Forwarded by Susan Bunting
Originally posted by Peggy Adamik


Is It Curtains for the Mountie?
By Barbara D. Phillips

Last Tuesday on "The John Larroquette Show" (NBC, 9:30 p.m. EDT), John
Hemingway, desperate to undermine his own state senate campaign, started
ranting, bug eyed, during a debate about sneaky aliens who look like us,
sound like us, and live among us-Canadians. It was a bit of comic absurdity
built around a kernel of truth, at least as far as television is concerned.

Lorne Greene? Canadian. William Shatner? Canadian. Peter Jennings? Morley
Safer? Lorne Michaels? Dan Aykroyd? Dave Thomas? Dave Foley? Jim Carrey?
Canadians all, and I haven't come close to exhausting the list. Canadians
have provided some of the best hours of U.S.-produced television, as well
as their own "SCTV" and "The Kids in the Hall." Toronto and Vancouver stand
in for their grittier neighbors to the south in scores of films, TV movies
and series.

Yet this major source of Canadian pride is scarcely noticed by most viewers
in the Lower 48, who associate Canada with hockey, cold fronts,
red-jacketed Mounties (Dudley Do-Right and Nelson Eddy chief among them),
low crime and clean streets. Nor have most Americans tuned in to the many
off-beat charms of "Due South," the Canadian-made show on CBS that plays
off cross-border stereotypes in chronicling the seriocomic adventures of
Mountie Benton Fraser (Paul Gross), who, along with his aurally challenged
wolf-dog, Diefenbaker (named after a prime minister but played by a Husky
named Lincoln), is transferred from the Northwest Territories to the wilds
of Chicago (played by Toronto). As this American discovered only a belated
handful of episodes ago, if you skip the show, you are missing a treat.

Constable Fraser is loyal, honest, self-effacing, uncommonly handsome and
exceptionally determined and smart. Like Clark Kent (an earlier Canadian
creation) he's as square as his jaw, always looking for the good in
everyone and never without a "thank you kindly" on his lips. But he uses
Sherlock Holmes-like powers of deduction, Yukon tracking skills, and
preternatural politeness-not X-ray vision and other superpowers-to get his
men. He'll chase a taxi for blocks to return a stuffed rabbit to its owner
and unflinchingly lick dirt or sniff a rat's breath if it will provide a
clue to a crime. Mr. Gross plays Fraser with a sweet, soulful earnestness
that's both touching and irresistibly funny. He's the best dead-pan
Canadian since Leslie Nielsen, who has guest-starred twice as Mountie Buck
Frobisher, the best friend of Fraser's late father.

Chicago Detective Ray Vecchio, Fraser's partner in crime-fighting, is the
Mountie's perfect foil. American actor David Marciano, who was so memorable
as Jeffrey the bike messenger and poet on "Civil Wars" a few seasons back,
plays Vecchio as bald, rude, loud, impatient, touchy and superstitious,
but, as Fraser puts it in this Friday's season finale, "existentially
honest." He's a street-smart detective out of "Homicide" or "NYPD Blue"
plunked down in a fairy tale world where (if only it were true) goodness,
fair play and good manners always triumph.

Along with Fraser and Vecchio, there's a wonderful supporting
cast-including Fraser's ghost of a father (Gordon Pinsent), who gives him
advice from the grave, and his beautiful but hardnosed boss, the aptly
named Inspector Meg Thatcher (Camilla Scott). At its best, as in last
month's "All the Queen's Horses," written by Mr. Gross (who also sings his
own folk-rock composition), it's a great mix.

In that episode, Fraser and Thatcher travel by train with the Musical Ride,
the Royal Canadian Mounted Police's 32-member equestrian team.
Unfortunately, the crew of documentary film makers accompanying them are
soon revealed somewhere in Illinois to be far-right American paramilitary
extremists ("Due South" is topical, as well) led by Randall Bolt (Kenneth
Welsh), who inveighs against the American "so called" government. The bad
guys gas most of the Mounties into unconsciousness when, in true Nelson
Eddy fashion, they are in the midst of a full-throated chorus. Only Fraser,
Thatcher and Frobisher are left awake, and Mr. Nielsen's character has gas
problems of his own, suffering the after-effects of "moose hock rolled in
wild boar tongue and covered in gorgonzola cheese." Before our heroes save
the day, averting nuclear disaster, Fraser and Thatcher share a frantic,
long suppressed kiss on the top of their runaway train, Vecchio tangles
with FBI agents straight out of Ruby Ridge, and Frobisher becomes
reacquainted with Fraser's dad, whom death has made a little forgetful.

In this Friday's entertaining season finale written by Mr. Gross (and seen
one hour later than usual, at 9 p.m. EDT), Vecchio is jealous of the media
attention Fraser has received in the Bolt case, and his mood doesn't
lighten when he and Fraser are kidnapped by Bolt's relatives and strapped
to a bomb set to blow if their combined heart rates top 200 beats a minute.

This is a life-and-death week not only for the characters but for the
series as well. CBS will announce the fate of "Due South" sometime in the
next few days, and while the Canadians kept the show going on a tighter
budget after it disappeared for a while from the U.S. schedule, Alliance,
the show's Toronto-based production company, has said it won't be able to
keep the program in production this time without Yankee dollars. ("Due
South" is a big hit in Canada, where it airs on CTV on Thursdays at 8 p.m.
EDT, and has been seen in more than 60 countries, including Britain,
Australia and Germany.)

I'm normally a bit of a gloomy Gussie, a firm believer that every silver
lining has its cloud. But I'm feeling hopeful about "Due South's"
prospects. The show's letter writing and e-mailing fans succeeded in
bringing it back to the Lower 48 (and Alaska and Hawaii too) in December
1995, and they are still out there trooping the colors on the Internet. And
while the series has placed a lot lower than 48th in the overall Nielsen
rankings, the network on April 24 sent out a press release to television
critics saying that "We at CBS are exceptionally proud of Due South, and
are eager to share our enthusiasm with you," noting as well that in its
regular Friday time slot, the show "continues its dramatic ratings
improvement compared to its predecessors." Besides, renewing the program
would be the right thing to do.

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