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Oh,… Canada

August 27, 2013

One of the series at the top of my “check it out” pile.

I wrote in my review of season one of Orphan Black that it was a British series. Shortly after this one of my readers corrected me that the show was, in fact, a Canadian production. That was my mistake for assuming that because I watched the show on BBC America that it had to be a British made series, which is a mistake I will not be repeating any time soon. After correcting my review, I realized that my two favorite new genre shows, Continuum and Orphan Black, are both Canadian productions. Add Lost Girl to that list, which I also really like, and you have one cool new genre show per year coming out of Canada starting in 2011. And I’m not the only one to notice as this article in The Globe and Mail points out. The reason I found that article is that I decided to do a little digging into Canadian genre television both recent and past. I could lie and say it was for this article I planned to write but, it was really an excuse to see what other cool stuff that I may have missed that has come out of the great white north.

The first genre show I knew of from Canada was The Starlost from 1973 which is not actually their first genre series. Space Command from 1953 was their first show which I haven’t seen, along with a bunch of other people, because only one episode survives today. To get back to The Starlost, it is not exactly on par with any of the previously mentioned shows. In fact, it is somewhat notorious amongst genre tv fans as being one of the worst genre shows ever made. I watched some of it back when it was syndicated in the US (this blog is subtitled confessions of a genre tv addict for a reason). It started out with a great idea. A generation ship was launched when the people of Earth realized the planet was about to be destroyed. It contained something like 100 domes, each housing a sample society from Earth to be located on a new inhabitable planet orbiting a distant star. En route the vehicle’s bridge gets trashed, it flies past its destination, and enough time passes for the various cultures in the domes to forget they were even aboard a spaceship. If it sounds like a great idea, that would be because it was created by none other than Harlan Ellison. The novel Pheonix Without Ashes is his novelization of the pilot which was recently done as a graphic novel by IDW. To say that things went badly after this is a bit on an understatement. The promising new low cost visual effects technique that the show’s producers where relying upon to keep the series in budget never materialized. This dreated further budget constraints that caused massive changes to the production. Mr. Ellison decided he didn’t like how these were going to affect the show and left. The series producers then brought in Ben Bova to review their scripts and fix any scientific blunders. Mr. Bova made his corrections only to later watch the first episode and learn that all of his recommendations where ignored and that, in fact, all the producers apparently wanted was to add his name to the credits to lend the series some ounce of credibility with science fiction fans. This worked out about as well as everything else had and the series was ultimately cancelled half way through its inaugural season as a result. Ben Bova also wrote a book called The Starcrossed based upon his experiences with the project. While The Starlost did not exactly offer a promising start for Canadian genre tv, it would prove to be a rather remarkable exception to this countries’ output. It turns out that while I knew about all of the other shows I’m about to describe, I had no idea that some of them were Canadian productions but, what I did know is that many of them were on my must-see list.

I’ll start with the shows I haven’t seen yet and go chronologically. The first is the 1997 series Lexx. This involves a crew of misfits stealing a living ship to find themselves a new home. Actually, I have seen the first 20 minutes of the initial episode. This is probably what I get for trying to watch it at work but, what I did see made me very interested in checking out the rest of it. I guess I should also point out here that Lexx was a co-production with Germany and that there was some British monetary contribution as well. The show is currently available on Netflix streaming in the US and should no longer be available the instant I fit the series into my viewing schedule based upon my past experiences with Netflix streaming. Another show that I heard good things about was the 2001 series Mutant X. It’s a joint US production and, yes, it is a series based on the Marvel universe for those familiar with the character the title references. Around the time I first learned about it, the series was difficult to get as the DVD sets were way out of print but, mercifully, the series was recently reissued. Odyssey 5 was a one season wonder that aired on Showtime in the US and I was surprised to learn was a Canadian production as well. This is the one series that is pretty much at the top of my list based upon everything I have read/heard about it and with Peter Weller (Buckaroo Banzai himself) being one of the lead actors pretty much seals the deal for me. The story involves a crew of five astronauts on a space shuttle named Odyssey (get it) who watch the Earth implode during their mission. They get sent back in time by some mysterious alien to try and prevent the disaster they just witnessed from happening. Also in the “I had no idea it was a Canadian production pile” is the 2008 series Sanctuary. This one is an urban fantasy series that I have had on my list to check out for about as long as Odyssey 5.

One series that I not only knew about but have watched through already is Charlie Jade. This show was actually a co-production with South Africa and I gush about at length in my previous review. There are two more series that like Odyssey 5 and Sanctuary, I was surprised to learn were Canadian productions. These being the two Gene Roddenberry posthumous series Earth: Final Conflict and Andromeda. I have seasons one and two of Earth already on DVD as I had tried to watch the series back when it aired but, being divorced at the time I was a little more interested in not spending the rest of my life single so, like Farscape, it kind of lost to other activities. What I did see I found interesting enough that I knew I would want to ultimately check the series out some day. As far as Andromeda goes, I have the first five episodes on DVD due to the fact they packaged each season in five parts. A local Suncoast was selling the used pieces individually (it didn’t make sense to me either) so, I bought part one of season one just to try it out while at the same time probably reducing the chances of the store selling the other four parts. I was curious about this series because it was the fourth attempt at Genesis II. I have watched all five episodes but, it didn’t inspire me enough to go any further forward with the series at the time.

So, in conclusion, apart from The Starlost, Canada’s genre tv record is actually quite outstanding from my perspective. The stuff I have seen to date I like a lot and, the stuff I haven’t is all pretty high on my want to watch list. The fact that the last three years have produced three of my currently favorite genre series is, I hope, a portent of things to come. It would be awesome if 2014 results in another genre series that I can add to my favorites list. Not that I’m putting any pressure on anyone north of the border or anything like that.

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