Only in Canada: Curling and Skating Shows Take Over Prime Time
by Stephanie Earp, posted Oct 4th 2010 7:00PM
I think this could be a break-out year for 'Battle of the Blades,' the Canadian competitive reality show that takes a 'Dancing with the Stars' approach to pairs figure skating, except the celebs are all male hockey players and the pros are all medal-winning female figure skaters. The show did plenty of business in its freshman year last year, but after the first real episode last night, I woke up to find several references to Theo Fleury's eyeliner in my Facebook newsfeed. If it's on Facebook, it must be big.
CBC plans to take advantage by placing another uniquely Canadian show in the Monday night timeslot right after the results show. It's called 'Men With Brooms,' and it's loosely based on a blockbuster Canadian movie. What constitutes a Canadian blockbuster? Slightly less than $5 million at the box office (that's CAD, to boot) and the sense that most Canadians have at least heard of the film.
In case the title left you with any doubts, both film and sitcom are about curling. So, my American friends, to recap: A show about hockey players who learn to figure skate is followed by a sitcom about curling. That's right. Some critics are calling Monday night 'the hoser block.' (Which is unfair, really. A hoser is generally someone clumsy or stupid who drinks too much, and has nothing to do with enjoying winter sports.)
'Men with Brooms' does seem to have a few things going for it. For one, there's lead actor Brendan Gall, who looks and acts a lot like John Krasinski from 'The Office.' He even has a Pam to woo, the new girl in accounting, and one preview shows him triumphing over a vending machine in her honor. I don't know where this guy has been hiding himself -- he's had about eight acting jobs in as many years, according to IMDB -- but thank God someone found him a job.
Another good thing? Cameo appearances by Paul Gross, best known for his role in 'Due South' but by now a true elder statesman of the film and TV industry in Canada. Still cute the way Jim Cuddy of Blue Rodeo is still cute, his dimpled face will surely haul in a few female viewers. Gross wrote and starred in the film version of 'Men With Brooms' and his character is a living legend to those who live in the TV show's world, but one that's moved on, for the most part. He occasionally pops in to flirt with their women and make their trophies look small.
And then there's curling itself. Curling is somehow more hilarious than most other sports. It's the silly equipment -- brooms and flat-soled shoes that look like something your grandmother wears to prevent falling. It's the Jurassic pace, something like watching darts in slow motion. It's the vocabulary -- have you ever really laughed your last laugh at a 'hurry hard' reference? And the setting -- the curling club -- has a classic sitcom feel to it. Unlike the local bar or coffee shop, the lounge at a curling club really can see the same customers day in and day out, and they really will spend hours over a drink. Everybody really does know your name.
But even with all this in the plus column, I'm apprehensive. I've seen what CBC can do to a sitcom: Namely make it so polite and safe that lines designed to get laughs make you cringe instead. One TV writer already called this 'Little Rink on the Prairie.' If you think this is a reference to the Laura Ingalls Wilder show, bless your heart and lucky you.
Canada prides itself on its multiculturalism, and it seems that no Canadian show -- at least the ones that are supposed to be funny -- is complete without characters and storylines that reflect this. On the new 'Men With Brooms,' that job falls mainly to Pramesh, played by Anand Rajaram, an ingenuous new Canadian eager to embrace all this land has to offer, including hurling stones down a slick surface. I have no problem with this idea, except that there's no hint of a real friendship between Pramesh and his rink-mates. He just feels like the set-up for some gentle humor, not at his expense, but at the expense of his dumb white companions. So much for multi-culti Canadians -- we may be ahead of the curve but our TV writers can't figure out how to write about it without making us look like a bunch of racists. (Dude, if Judd Apatow can do it, surely someone up here can handle this task!)
In the end, I don't think you can call 'Battle of the Blades' and 'Men With Brooms' hoser shows, mostly because they are trying way too hard. I do love 'BoB,' but I love it for the hard work the athletes put in and the awesome skating, not the inane hockey jokes the judges come up with. I'm also not a fan of the way they practically apologize every time they use a genuine figure skating term on the air. So far, it looks like I'm going to have the same kind of problems with 'Men With Brooms.'
Here's the thing about real hosers: They don't care what other people think.