS Austin’s company in the first place!).  But the more pressure Howard puts on Austin to be part of the organization he created, the more Austin tries to find other uses for his time… like solving practically impossible murders.  Austin’s fellow scientist Graham McKinley (Clive Revill) also is employed by Serendip, but is much less able to think “out-of-the-box” like Austin.  The friction between the two also serves to force Austin into directions that wouldn’t always be considered “normal” by most.  But then, “normal” wasn’t what Probe was all about.

Probe was a co-creation of mystery writer William Link (of Colombo and Ellery Queen fame) and prolific science fiction/fact author Isaac Asimov.  Both men wanted to show that the modern mysteries of our scientific and technological world could be just as entertaining as a traditional parlour mystery, just moved forward into the new millennium.  Their result was a show featuring the most intelligent person in the world, solving some of the most amazing puzzles ever created.

“If they want something, I can tell them. I’m certified.”

“Certifiable….”

“I mean, I’m certified by the federal government.  They had some people test me, and found my memory system to be five times better than the best computerized data directory and retrieval system.  So, listen to me.  I’m certified.”

–Austin claiming his genius, while Mickey admits her disbelief

Austin is, to most observers, kind of peculiar.  He was a man who had no use for money, or fame, or any of a myriad of things that many hunger for.  He had few of the motivations of most men.  To him, knowledge was all… and anytime there was a mystery, it was then Austin was finally moved to action.  For a man to whom the intricacies of the world could be reduced to equations buzzing around in his head, a true puzzle was that which seemed not to have a rational answer.  Like Sherlock Holmes, he may have not been understood very well, but that was no knock on his adeptness at figuring out impossible situations.

Mickey:  “Admit it.  There could be things out there completely beyond anyone’s understanding.”

Austin:  “I can name you one.  Murder.  I’ve never understood it for a second.”

When people were murdered on this show, you couldn’t just round up the suspects like a traditional Agatha Christie mystery.  Especially when the suspect in the pilot turns out to be a computer program run amok.  Or, as in a later episode, when an advanced ape is being framed for killing one of its handlers.  These were unusual stories, with an unusual hero at the forefront.

Probe could very easily have resulted in a television series that was dry and far over-the-head of most people, but the creators realized that problem early on, and set out to fix it with humor.

“We had to go back and reshoot about a third of the pilot for a number of reasons.  It was too strong, it was too intense… the fun of it went out of it, and the fun of it couldn’t go out of it because it wasn’t a serious show, it was a fun show.
–Alan Levi

Austin was played by the familiar and likeable Parker Stevenson, but the character of Austin James, as developed, was SO “out there” that he wasn’t the most relatable lead on television.  The character’s attitudes came from advanced science and knowledge of facts (Austin had attended college at age 10), but the very intelligence that made him sought-after as the creator of the Serendip consulting organization was also the very same thing that kept him from being part of it.  His skills at interacting with people were almost non-existent.  That’s why he needed Mickey, even if she didn’t always understand his behavior.  He came off to those around him as arrogant, or aberrant, or sometimes just plain crazy, although he was none of these things.  But extreme intelligence in a world of “average” looks that way to the average.

“Why do you enjoy tormenting people so much?”

“Because when I torment them, I get what I need.  Answers.  It’s nothing personal.”

–Mickey and Austin, talking about his brisk approach to other people

The problem with this approach to a television series is the “average” person — exactly the person television executives hope will tune into their shows.  While Link and Asimov hoped to improve the usual ordinary fare with more enlightened mysteries, and to show there was still some fun to be had in their solving, many took one look and said “I have to think?  No thanks.” Probe only lasted a month and a half, despite its strong pedigree.  As an early spring show, it tried to appeal to an audience that liked to be challenged… and it found, instead, an audience merely wanting to be placated.  (And some thought Austin James was crazy….)

“Part of the challenge to us as writers was, we had to have a mystery that the smartest man in the world would look at it and wouldn’t immediately know the answer to it… and it also had to be a mystery that, once we figured out the answer, people in the audience could also understand without having to be lectured for about half an hour.”
–Writer James Novack

Perhaps the creators aimed a bit too high… as the modern-day success of the cable series Monk has shown, audiences will respond to a character who seems a bit far afield, if they can recognize parts of themselves in the portrayal.  But on Probe, the lead was, almost by definition, light-years ahead of the normal person, while Adrian Monk is portrayed as someone both gifted and cursed with his condition.  Monk was once “normal”, while Austin never had been, and perhaps that led to a bit of distance for that “average” viewer.  Monk presented a more acceptable “crazy”.

Austin James NEVER turned his mind “off”.  He even commented once about someone interrupting his few hours of sleep every day, because even then, he was using his mind to puzzle out some conundrum.  Many thought he was nuts (or at the very least abnormal).  As presented on Probe, he was the hero we were meant to identify with, albeit flawed somewhat emotionally.  But the important thing is, without the knowledge, he wasn’t even “average”, and if I’m going to have a champion to cheer for on a show, it’s one with brains and a little help in the heart department rather than one with much lesser intelligence.  Because, those with brains are always seeking more — and those with less are satisfied with enough.  I’d rather have more….

“But it was complex stuff. . . it wasn’t the kind of show in which a viewer could get up during the middle of it, get a sandwich and think, “I’ll catch up when I come back.”  Viewers had to work at watching the show, and perhaps that was a bit too much to ask.  Maybe that’s why they tuned into Cosby instead.”
–Parker Stevenson

The Cosby Show was the number one series on television at the time, so ABC had to take some risks in trying to challenge it.  But ABC did Probe no favors in its promotion.  They touted the involvement of Asimov significantly to the press, believing it to be a significant selling point for the series.  (Asimov had written over 200 books, both fiction and non-fiction, and this was his first significant journey into the realm of television.)  Unfortunately, a great many people took this as meaning the show was simply too highbrow, too focused on the intelligence the viewer brought to the table, and didn’t tune in.  The advertising made the show out to be either “silly” science fiction (in the vein of much earlier television) or “too intelligent” and something that would be better found on Public Television.  Truthfully, Probe presented a much more accessible adventure, if only more of the public would have sampled it.  But they didn’t, and unfortunately that led to the demise of Probe after seven episodes.  The series was many good things, but it almost certainly was not what most people thought it to be originally.  Like Austin James, Probe was sorely misunderstood. 

PARKER STEVENSON (Austin James) first came to fame (and teen idol status) as Frank Hardy, one of the sleuthing brothers on The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries.  Other regular/recurring television roles included North and South Book II, the original cast of Baywatch, and Melrose Place.  His birth name is Richard Parker, but he was forced to change it when another actor by that name was already registered with the Screen Actors Guild.

ASHLEY CROW (Michelle “Mickey” Castle) was a regular on both short-lived series Champs and Turks.  She’s best known by genre fans as Sandra Bennet, the wife of the man known as HRG (for “Horn-Rimmed Glasses”) on Heroes.  She’s set to play the grandmother of the lead character Cassie on the new CW series The Secret Circle this fall.

JON CYPHER (Howard Millhouse) was a fixture on television in many series, including Knots Landing, Dynasty, and the soap opera Santa Barbara.  He played Police Chief Daniels for the entire run of Hill Street Blues, and appeared as the General to Major Dad.  He was also active on Broadway, especially in musical like 1776, Man of La Mancha, and Big:  the musical.

CLIVE REVILL (Graham McKinley) is originally from New Zealand, although he’s played everything from British to Chinese to Russian in his lengthy career.  A Shakespearean actor of some note, he’s also been in numerous comedy films. earning a Golden Globe nomination for his role in the movie Avanti!  He will be seen on this site again for his role as the wizard Vector in the series Wizards and Warriors.

Mickey and Austin

Probe has never been released on DVD, although episodes are available, in chunks, on YouTube.  (I’d recommend using the link provided, rather than looking for them yourself, because the majority are listed under the specific episode titles and NOT found when doing a search for the Probe TV series.) Those who posted the episodes run a site called Probe Resurrected, home to lots of information about the series, including quotes from various episodes and links to further information, as well as fan fiction and more.

There’s a very fine line between genius and crazy, a line that’s very hard to see by many.  Those who live on the edge of that line often are asked to justify their behavior to others.  In the pilot episode, there’s a running bit about Mickey having to prove her intelligence by coming up with a limerick about Austin, and her final result at the end of the episode reveals volumes about this odd, highly intelligent, and perhaps crazy man named Austin James.  It goes like this:

“There once was a wizard named James
Whose genius exceeded all claims.
He could solve out of hand
All the problems of man
And tell you it’s all just a game…”

If that’s not a great description of Probe, then you’ll never understand any other.  It’s just crazy smart fun.

Vital Stats

7 aired episodes (a 2-hour pilot and six hour-long episodes) — none unaired
ABC Network
First aired episode:  March 7, 1988
Final aired episode:  April 14, 1988
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  Up against The Cosby Show, it aired on Thursday nights at 8/7 Central.  The only mystery Austin James couldn’t solve was how to beat Cosby in the ratings.

Comments and suggestions welcome, as always

–Tim R.

Clever SF writer Arthur C. Clarke once famously said that any sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic.  While this might be true, it doesn’t lessen in the least the mystery of more modern tech, and the crimes which can be created with its use.  It takes an extremely smart person to figure out such things, and separate magic from science… and fortunately, the smartest man in the world loves impossible mysteries. But is he also the craziest?

Five quotes:

“I’m about to take you on the greatest adventure of your life.  You’ll probably never even thank me for it.”

“What do you use for a heart?  A pocket calculator?”

…the modern mysteries of our scientific and technological world could be just as entertaining as a traditional parlour mystery…

His skills at interacting with people were almost non-existent.

There’s a very fine line between genius and crazy…

A show from 20 years ago, but cutting edge for its time.  It was co-created by another SF writer, but based completely in fact.  Read about the series which celebrated cleverness above all, featured this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

This past week marked one of the darkest days in the history of America.  And while this site is full of fun remembrances of old shows, they really don’t mean all that much compared to the sacrifices of those innocents in the events of 9/11.  While I would never want to lessen the impact of that day, this is a blog about television shows, specifically those which didn’t last all that long… and for one particular show, that length was directly affected by what happened on that fateful day, and what came thereafter.

“Loud, stupid, and overeating will suffice as long as we also have the funny, the fierce, and the intellectual.”
–Denis Leary

The Job

Just months prior to that day, in the spring of 2001, ABC premiered a gritty comedy called The Job.  It profiled the events of New York’s 21st precinct, a rowdy collection of cops led by Mike McNeil (Denis Leary).  Abusive, abrasive, and just plain angry at times, he was still a great detective despite his constant popping of painkillers and flouting of authority.  His partner, Terrance “Pip” Phillips (Bill Nunn) was a world-weary husband and father who just wanted to get through each day without being shot at, yelled at, or even really noticed all that much… of course, as a cop, that wasn’t going to happen.

Their trials and tribulations facing the crooks (and sometimes the not-so-crooked) led to the oddball interactions of the series.  Others on the force faced similar obstructions to getting through a day.  Partners Frank Harrigan (Lenny Clarke) and Tommy Manetti (Adam Ferrara) dealt with such strangeness as a dead body dumped repeatedly in their jurisdiction (and their efforts to “throw it back”, so to speak); and helping Mike coerce a probable law-breaker into a confession by faking an attack… against his grandmother.

Younger cops Ruben Somamba (John Ortiz) and Al Rodriguez (Julian Acosta) are just trying to figure out how things work in this bizarro-world, as two rookies trying to follow rules in a precinct full of rule-breakers.  While their ethnicity gives them an advantage in some neighborhoods of New York, their presence as unseasoned detectives brings them some derision from their comrades.

Pip, Jan, and Mike

The only female of this group is Jan Fendrich (Diane Farr), who rides herd on many of these out-of-control children-as-adults, and develops a true caring relationship with Mike… if only Mike wasn’t far too self-absorbed to see it.  Somebody cares about him, even if he doesn’t.  She knows all about his wife, his girlfriend, and his destructive habits… but sees something else good, something well beyond all those things, as do we. She knows him better than he knows himself.

The one supposedly in charge, Lt. Tom Williams (Keith David), is far too busy keeping the heat off all his people from above to be really concerned about the details… as long as they keep being good cops.  But during a foot chase, Mike is unable to keep up with a suspect.  Although he fakes “pulling a hamstring”, the real reason is the way he’s treating himself… and others are noticing.

It’s catching up with you, man.  You can’t be smoking, drinking, and self-medicating everyday…  You’re living with two women, Mike!  This stuff is biblical!”
–Lt. Tom Williams to Mike, about his behavior

Normal? It doesn't work for me....

Mike is almost prototypical in his self-destructiveness.  He’s successful in his work on the force, but he certainly doesn’t act like the other cops, either real or on television.  And even though he professes a semblance of normalcy, his life is anything but.  While he’s not the most focused person in the world, as you can tell by the title of the show it’s The Job as police detective that keeps him going.  And that’s why we root for him, despite his being compared to Satan at one point… by his own police captain.

Some try to get him to confront these issues, but Mike wouldn’t be Mike without his aberrant behaviors… and yet, that doesn’t stop us, or them, from hoping he might find a way to become as great as some might believe him to be… despite his mistakes along the way.

“And let me tell you something:  at the rate you’re going, 52 (years old) is going to be a lucky roll of the dice… and I don’t need to be sitting at your funeral!   Now, you got problems, you blame it on the booze, you blame it on the pills, or you’re guilty Irish conscience… because it’s not the job.  Michael, I watched you tonight, I think the ONLY thing you love is being a cop.”
–Jan Ferderich, as Mike is trying to defend his negative choices

The world is about to change

The Job was a summer substitute for ABC’s N.Y.P.D. Blue, filmed on location in New York City.  It was given a 6-episode tryout in the spring of 2001, and a renewal for the fall.  It was supposed to premiere that season in September, but then the events of 9/11 occurred, and the absurdist tone of the series, and its setting and filming in New York, made the network more than worried.  The series was delayed until January and then returned to the airwaves, but in the new environment encompassing America, it really didn’t work, and The Job was cancelled after its initial renewal order was fully run.

However, the events of 9/11 affected the cast and crew tremendously.  They were filming on location nearby when the Towers were hit and, like so many others in the city (and across the country), the emotional impact was profound.

“We were shooting The Job (…) at Chelsea Piers, and got stuck there.  Once all the fire trucks started racing down, both sides of the highway… we saw everything with the naked eye.  It’s harder to believe what you just saw when there’s no sound–there’s no sound except the real, live sound of what’s going on.”
–Denis Leary

In the months after 9/11, it was simply too soon for a nation shocked by those events to be watching a New York police comedy, especially one with such a gritty and realistic (although absurd) tone as The Job.  ABC ended the show, preferring to recast itself as a more “family-friendly” (and safer) network.  But both the events of that September day, and Leary’s personal tragedy of losing a fire-fighting cousin and his co-workers in Worcester a few years earlier, led to the creation of Rescue Me.  A successful drama with comedy elements, Leary played firefighter Tommy Gavin for seven seasons on the FX cable network, a character just as self-destructive as Mike McNeil.  But this time, surrounded by many of the actors and crew he’d worked with on The Job, the accent was on the drama of those affected by the tragedy, and the way they’d been changed by the events of that one fateful day.

The concept found a focus bigger than just a person’s own existence.  A concentration on filling up the bottomless pit of emotions brought on by the destruction of the World Trade Center, and the loss of friends and family, gave Rescue Me an anchor The Job never had.  The show’s concentration on drama with leavening comedy moments was more respectful to those losses than The Job ever could be after those real-life events.  Given the looser restrictions of a cable home for the show and an hour-long format (as opposed to the half-hour comedy of The Job), Rescue Me found an audience ready for its drama and its humor, since by then we all were trying to deal with moving on after such a tragedy.  Tommy and Rescue Me were just as self-destructive as Mike and The Job, but there was at least a reason we could all understand for those actions, for we had all lived through that day.

“It doesn’t really get better.  Time just moves on.  And the FDNY (Fire Department of New York), if you talk to any of those guys… because of the massive loss, I don’t think the department will ever be the same.  The same thing in Worcester, losing those six guys.  What happens to those guys and how they feel about each other, you know, you can never understand from the outside, and you’ll never be able to replace those guys.  You can feel better about trying to make things better and safer, so that it maybe doesn’t happen again.  I think maybe that makes people feel better about the situation.  But, you know, the truth is it’s really a hole that never goes away.”
–Denis Leary

Rescue Me used some of the same storylines as The Job, just played for a bit more reality and a bit less comedy.  It also used many of the same actors and crew.  So why does one show succeed and another fail?  Placement is one thing (on cable, with more realistic freedom instead of a much more cautious network), and focus is another.  But after 9/11, it wasn’t just the show that changed, but the audience did, too.  And while immediately during and after that day a decade ago our wounds were too fresh, too raw, too immediate to joke about, we all still need some kind of healing, some kind of method to deal with destruction.  Whether it was typified by Mike/Tommy and battling personal demons, or facing the reality of dealing with a world changed in very important ways, the framework was laid down, unknowingly, in The Job, and then more accurately revealed in Rescue Me.  Not just for the characters… but for us all.

Tragedy in real life cannot be underestimated.  As the nation remembered what happened 10 years ago this past week, I am reminded that television did what television does best, ever since then.  It brought us the events, as they happened, in all their grief and despair, and then, sometime thereafter, brought us a way to deal with that grief through Tommy Gavin and Rescue Me.  Volumes have been written about that series, and its recent farewell.  But the germ of the idea, the character that started it all, was Mike McNeil of The Job.  From his demise, a way out of the tunnel for the rest of us was created.  And although we may never completely heal from what happened, we can find a way through, at least to a place where the world isn’t quite so dark and hopeless.  And with a little help, perhaps we can all live again.

Rescue Me -- what ultimately became of The Job

DENIS LEARY (Mike McNeil) is a 4-time Emmy nominee for both writing and directing.  His aggressive style of comedy has resulted in multiple books and comedy tours across the country, plus he’s become a spokesperson for the MLB Network, the Ford F-150 pickup truck line, and Hulu’s and DirectTV’s broadcasts.  A lifelong hockey fan, he even sang at his hometown Boston’s appearance when the Bruins played outdoors at Fenway Park, in front of thousands at the game and millions watching on television.

BILL NUNN (Terrance “Pip” Phillips) got his movie start in the films of Spike Lee, having appeared in Do the Right Thing, School Daze, and others by the acclaimed director.  He’s since become known for a variety of roles, including in movies like Regarding Henry and Sister Act, and performed in the movie adaptations of stage hits A Raisin in the Sun and Fences.

LENNY CLARKE (Frank Harrigan) is an old comedy friend of Leary’s, who starred in his own series (Lenny) back in 1990.  He was a featured player in The John Larroquette Show and appeared on Rescue Me in the role of Uncle Teddy.  As outspoken as Leary, he’s gotten into trouble for his political comments, but still remains a staunch supporter of causes and politicians important to him.

ADAM FERRARA (Tommy Manetti) is another comedian/actor, with a regular role in Rescue Me in addition to his stand-up routines.  He’s currently one of the hosts of the American version of British favorite Top Gear on the History Channel, where his penchant for destroying cars has earned him the nickname of “The Wrecker”.

JOHN ORTIZ (Ruben Somamba) had regular roles on television in Lush Life and Clubhouse, but his main emphasis has been on stage work.  Based in New York City, he co-founded the LAByrinth Theatre Company, a network of over 100 artists.  He will shortly be seen in the HBO series Luck, based on the worlds of horse-racing and gambling.

JULIAN ACOSTA (Al Rodriguez) not only partnered with Ortiz above, but also joined Ortiz’s LAByrinth Theatre Company as well.  He’s been a recurring character on both Dirt and The Defenders, and done guest shots on Castle, Franklin & Bash, and The Mentalist.

DIANE FARR (Jan Fendrich) was a co-host for MTV’s early relationship series Loveline.  After The Job, she appeared on Rescue Me for two seasons before becoming a regular on the CBS series Numb3rs.  She currently writes a syndicated newspaper column, as well as having written a humorous book on inter-racial marriages called “Kissing Outside the Lines”.

KEITH DAVID (Tom Williams) is a favorite of this site, having appeared on The Cape.  He’s also been a well-recognized voice actor, as Goliath in Gargoyles, various characters in the video-game franchises Halo and Call of Duty, and as one of the preferred narrators for Ken Burns and his hugely successful documentaries on PBS.

The 21st Precinct, just doing what they do: The Job

The Job was released by Shout Factory as a DVD set in 2005, complete with multiple commentaries and behind-the-scenes features.  While there aren’t many websites available, there are numerous mentions made of the series in the context as a precursor to Rescue Me on sites about that show.  Leary and the rest of the cast and crew have been very involved in the lives of those who were affected by 9/11, especially the firefighters and other emergency personnel who have given everything and more to protect each and every one of us, both then and now.  He (and the rest of the cast) has been involved in the Leary Firefighters Foundation, an organization instrumental in fundraising and improving public awareness of those selfless individuals who do things every day most of us would never find the courage and strength to even attempt.  And those firefighters, and other emergency workers, do it for complete strangers, people they’ve never even met, just because it’s their job.  And The Job is where all this started.

You can’t completely describe what America has gone through, either on that fateful day or in the years since.  Words are merely words, and emotions are far to complex to describe accurately.  Some people were lost, others were personally devastated, and still others far away have tried to live their lives as if nothing ever really happened.  But it did happen, and it affects us still, in ways large and small.  We can’t get away from it, we can’t ignore it… all we can do is try to heal.  Thanks to the efforts of Denis Leary and others, television has helped in the best way it knows, by dramatizing those struggles for all of us to see, share, and try to understand.  Thank you to all those whose creative contributions on The Job, Rescue Me, and in reality, every day, continue to make our lives more livable, despite any pain and suffering experienced in the past.  As long as we learn, and learn together… we’ll make it through.

Vital Stats

19 aired episodes — none unaired
ABC Network
First aired episode:  March 14, 2001
Last aired episode:  April 24, 2002
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  The Job was initially scheduled in the adult timeslot of Tuesdays 10/9 Central, an odd time for a comedy but appropriate for its adult tone.  The second season aired on Wednesday nights in a more traditional comedy timeslot, but its demise was already likely.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

This past week, America has been looking back at one of the most traumatic moments of its history.  While I would never diminish the effect of those events, a certain television show was affected, more than most, by what happened… and it led to a similar series which set out to show all of us how people continue to cope, as best they can, despite the tragedies along the way.  On Friday, a look back at what started the journey….

Five quotes:

Abusive, abrasive, and just plain angry at times…

…helping coerce a probable law-breaker into a confession by faking an attack… against his grandmother.

“It’s catching up with you, man.  You can’t be smoking, drinking, and self-medicating everyday…”

“”It doesn’t really get better.  Time just moves on.”

We can’t get away from it, we can’t ignore it… all we can do is try to heal.

Lives changed that day… and television reflected it, as it always does.  See just how, this week on Friday @ 8/7 Central.

–Tim R.

“Do so, for it is worth the listening to….”
–Falstaff, in William Shakespeare’s Henry IV (Part I), Act II, Scene iv

Shakespeare gives these words to Falstaff, one of the biggest and best braggarts ever created.  Falstaff is boasting as usual, making certain all gathered know of the greatness of his supposed deeds.  A few of us have had the outrageous fortune to see another greatness, a recent television series which is, some critics claim, one of the best ever made.  That’s quite a tribute, appropriately worthy of Falstaff.  But I happen to agree with the critics (at least in this instance), as few shows have captured so perfectly their sense of place and purpose as Slings & Arrows. 

Never heard of it?  I’m not surprised.  Slings & Arrows was a Canadian production, sweeping awards north of the border when it aired from 2003 through 2006.  That might sound like it ran far too long to be found on this site… but in reality, only 18 total episodes of the series were made.  And every single hour is, by turns, a hilarious and poignant love letter to the theatre.

Martha Burns and Paul Gross in Slings & Arrows

“The germ of the idea was the contrast between the perfection on stage and the chaos backstage; the difference between the actor backstage trying to remember his lines and then stepping out looking incredibly confident.”
–actor/writer Susan Coyne

Slings & Arrows revolved around the world of the New Burbage Theatre, and the creative (and not-so-creative) personnel involved in putting on their stage shows.  The New Burbage and its Shakespearean Festival have passed their heyday, reduced by marketers into offering the same traditional favorites to draw in the crowds (and the money) instead of producing shows worthy of taking chances and daring to be brilliant.  Heavy lies the head that happens to wear this particular crown, artistic director Oliver Welles (Stephen Ouimette), who regrets his choices to “play it safe” and yet cannot bring himself to be the risk-taker he used to be.  Distracted by these thoughts (and a fair share of drink), he ends up dying (at the end of the first episode, no real spoilers here), and New Burbage needs a new creative leader.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”
–Malvolio, in Twelfth Night, Act II, Scene v

Enter, stage left, a rather reluctant Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross).  Oliver’s protégé, he was an up-and-coming star actor when, during his performance of Hamlet directed by Oliver, Geoffrey suffered a nervous breakdown onstage.  He’s been scratching out a living ever since, until his name is put forth for Oliver’s previous position.  With reluctance he takes the job, if only to keep it from falling to his old rival, flashy no-talent director Darren Nichols (Don McKellar).  Geoffrey must now shepherd another production of Hamlet and face his own ghosts… but while he expected the ghost of Hamlet’s father in the play, no one told him another spectre would be Oliver himself.  Geoffrey’s old mentor again appears, but only to Geoffrey, commenting throughout.  But is it really Oliver, or just the elements of the nervous breakdown returning once more?

“If this were play’d upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”
–Fabian, from Twelfth Night, Act III, Scene iv

Ellen and Kate onstage

In the midst of questioning his own sanity, Geoffrey tries to wrest control of the theatre back to the artists and away from the marketing people.  The artists include New Burbage’s diva Ellen Fanshaw (Martha Burns), who was involved in that fateful performance of Hamlet seven years prior, and also “involved” with Geoffrey romantically; and young ingénue Kate McNab (Rachel McAdams) who dreams of becoming a star but is relegated to being an extra, starting at the bottom as Ellen did so many years ago.

Darren and Richard: Everything that's wrong about theatre

The marketing department is headed by manager Richard Smith-Jones (Mark McKinney), who falls prey to the wiles of corporate rep Holly Day (Jennifer Irwin).  She wishes to take New Burbage and make it into a commercialized horror, complete with multiple trinket shops and a theme park atmosphere, ignoring the art in favor of profit.  Anna Conroy (Susan Coyne), as Geoffrey’s assistant, tries to run interference between these two and the attempts at art onstage, but is most often left wondering if they’ll be anything still remaining once the dust settles.

“Geoffrey, we’re hanging by a thread…”
“And the very best things happen just before the thread snaps….”
–from the opening episode of Slings & Arrows

"Do you want to play Juliet? Or live it?"

We also see others in and around the theatre, including Jack Crew (Luke Kirby), a Hollywood actor brought to the New Burbage by Smith-Jones and Day to push ticket sales.  Crew has never done live theatre before, let alone Hamlet, putting the rest of the company on edge.  A relationship with Kate blossoms, and despite his insecurities about both love and Shakespeare, he must find a way to give the performance of a lifetime… not only for his own sake, but for Kate, Geoffrey, and all who walk the boards at New Burbage.

Ignore the fact that Slings & Arrows is a television series.  It’s actually theatre, both at its best and its worst.  Doubts about choices in life, belief in talent that isn’t really there, the push-and-pull of the heart for all the right (and wrong) reasons, and a love of living in the moment are all parts of what Slings & Arrows is about.  Sounds great, doesn’t it?  The best part?  This is just the first six episodes!!!

“Fear of Shakespeare is a function of seeing bad productions.  The language just becomes an impenetrable mush.  But these plays survived 400 years for a reason.  They’re good.  And even though Slings & Arrows is funny, it’s also a balls-out torch song to theatre.”
–Paul Gross

Slings & Arrows was designed like a great play, with a traditional three-act structure.  The first season of episodes is all about discovery, growth, and (like the title character in Hamlet, the play being performed) finding out who you are meant to be.

In the second season, Geoffrey and the New Burbage is maneuvered into presenting Macbeth, probably the most challenging of Shakespeare’s plays, and they must face new and different battles.  Legend says that productions of Macbeth are cursed, and the denizens of New Burbage likely believe that to be true, thanks to their arrogant guest star Henry Breedlove (Geraint Wyn Davies).  Financial woes force everyone to worry about their jobs, and how to secure their place in both theatre and life when the winds of change are blowing.  Much like Act II of a traditional presentation, complications ensue for the heroes and their essence is threatened.

Ellen, Geoffrey, and Charles

Act III, the third season, brings forth a production of King Lear, and the casting of Charles Kingman (William Hutt), an aging tyrant of an actor to play the title character.  Some question his ability at the late stage of his career, and others question his stamina (to the point of worrying about his living through the play!)  The theatre itself must face its future too, and decisions must be made about the directions it will take going forward.  It now becomes a fight for survival, both for an old actor wanting to relive his glory, and the New Burbage going forth as either a success or the scene of tragedy.

“Who is it that can tell me who I am?”
–King Lear, in King Lear, Act I,  Scene iv

If Slings & Arrows had been made for American television, it would never have worked, let alone been the phenomenal series it became.  Simply the design of making the show would have caused its failure here in the US, because it would never have been allowed “endings”.  Each season would have to be designed “open-ended” to lead to the next, instead of telling a story (and telling it fully).  The idea of only six episodes per season allowed each hour to be a part of the whole, rather than just another installment along the way.  The end of an episode wasn’t the end of a story, just an intermission until next week, and the end of a season was a place to contemplate what had happened so far and to decide where to take the characters next.  Character change and growth was a continual part of the process, and Slings & Arrows was a play disguised as a television series.

When writing plays (or movies, although “franchises” and sequels these days go against this idea), the story told is supposed to be the most important event in the character’s life.  That’s why we spend two hours in a theater (or with the DVD) to become involved in their tale.  But television is designed to come into our living rooms every week with a familiar cast of characters, telling stories about the people THEY interact with.  The guests are the ones with the “most important event” happening, the regulars are just part of the events.

Canadian and British television usually don’t do lengthy seasons, and sometimes only create six to ten episodes for a year.  This defined and shortened length makes these presentations more like extended plays than American television series.  In Slings & Arrows, the worlds of theatre and television come together, but in a way that can preserve the best of both, with each season being a self-contained story vital to certain characters, and yet allowing viewers their familiar friends along the way.

Ratings were never a concern for this show.  It had a set of stories to tell, framed over three short seasons, and it told them, with wit, drama, tears, and laughter.  For once, I don’t have to describe what when wrong with a show to cause its demise… Slings & Arrows is practically perfect, just the way it is.

“This above all:  to thine own self be true.  And it must follow, as the night the day… Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
–Polonius, in Hamlet, Act I, Scene iii

STEPHEN OUIMETTE (Oliver Wells) was better known as a voice actor for many, having been heard on Beetlejuice (as the title character), and various voices on ALF-The Animated Tales, X-Men, Care Bears, and Babar.  His role as Oliver on Slings & Arrows won him a Gemini Award, the Canadian equivalent of the Emmy.

PAUL GROSS (Geoffrey Tennant) performed Hamlet at the Stratford Festival of Canada, supposedly one of the influences for Slings & Arrows.  He’s best known to American audiences as Constable Benton Frasier, the Canadian Mountie in the series Due South.  Most recently, he was a regular in the short-lived series Eastwick, playing the devilish Darryl Van Horne.

DON McKELLAR (Darren Nichols) is, like many of the cast of Slings & Arrows, a writer as well as an actor.  He won a Tony award for co-writing The Drowsy Chaperone, along with Bob Martin (who, conveniently enough, is one of the co-writers of Slings & Arrows!)  Prolific in his output, his name was once on six different films showing during the same Toronto Film Festival.

MARTHA BURNS (Ellen Fanshaw) played the love scenes with Paul Gross very honestly, as they are husband & wife in real life.  In the theatre world, Burns was a founding member of Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre Company, and has appeared in numerous productions on the stage.  She was nominated for a Gemini for all three seasons of Slings & Arrows, winning twice.

RACHEL McADAMS (Kate McNab) was relatively unknown during this series, but has become a blossoming star in Hollywood.  Featured roles in The Time-Traveler’s Wife, Sherlock Holmes, and the upcoming film The Vow have made her what some critics called “the next Julia Roberts”.  And yes, she also won a Gemini for her first season performance too.  (I told you this show was great!)

MARK McKINNEY (Richard Smith-Jones) is a veteran of the sketch comedy group/series The Kids in the Hall, and is a co-writer of Slings & Arrows.  He’s also been seen on Saturday Night Live and Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip (as a writer, naturally), and is one of the minds behind the new Canadian sitcom Michael, Tuesdays and Thursdays, featuring many of the creative staff from Slings & Arrows gathered again.

JENNIFER IRWIN (Holly Day) was a regular on Still Standing and a featured player on Eastbound and Down.  She was also nominated for a Gemini (although she didn’t win), and will be seen on Michael, Tuesdays and Thursdays (which may as well be the new gathering place for Slings & Arrows fans and actors alike….)

SUSAN COYNE (Anna Conroy) is the final co-writer of the series,  and her writing comes from extensive experience with many theatre groups in Canada, including the Stratford Festival and the Soulpepper Theatre Company.  She was recently the playwright-in-residence at the Tarragon Theatre in Toronto.

LUKE KIRBY (Jack Crew) is a graduate of the National Theatre School of Canada, and after a rather lengthy theatre career for one so young, he became a regular on the HBO series Tell Me You Love Me.  Along with guest spots on Flashpoint, Law & Order, and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, he’s recently starred in the Canadian series Cra$h and Burn.

GERAINT WYN DAVIES (Henry Breedlove) starred in the cult hit Forever Knight as police detective/vampire Nick Knight.  He had regular roles on 24, To Serve and Protect, and on the final season of Airwolf.  A musician as well, he’s recorded an album (“Bar Talk”) and performed in numerous stage musicals.

WILLIAM HUTT (Charles Kingman) had a fifty-plus year career in live theatre, including noted performances in Shakespeare’s The Tempest.  Ironically, his appearance in Slings & Arrows in 2006 occurred after his retirement from the stage.  Although he was later slated to return to the Stratford festival in 2007, he ultimately had to cancel due to poor health.  He died of leukemia shortly thereafter, in his sleep.

“All the world’s a stage, and the men and women merely players….”
–Jaques, in As You Like It, Act II, Scene vii

In America, this gem of a series originally aired on the Sundance Channel a few years after its Canadian run, when stateside critics finally found its wonder.  It can now be found occasionally on the Ovation cable channel in repeats, and those with Netflix can order the discs, as usual.  The episodes are up (in chunks, of course) at YouTube for those with less patience and more immediate desire to see the show.  The Canadian Shakespeare Project has a wonderful website full of clips and behind-the-scenes interviews for the series, plus (since it’s an educational site) study guides and reading materials available (it even has “phony” programs, produced as if the New Burbage itself had made them for the series!)

For once, I get to write about a successful series on this site, and yet, like the subject matter of the series, it is one of those things that is best as a shared experience, like a live theatre performance.  Whether Slings & Arrows is being dramatic, absurd, poignant, or sweetly heartfelt, it is, at all times, a moving experience for those who wish to be swept away by the possibilities of theatre in all its glory and despair.  As a veteran of many on-stage productions myself, I can easily attest to the types of experiences portrayed here, both great and mundane.  While most never observe the chaos “behind the curtain”, these people are real, no matter how outrageous they may seem to any who merely come to see a performance.

“To be, or not to be:  that is the question:  whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune…”
–Hamlet, of course, in Hamlet, Act III, Scene I

“…and by the way, you sulky brat, the answer is ‘To be’!”
–sung in the first season opening of Slings & Arrows

Those who are merely viewers, for television or theatre, usually don’t realize the sheer amount of work that goes into creating those few moments on-screen or on-stage.  Time, sweat, and frustration are all part of the process, and Slings & Arrows portrays that very well.  But ultimately, as the characters show, there comes a moment when the presentation transcends this ordinary mortal coil, and for that one brief experience, there is nothing but the reality of the performance, sharing the emotion with those watching in a way that is impossible anywhere else.  That’s why those of us who put in that time, who sweat those details, who go through that frustration, all make the extreme effort.  That’s why we do it… that’s the meaning of “To be”….

I will always suffer Slings & Arrows, nobly, and most gladly.

Vital Signs

18 aired episodes — none unaired
The Movie Channel (Canada); Sundance Channel (USA)
First aired episode:  November 3, 2003
Final aired episode:  August 28, 2006
Aired at Friday 8/7 Central?  For once, I can’t honestly find an original time slot for this show.  As The Movie Channel and Sundance both repeated shows quite often, I just don’t have an answer for this.  Any help or info is welcome.

Comments and suggestions appreciated, as always.

–Tim R.

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