Forwarded by Susan Bunting

Originally transcribed and posted by LJC

"Due South's Borderline Humor" by Wendy Dennis
(reprinted without permission)

The idea should never have worked.  Who'd watch a show about a
Canadian Mountie who joins a smart-aleck cop to fight crime
(without a gun!) on the mean streets of Chicago?  Nevertheless, on
Thursday nights, viewers all across North American are tuning in to
CBS for Due South--a comedy/action series featuring an impeccably
courteous Mountie who tracks criminals by the taste of their mud
and a wisecracking cop with a taste for Armani, not to mention Inuit
throat music, Islamic chants, and a deaf, lip-reading wolf named
Difenbaker.
        And that's just for starters.
        Starring Paul Gross as Constable Benton Fraser and
David Marciano as his tough-talkin' sidejick, Ray Vecchio, Due South--
much like its improbable but refreshingly nice hero--has been a pleasent
surprise to just about everyone. The first made-in-Canada series to
break out of the late-night ghetto into U.S. network prime time,
and the first to make a virtue of the fact that it's Canadian, Due South
is second in its time slot on killer Thursday nights.  By Nielsen numbers,
it averages a decent 11.3 rating and 18 share against NBS's Mad About You
and Friends.  In Canada, where it regularly lands in the Top 10, the
show is one of the highest rated Canadian series of all time.  It's even
developed a cult following on the Internet (that's us, kids -Mom).
        Part of the show's campy charm lies in its attitude--somehow
sweet and perverse at the same time.  Canadian-born but L.A.-based
executive producer/writer Paul Haggis, who has won two Emmys for
thirtysomething (and who looks somewhat like an oversized elf) has
cobbled together a show that hugs hairpin curves between drama and farce and
satirizes every TV genre from cartoon to cop show.  The owner of a truly
bent mind, he plays with myths, archetypes, and in-jokes sending up
every cultural stereotype that Americans and Canadians believe about
each other.
        Americans, for instance, think of Canadians (if they think of them
at all) as courteous, orderly, decent, nice-but-borning yokels living in
clean, safe cities.  And in many ways, Canada *is* a kinder, gentler place.
Remember, this is a country that banned the Power Rangers, where baseball
fans think booing is impolite, and where people don't cross the street
until the traffic lights change--even when no cars are coming.
        Toronto, where Due South is shot and which Peter Ustinov once called
"New York as if run by the Swiss," is so tidy, by American standards,
that set decorators have to haul in garbage and spray graffiti to create
a gritty Chicago feel.  (Good Canadians all, the crew cleans up
afterward.)  You can't fool Americans, though.  One observant viewer
correctly noted on the Internet that the grafitti--always correctly
spelled--is too proper to pass for U.S. urban scrawl.
        For their part, Canadians love to tell dumb-Yank jokes putting
down Americans (whom many secretly envy) as crass, gun-toting
egomaniacs or as opinionated buffoons colossally ignorant about their
neighbor to the north.  The show effectivelt lampoons such cliche's,
delighting viewers on both sides on the border who think it's making
fun of the other guy.  In fact, Due South is making fun of everybody.
In one scene, a nurse says to Fraser, "I've got a nephew in Canada.
Do you know him?"  It's a question every Canadian has been asked by
an American at one time or another.  When Fraser lets a purse-snatcher
go because he apologized and promised never to steal again, Vecchio is
aghast.  "You let a perp go?" he freaks. "Not without a stern warning,"
Fraser earnestly replies.

        Initially skeptical, Gross decided to play Dudley Do-Right,
a Mountie so clean-cut he won't even pop an asprin, because he was
intrigued by a character who's both complicated and cartoony.  Fraser,
for instance, is totally clueless about women, yet his naive innocence
renders him utterly irresistible to them.  Fans, take note: In future
episodes Fraser will fall in love with the wrong woman, attributing
his giddy feelings to an inner-ear imbalance.
        Gross's princely handsomeness makes him a sitting duck for
the hunk profile, which he loathes.  In fact, the first thing you really
notice about him is how smart he is.  Born in Calgary, Alberta, but
schooled in England, Germany, and Washington D.C., because his dad was
in the military, Gross has straddled two accomplished careers.  Although
best known to American audiences for his role in last year's PBS mini-series
Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City (Gross played Brian Hawkins, the
charismatic womanizer who left law to wait tables), in Canada, he has
garnered many awards for his acting *and* writing.  Currently living
in Toronto with his wife (actress Martha Burns) and two small children,
Gross is already finding the U.S. starmaking machinery a bit dizzying.
"In Canada, you do a show, they put it on the air, some people
watch it, and it's over.  That's about it." But with a U.S. network
show, he says he feels as if he's in the War Room.  "They talk in
military terms, as if squadrons of tanks are rolling in!" Gross lapses
into an impersonation of a network exec: "'We can kill 'em in this time
slot!  We're coming up on their flank!' I just thought I'd do a show.
I didn't realize there'd be military maneuvering."
        Even the Mounties love Due South, althought at first they weren't
exactly lining up for Gross's autograph.  The 1873 Royal Mounted Police
(RCMP) Act allows the Mounties to control anything having to do with
their image.  When the show launched, the RCMP presented Alliance
Communications, the production company, with a list of 22 grievances.
"They said that the show wasn't true to a Mountie's life," laughs Haggis.
"Our legal department told me 'Paul, they can put you in jail.' But
I told [the RCMP]: 'Hey, guys, listen up.  This is an urban fable. Of
course it's not true to life.;"
        Cpl. Gilles Moreau, an RCMP media relations officer, admits that
at first the Mounties objected to Fraser's brown horses (real Mounties
ride black Hanoverians), and the fact that his uniform wasn't completely
authentic. (Alliance removed the badge from Fraser's Stetson, and
changed the buttons and direction of the cross-strap on his uniform.)
As the show progressed, however, the Mounties came to realize Fraser is
really a poster boy for the RCMP.  He's a superb detective who believes
in community policing, expects the best from people, and refuses to judge
them on the surface.  Says Moreau, "Our members like what Fraser stands for
because, basically, he represents values that the majority of us hold.
The rest is TV."
        The comic culture clash between the moral Mountie and the streetwise
cop works, at least in part, because Marciano is actually living it.
Virtually the only American member of the cast and crew {I think Lt. Welsh
is an American too- Mom}, he says Americans will give you their opinions
on anything in the first five minutes, while Canadians are far more 
reserved.
The actor, who was a poet/bike messenger on Civil Wars, has no trouble
expressing his opinons about playing a doofy second banana. "In order for 
the
Mountie to be the hero," he says, "he's always got to be right.  So every
day you come to woek and you're wrong.  After a while you can't delineate
between te character and yourseld."
        As for Gross, ask him why a civilized Canadian superhero has caught
so many Americans' fancy and he surmises there's something at the core of
this show that's "the antithesis of cynicism." Americans, he believes, are
tired of cynicism.  "There's a great deal of confusion afoot.  So if a
hero comes along who can lead the way through decency and honesty, people
grab onto him."
        Unquestionably, part of South's appeal to Americans is the
nostalgia it evokes for a time when it was still possible to believe in
good guys winning and the universe unfolding as it should.  It also allows
them to revel in Fraser's "Polite makes right" approach, while at the same
time laughing at those dorky Canucks.  And the show allows Canadians,
with their massive insecurity, to feel superior to those damn Yankees.  But
this show is like one of those Chinese puzzle boxes, with jokes inside
of jokes inside of jokes.  Canadians might not be thrilled to hear, for
instance, that Gross thinks it's irrevelant to Americans that Fraser is
from Canada.  "He could just as easily be Norwegian.  There's that strain
in America of the heroic figure who drops in from another planet.  And to
Americans, " he says with a wicked grin, "Canada is another planet."

(Wendy Dennis is a freelance writer based in Toronto)