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April 18, 2014

Screen Time

Is It Too Soon for Security Satire?

by Stephanie Earp, posted Jan 3rd 2011 3:00PM
CBC's latest comedy 'InSecurity' debuts this week, a decade after 9/11, but it still has me wondering if a series based on jokes about national security might be hitting the airwaves a little too soon.

Between the WikiLeaks Cablegate story and the introduction of the backscatter X-ray machines to airports, security -- as in homeland and travel -- is a topic still very much in flux. Will Americans -- and the rest of the world dragged along with them into forced nudity and patdowns -- accept the latest incursion into their privacy or reject it?

Is Julian Assange a journalist doing his job or is he some kind of freelance spy/traitor? It will take some time to figure out where history stands on these and other issues around how the west has dealt with the threat of terrorism. But it's into this murky water this half-hour show is set to premiere.

'InSecurity' is about a group of Canadian federal agents working for a fictional agency called NISA -- it's based on CSIS, which is the Canadian version of the CIA. The team tracks terrorists and spies, yet all they have to do this with is a few computers, spy cams and their brains. While the technology is equal access, the brains have been handed out willy nilly, with the vast majority going to series leads Alex (Natalie Lisinska) and Claude (the fabulous Rémy Girard). The cast is studiously multicultural, of course, which works better in the context of a high-end government agency than, say, a gas station in the Prairies.

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Where Did 2010 Go? Down the Tube

by Stephanie Earp, posted Dec 29th 2010 8:00AM
I hate to break it to you guys, but the time of sugarplums and reindeer is over. What once were presents are now mere possessions and the next holiday on the calendar is vying for your attention. It's almost time for New Year's resolutions.

I've always believed that those who don't understand history are doomed to repeat it, so it seemed high time for me to make an honest account of how I spent 2010 before making any goals for 2011: I spent it watching television.

My resolution? I'd like to watch less television. Well it's more complicated than that - I'd like to watch more good TV and less bad TV. Allow me to recap 2010 for you, so you'll see why:

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'Survivor' Changes Up the Game -- Finally

by Stephanie Earp, posted Dec 20th 2010 5:00PM


Another season of 'Survivor' has come and gone -- and I guess I can even say the person I was rooting for won. The thing is, I only starting rooting for Fabio two weeks ago, when I realized that the time to pick a favorite had long since passed. Sure, like a lot of people, I was rooting for the male model formerly known as Judson, but only from a dearth of options. What was I supposed to do? Root for 'villainous' Sash, whose claim to fame was getting Marty to give up an idol? Sash called himself a backstabber, but his mild-mannered play looked more like a back massage to me. Come on, guy! Villains are supposed to be evil!

Then there was Chase, who floated to the final four like a pretty princess, never really making any calls at all. And even Fabio, who pulled off that triple immunity win right when he needed it, seemed fairly clueless most of the time. I would like to point out that it takes a very fine actor to play dumb. I'm not sure Fabio is the next Tom Hanks, you know what I mean? Sigh. This was pretty sorry batch of castaways, let's be honest.

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A Eulogy for the Local Newscaster

by Stephanie Earp, posted Dec 13th 2010 4:30PM
Last week, a little ripple traveled through my Facebook friends, delivering the news that Mark Dailey, a guy most of the world has never heard of, had died. Dailey was a reporter and news anchor in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the city where I grew up and where many of my friends still live, and as the news passed from status to status, many of us felt unaccountably sad over the loss of someone most of us had never met, while the rest of the online world went on posting pictures of their kids with Santa, complaining about the Maple Leafs and linking to WikiLeaks mirror sites.

In the last week, many Canadian sites and papers have published proper stories about Mr. Dailey (notice I can't call him Mark -- first names are for the Britneys and Angelinas of the world) and so if you are curious about him, get your Google on and have a read, or watch the official Citytv tribute to him, posted on YouTube.

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(2nd Annual) Gifts for TV Geeks

by Stephanie Earp, posted Dec 6th 2010 7:00PM
For some people, it's the snow on the ground or the chill in the air, but for me, it's the arrival of my annual gift guide for television-addicted souls like myself that really marks the onset of the holiday season. Not only is it fun to write, it often gets results: I am now the proud owner of the 'Battlestar Galactica' board game and a 'Jem & The Holograms' cigarette case and lighter set.

The first place to look for TV-related gifts is probably the network stores themselves. They all have them and if you think a tee or hat with a logo is enough to satisfy your resident geek, this is your mecca. Occasionally they have some truly inspired gift ideas. These are my favorites:

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Chelsea Handler, Joan Rivers and Joel McHale? Yes, Please!

by Stephanie Earp, posted Nov 29th 2010 7:00PM
I don't wish to sound less than patriotic, but there are certain things our American cousins enjoy which we here in Canada must do without. An affordable and reliable postal system for example. Black Friday shopping. And until today, the E! Channel.

Some of these are easier to live without than others. Who really needs snail mail anyway? And it would take one hell of a sale to make a dent in our enormous sales taxes. But living without the E! Channel means that rap songs have less meaning, that the covers of People and US Weekly magazines are incomprehensible, and that we think of Chelsea Handler primarily as an author. It's intolerable to wallow in such ignorance and I'm glad something is finally being done about it.

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The Battle of the Skating Shows

by Stephanie Earp, posted Nov 22nd 2010 7:10PM
Tonight at 8PM, the second season of 'Battle of the Blades' will conclude on CBC after naming a winner from among the three remaining teams. Mere seconds after Bryan Adams claims in song that there will never be another tonight, ABC and CTV will attempt to prove him wrong, debuting 'Skating with the Stars' at 9PM ET/PT. I have a number of problems with this -- so many in fact, that I'm going to resort to a bulleted list format.

1. Why not franchise 'Battle of the Blades' instead of 'Skating With the Stars'?

If the U.S. had come up with a successful skating competition show, you'd better believe we'd be watching some Canadianized version of it, the rights bought and paid for. Call this hypothetical show 'So You Think You Can Battle with Celebrity Blades of Canada' or whatever, but if the success had been developed south of the border, and if Canucks had decided to go ahead with our own version without buying the rights, there'd be a lawsuit.

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Lumen Pierce Shines a Light on 'Dexter'

by Stephanie Earp, posted Nov 16th 2010 4:00PM

Julia Stiles is one of those actresses, it seems, that divides people. Those of us who love her love her for her deep voice, her strange beauty (flat face and down-turning mouth) and her off-beat choices ('10 Things I Hate About You,' the 'Bourne' series, and now 'Dexter'). Those who don't like her point out -- rightly I suppose -- that she's monotone, odd-looking, and makes bad choices ('The Prince & Me,' 'Mona Lisa Smile').

Whatever you think of her, it's hard to imagine another actress who could deliver in the role of Lumen Pierce, Dexter's latest partner in crime. For one thing, she has experience playing the no-man's-land of emotional intimacy without physical intimacy.

In her role as Jason Bourne's girl Friday and as the untouchable Kat in '10 Things,' she has been a romantic lead where romance is off the menu. It's a key element to the developing relationship between Dexter and Lumen. Like Rita, she's recovering from trauma, but her trauma is fresh and horrifying -- sex is clearly even further from her mind than it was from Rita's on those early dates with Dex.

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Why I'm Obsessed With 'Dog Whisperer'

by Stephanie Earp, posted Nov 8th 2010 5:00PM

I went to see 'Cesar Millan Live.' Usually when a television writer tells you they went to a television-related event, what they mean is that a publicity contact provided them with tickets, an interview or a backstage pass. I went to see 'Cesar Millan Live,' but I bought the tickets myself.

I admit it, I love 'Dog Whisperer.' Still, when the commercials on the National Geographic Channel started running with Cesar's gleaming white smile telling me to stay calm and assertive, as he was on his way, I didn't give it much thought. But (proving that ads do work) it slowly seeped into my consciousness. What, I wondered, would Cesar do on a live stage that he couldn't do better in a taped environment? How many people would really go to an arena to see him? And finally, the thought that broke me: I wondered who on Earth would be in the audience. My curiosity to see who else would go to such a thing had me buying tickets for his Ottawa, Ontario show last week.

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Why 'Survivor' Outwits, Outplays and Outlasts

by Stephanie Earp, posted Nov 1st 2010 7:00PM


'Survivor: Nicaragua' is not going to go down in history as one of the better seasons of the show -- it's been fairly dull, with the 'Young vs. Old' idea working out in a predictable way, and no truly dastardly villains or saintly heroes have made themselves known. In a few days, the tribes will merge, and I still can't keep all 12 remaining players straight.

And yet it somehow manages to be pretty good television. How?

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The 'Dead' to Walk Among Us -- This Time in Our Living Rooms

by Stephanie Earp, posted Oct 26th 2010 6:00PM
Vampires and werewolves are old. Werewolves, as an idea, have been with us since medieval times, and may even go back as far as the Greeks. Vampires are even older, with some sources suggesting the idea is actually prehistoric -- though it's doubtful our caveman ancestors were debating the merits of Buffy vs. Bella. They were probably just scared out of their loincloths of bloated, red-faced monsters. The idea of good-looking vampires didn't come around until the 18th century. Sparkly ones, famously, were added to the canon very recently.

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Nostalgia for 2004: TV's Golden Year

by Stephanie Earp, posted Oct 18th 2010 8:00PM

I actually remember the pilot season of 2004 -- that alone is saying something. When you write about TV, you're constantly bombarded by previews and they tend to run together. After all, half the time they star the same actors year after year (Matthew Perry, Amy Brenneman, etc.) and they often come in matched pairs with the same plot ('30 Rock' and 'Studio 60,' 'Ghost Whisperer' and 'Medium,' etc.). But 2004 stands out as a year when the pilots were unusually good, and the casts full of fresh faces. At least it all seemed fresh then. Not to be cruel, but it's starting to look a little haggard now.

A lot of shows that began in 2004 are still lingering on the air -- 'Desperate Housewives,' 'House,' and 'The Apprentice' are probably the biggest -- but even those that aren't running anymore still exercise a big influence over our thoughts about TV. 'Lost' changed how networks and viewers think about supernatural dramas on TV, and while the results have been mixed, thanks to 'Lost', we viewers have seen some bizarre stuff make it into series over the last while. 'Veronica Mars,' though it didn't last, was another 2004 show that tested the waters of what you could do in certain genres on TV. The normative violence of rape and sexual assault that girls face in high school and college had never been shown that way before -- and no tougher, smarter, cooler heroine had faced it.

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'Caprica' Gets Too Religious on Us

by Stephanie Earp, posted Oct 12th 2010 3:48PM
Was there a more a disappointing moment in childhood than the Sunday-morning realization that the only thing on TV was televangelists and 'The 700 Club'? You came looking for 'He-Man,' instead you got Pat Robertson. For some reason Ron Moore and the 'Caprica' team seem to want us to relive that moment every Tuesday night as we tune in for new episodes of the 'Battlestar Galactica' spin-off.

As other critics have noted, 'Caprica' has turned away from some of the deliciously-enticing ideas the show started to examine in the first half of the first season -- things like the potential origins of true artificial intelligence or completely virtual worlds -- and now, instead, we're getting a primer on the intricacies of a religion that doesn't even exist.

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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.)

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Wishing For A Show Less 'Ordinary'

by Stephanie Earp, posted Sep 28th 2010 3:00AM

'No Ordinary Family' debuts on ABC and CTV tonight, and I will be watching it. I'm not sure I would have bothered, but of all the new fall shows it is the only one to have captured the attention of he-who-shares-my-couch. I'm not bitterly opposed to it -- after all, it features two of my favorite TV actors in the leads: Julie Benz, fresh from her dramatic exit from 'Dexter,' and Michael Chiklis of 'The Shield' (and of giant head). In case you've missed the previews, here's the log line: An average -- nay, "ordinary" -- family go on a trip to South America, where a plane crash gives them a dip in a strange river. They survive the crash and return home to find they all have new super powers -- super speed, super strength, super smarts and the ability to read minds among them.

Sound familiar? Boy, does it ever. Call it a live-action version of 'The Incredibles' or a family-oriented 'Heroes,' but whatever you call it, 'original' probably isn't on the list of adjectives. But this description is just the beginning. From the moment this family discovers its powers, there are really a million ways it could go. But of course, they do exactly what we would expect them to -- they keep it a secret, and use their powers for good -- from fighting crime to spending more time together as a family.

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