Harvard Law (Television) Review: Canadian Television

BY KATIE MAPES

For all that it sounds like the writer’s strike might end as early as this week, we can expect American television to be a wasteland for quite some time while shows gear back up into production. So what’s a 3L with a bit of free time on their hands to do? Many people might suggest you become an “American Idol” fan or pick up a Netflix subscription. But there’s another option. One that takes you away from the glitz of American reality shows with their middling budgets and medium-high production values. That option is Canadian television.

Yes, that’s right. For reasons that are beyond me, our neighbor to the north apparently doesn’t think it’s worth their time to police what videos are put on YouTube. But I’m not complaining. As a result, you can watch full seasons of Canadian television on-line. It’s a perfect way to kick back and to assure yourself that even a nation with universal health care and money that is terrifyingly worth more than yours still can’t manage to properly pronounce words like “sorry” and “about.”

Little Mosque on the Prairie

This isn’t just my favorite Canadian television show, this is one of my favorite shows, period. The concept can be (and no doubt was, in whatever meeting this was originally pitched at) summed up as “Northern Exposure” for our post-September 11th world. “Little Mosque on the Prairie” follows the Muslim community in a small town somewhere in rural Canada.

The show stars Zaib Shaikh as Amaar Rashid, a high powered corporate attorney who decides to leave law and become the imam of a small town mosque. After an unpleasant run-in with Canadian airport security, he arrives and meets the requisite cast of whacky small town residents, including a quirky contractor and his convert wife, the priest they rent space for the mosque from, and the local racist talk radio host.

The show suffers from its low-production values, and the acting and writing could be sharper, but it deserves four stars anyway for being hands-down the most charming thing on television and for being one of the few sitcoms that’s actually laugh-out-loud funny. Even the radio shock jock is treated with good humor and displays (brief) glimpses of humanity. Similarly, Amaar’s will-they-or-won’t-they relationship with local physician Rayaan is exceedingly charming, and one hopes the fact that the two participants have religious objections to dating will keep it from getting as stale as most such television relationships.

Halfway through its second season, “Little Mosque on the Prairie” appears to be a real winner. I, for one, will be buying the DVDs, just as soon as I can figure out how to order them from Amazon.ca.

Rating: ****

Canada’s Next Top Model

“Canada’s Next Top Model” is set in Victoria, B.C., and features the girls living in a gorgeous lake-side house that host Tricia Helfer actually once arrived at via float plane. I’m told that Toronto is the actual fashion capital of Canada (try saying “fashion capital of Canada” without giggling), but honestly, the only thing I know about Toronto is that it is the target of frequent “Oh, those big city people” jokes on “Little Mosque on the Prairie.” As any good native Oregonian, however, I feel a kinship with British Columbia and expect it to join our Pacific Northwest empire after the revolution, so the setting is absolutely fine with me.

A near twin to the American version in format, “Canada’s Next Top Model” nevertheless manages to outclass the original (although really, what doesn’t?) by at least some small degree. The girls engage in at least 50% less petty squabbling, the judges are markedly less bizarre, and the photo shoots resemble things that might, conceivably, in some universe be actual photo shoots instead of ways to manipulate the contestants into ever-weirder situations.

For fans of the original, this obviously amounts to a pretty big difference and, in fact, some of the campy fun of the show is diminished by the more sober tone. But, after all, 50% less petty squabbling is still an awful lot of petty squabbling in absolute terms, and this show is hardly lacking in semi-staged drama. How talented are the contestants? I’d try to answer this, but since my only real knowledge of the fashion industry is from “America’s Next Top Model,” I doubt I’m qualified.

Rating: **

Project Runway: Canada

If “Canada’s Next Top Model” is a lot like “America’s Next Top Model,” “Project Runway: Canada” is so much like the original as to be indistinguishable. There’s the same mix of designers – the talented, the not-so-talented, the guy who can’t learn to edit, the girl who can’t stop breaking down in tears, and all the other familiar characters. But after all, it’s a formula that works, and watching Canadian designers struggle to compete ambitious garments in small amounts of time is no less fun than watching American designers do it.

The real difference between “Project Runway: Canada” and its American progeny is host Iman, who’s snarky comments during the weekly judging blow American host Heidi Klum out of the water. Canadian Tim Gunn isn’t half bad either, a lot like Tim Gunn 1.0, except a little less polished and camera-ready. Which, in the end, is a lot like Canada itself, isn’t?

Rating: ***

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