In case you weren’t aware, I am not Canadian. By the transitive property, obviously, neither E nor C are Canadian either. Canada is neither our home, nor our native land, and none of us stand on guard for her. Now, I do have an affinity for the tune that Calixa Lavallee wrote back in 1880 (I had to look this up) because it also serves as the music for the Alma Mater for, well, my Alma Mater, but hat’s neither here nor there. I bet you’re wondering what this has to do with anything. Well, as someone who is not Canadian, doesn’t and has never lived in Canada, I don’t watch very much Canadian TV.
I am a big Bob and Doug McKenzie fan, and back when I was in college I saw a handful of Canadian commercials, and they were a fantastic source of unintentional comedy. At that time was also my main foray into Canadian TV when CBS, before they lured Letterman over from NBC (yes, I’m dating myself, I know!), was marketing their cheesy late-night line-up as “Crime Time After Prime Time.” My friends and I religiously watched the atrociously watchable Silk Stalkings, but more relevantly, we fairly regularly watched Forever Knight, which was both made and set in Canadian, specifically in Toronto.
Since then I’ve seen plenty of shows that filmed in Canada, like The X-Files, and watched plenty of Canadian stars, like Lost‘s Evangeline Lilly. What I hadn’t seen was another show that was legitimately Canadian, actually produced, filmed and set in Canada… until now. This summer NBC decided to air the CTV show “The Listener.”
The Listener, like Forever Knight, is set in Toronto, which makes a good backdrop for a show, as the skyline is pretty good looking and the CN Tower is very distinctive. The show centers around an EMT named Toby Logan, played by genuine Canadian Craig Olejnik. Logan is able to read people thoughts and starts to use his ability, which he had (conveniently!) been trying to repress up until the start of the show. (C: No, see, that’s why the show starts at this particular point in his life.) As he starts to use his ability to help people in need, we are introduced to the other characters of the show, amazingly all played by Canadians. Disappointingly, they do not end every sentence by saying “Eh.”
The poorer members of the cast range from the uninspiring Dr. Olivia Fawcett, played by Mylene Robic, with whom Logan has an on-again-off-again relationship, to the main police detective, the skeptical Charlie Marks, portrayed by Lisa Marcos clearly because of her looks as opposed to her acting ability, and finally the annoyingly stereotypical angry boss George Ryder, played by Arnold Pinnock. Pinnock, by the way, is referred to on his bio as African Canadian. I’ve often wondered how that terminology worked in other countries!
As for the good, there is Logan’s mentor, Professor Ray Mercer, who only shows up once in a while, but knows of his ability and is trying to help him understand and control it. He is played nicely by Michael-Gross-lookalike Colm Feore, who has done Shakespeare opposite Denzel Washington on Broadway, so he’s definitely the class of the cast.
Logan himself is likable and interesting, and is definitely not the typical star of a TV show. Olejnik is fairly short and kind of scrawny, and on the whole average looking. His character makes up for his lack of leading man characteristics with the use of his mind, both with his ability and through traditional investigation. He is caring and helpful to a fault, usually getting himself and those around him into hot water.
The best, however, is Logan’s best friend and EMT partner, Osman ‘Oz’ Bey, played by Ennis Esmer, a Turkish born Canadian comic and musician. Esmer’s Oz brings lightheartedness and humor to the show, most often at his own expense, like when he gets himself and Logan caught in a car while they attempt to rescue a woman during an EMT training, or when he gets excited and all dressed up in retro 80’s garb when trying to get his demo CD to a hip hop artist that they treated earlier in an episode. Oz has a genuine likability to him, an earnestness that makes you want him to do well, even when you know he won’t.
Some of the acting and dialog is below par, but it gets mixed in with some quality lines, usually involving Oz. Some of the overarching plotlines are solid, too. Logan’s background is a mystery, which even he can’t remember, except for repeated flashbacks of when he was around 12, standing outside a burning trailer with a woman who appears to be his mother, who tells him “Your name is Toby Logan. Say it, Toby Logan.” He’s also concerned about not being able to control the ability, to shut it off when he needs to. A recent episode centered around a teenage girl with similar abilities, with an uncle that had turned her into a faith healer, opening the door for future interactions with her or others with paranormal abilities.
The episode plots always follow the arc of him noticing something in the beginning of the episode using his ability, digging into it while the police dismiss the tips that he gives them (because police generally don’t like it when they get help, right?), only to come around around the time that he solves it without their help anyway. Within that arc, however, they do a good job of keeping the whodunit part of the story unpredictable, rarely giving you all the information you need to figure it out in the first half hour.
Word on the street is that NBC is cutting its run short due to low ratings. However, it is a CTV show, and has already completed its first season in the Great White North, so there’s a full season of episodes out there to be found. Rumor has it CTV has a second season on the way, which could be a good thing. Eh?