MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

MR. MP—A WINNER BY ACCLAMATION

Despite all that top-heavy management, CBC can come up with a successful program

PETER GZOWSKI December 1 1965
MACLEAN’S REVIEWS

MR. MP—A WINNER BY ACCLAMATION

Despite all that top-heavy management, CBC can come up with a successful program

PETER GZOWSKI December 1 1965

MR. MP—A WINNER BY ACCLAMATION

Gzowski on television

Despite all that top-heavy management, CBC can come up with a successful program

THE BIGGEST HIT on Canadian television this year is Mr. Member of Parliament, a six-part presentation of The Serial, Thursday evenings at 10.30 (EST) on the CBC. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer organization. The CBC has been getting its lumps this year, from the Fowler Commission, from such influential critics as Robert Fulford writing in The Canadian Forum (“The Decline and Fall ...”), and even from ACTRA, the union of actors and performers many of whose members are supported by the CBC. Many of the complaints from this wide variety of sources have been justified, of course, if not all of them: the CBC is top-heavy with inefficient and redundant administrative staff; creative people are often stifled — probably to

a greater degree than at any time in the corporation’s history. But for all its weakness, the CBC is still capable of turning out some remarkably good and specifically Canadian television programs. That’s a point to keep in mind during all the current and crucial criticism. And it’s a point that Mr. Member of Parliament illustrates very clearly.

As nearly everyone must know by now, Member deals with the adventures of one Quentin Durgens, whose father was the MP for a riding called, unfortunately, Moose Falls. (There ought to be a special hell for all writers who think it’s cute to give

names beginning with “Moose” to fictional Canadian communities.) When the father dies, Durgens Jr. wins his seat in a by-election and then retains it in a general election. Moose Falls, I take it, is somewhere in the west and Durgen’s party, I take it, is the Liberals. Neither question matters much. Durgens seems mainly concerned with getting a flood control dam to protect the lands of some Mennonite farmers near MF, and we see him working on that problem around town, around the riding, and around Ottawa.

There are some soap - operatic touches to Mr. Member of Parliament. The villain, played with unusual understatement by Paul Kligman, is a greedy, moustachioed party hack whose ideas of politics are too simply practical as Durgen’s are too simply idealistic. Durgens himself is sometimes just too folksy for words — he says things like “I’ve been pumpin’ two handed all day” — and when he has a real moral problem he goes to consult, Lord help us, the local newspaper editor, a rumpled, kindly man who in turn says things like “their sons and grandsons will benefit from the toil and hardship they have put into this land.”

But by and large the flaws are overshadowed by the program’s strengths. All of Mr. Member of Parliament has been shot on videotape, rather than film, and most of it, in spite of the enormous difficulties that moving the cumbersome videotape equipment around must have posed, has been shot on location. The result is a feeling of actuality that television drama rarely achieves. The sequence in the House of Commons in the fourth episode must surely have been the best look at the inside of that chamber that television has yet provided, and in some of the outdoor scenes there is a sense of the landscape that is as Canadian as hockey.

Once again in Mr. Member of Parliament, the people who play the minor parts — people like Kligman, Paisley Maxwell, Budd Knapp, Stan Francis — demonstrate that Canadian television has access to a pool of character actors as good as any in the world, even when they have lines to read that sometimes sound like outs from Pepper Young’s Family. And Gordon Pinsent, as Durgens, is beginning to achieve some of the star quality the CBC gave him prematurely this fall. He is handsome, likable and natural, and even manages to make most of the homilies he has to spout sound like his own.

Politically, I suppose, Mr. Member of Parliament is pretty naïve — if only because it’s forced to condense the issues it raises into a series of halfhour television plays. But, coinciding as it did with this year’s dreary real election, it may at least have succeeded in reminding some viewers that governments are really run by people. It may even have convinced some Canadians that Canadian politics can be dramatic at the local level. Surely that alone would justify having a CBC.

ONE NOTE that’s been struck by nearly everyone who has praised Mr. Member of Parliament this year is on the contrast between what it has done with a low budget and what Seaway, the gigantic commercial series of hour-long plays that’s shown 2Vi hours earlier on the CBC, has done with a big budget. The contrast has seemed particularly valid since both series were — or ought to have been — dealing with the raw stuff of Canada.

Well, as one of Seaway's most outspoken critics at the beginning, I’d just like to add one observation. From the start, it was difficult to imagine how Seaway could maintain the low standards it set with its first episode, and I ended my unfavorable review of the first show by saying that I hadn’t quite given up yet and would continue to watch the show. I’m glad I did. Episode by episode, Seaway has grown better: more believable, more dramatic, and more conscious of the magnificent natural setting for its stories. Some of the photography that’s been used — two Caughnawaga Indians on the high steel of the railroad bridge next to their reservation; a deep-sea freighter turning at full speed in midlake — has been among the most striking I’ve ever seen in a TV series. For all its dismal start. Seaway, the most ambitious project ever mounted for Canadian television, may yet be a hit too. PETER GZOWSKI

PETER GZOWSKI