Thursday, February 17, 2011

Newfoundland's Finest: In Praise of The Republic of Doyle


Never has a show made a city look so lovely. One of the many pleasures of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's TV series The Republic of Doyle is that it has made the city of St. John's, Newfoundland look absolutely gorgeous. From Signal Hill to the multi-coloured downtown buildings to the charm of the harbour and landscape around it, St. John's looks ravishing. It makes you want to go visit it like now, right now.

But that's not the only attraction. Pretty pictures does not a TV show make. What is so appealing about The Republic of Doyle is its wonderful combination of comedy, action, mystery and heartache. Created by and starring native son, Allan Hawco (his co-creators are Malcolm MacRury and Perry Chafe), the show is, as Hawco freely admits, inspired by the classic James Garner series The Rockford Files. Jake Doyle (Hawco) is – along with his father, Malachy (Sean McGinley) – a private investigator working on whatever cases he can get in the small city of St. John's. Sometimes it's a missing person, sometimes it's a blackmail case, and occasionally it's a murder mystery. The plots, such as they are, are often very incidental to the relationships between Jake and a terrific cast of characters that surround him. What's more important here is his gentle bickering with Malachy, his often moving but so-far unconsummated relationship with police detective Leslie Bennett (the effortlessly beautiful and charming Krystin Pellerin – she's currently on stage in Toronto in Soulpepper Theatre Company's production of the musical The Fantasticks), his attempts to protect his young niece, Tinny Doyle (Marthe Bernard), or his constant rescuing of his screw-up older brother Christian (Jonathan Goad) from himself.

Allan Hawco & Sean McGinley
Allan Hawco has had a fairly healthy career in Canadian theatre and TV, but until now, on TV at least, he's been a character actor, never the lead. It just goes to show you that if you aren't getting cast in the right projects, write the darn thing yourself. Hawco is perfectly cast in the show. He is handsome in that 'dark Irish' sort of way, yet he still has a hint of melancholy and a touch of failure surrounding him. Women are attracted to him, but he consistently finds ways to screw things up (in Series One he was newly divorced; in Season Two, he is juggling two women, the fetching Bennett and the Crown Attorney, Allison Jenkins (Michelle Nolden)). As the series progresses, you know he's meant to be with Bennett, but something always seems to get in the way. He's also a sucker for lost causes (such as his brother). Some critics have dumped on the show calling it too “light,” yet what they seem to miss is that not every show needs to be dark and moody to get at human failings. Hawco's show, within its light, comic frame, gets at some real truths about loneliness, longing and trying to make a mark in a world that could really care less.

One minute you may be laughing, but in the very next, assisted by a perfectly chosen piece of music (such as The Waterboys' “Fisherman's Blues” that filled the soundtrack at the end of this week's episode), you will have a tear rolling down your cheek. This is top-notch TV. Sure, Hawco may have 'borrowed' the basic premise from the US's The Rockford Files, but its Newfoundland setting has given this fine series a consistent top-spin that Garner's LA-set series only occasionally managed to hit.

David Churchill is a film critic and author of the novel The Empire of Death. You can read an excerpt here. Or go to http://www.wordplaysalon.com for more information.

No comments:

Post a Comment