Oh well, we can wait it out (we hope) for more Wojeck and Durgens
THERE WILL BE several million fingers crossed in Canada, mine among them, when Wojeck returns to the TV screen in January. Will the CBC’s drama department be able to repeat last year’s triumphant blend of taut plotting and documentary realism? Will success spoil John Vernon? (See page 32.) The technical aspects of the film production, which improved with every episode, should be better than ever. My only qualm concerns the scripts. Last year’s stories seemed to jab at every exposed social nerve in the body politic — and at some that should be exposed but aren’t. Lesbianism, drugs, abortion, rape, murder, suicide, blackmail, the Indian problem, construction hazards and medical
malpractice have all been exhaustively treated. What’s left for our angry coroner to crusade about? Fire precautions? Pollution? Safer highways? Admirable causes, but seldom the stuff that raw drama is made of.
Wojeck’s creator, Philip Hersch, shared the fear that the cupboard had just about been stripped bare of food for plot. He was reluctant to embark on a second series. But the CBC brass, somewhat delirious at discovering they at long last had a marketable
international hit on their hands, insisted on an encore. Even so, a weaker Wojeck will be a welcome relief on Tuesday nights from the embarrassing backwoods boisterousness of (wince) Hatch’s Mill.
Something obviously went badly wrong with Hatch. It’s worse than Seaway, and I didn’t think that was possible in this imaginative TV age. Executive producer Ron Weyman conceived the series as the light massappeal element of his triple bill — a sort of Don Messer of drama to complement the sophisticated seriousness of Wojeck and the middle-brow entertainment field excellently occupied by Quentin Durgens, MP. In committing the CBC to comedy, Weyman was recklessly ignoring an ordinance by the gods that Canadian TV drama shall not succeed in humor. By attempting historical comedy he was virtually begging for divine retribution. As always, the gods were the only ones to laugh.
It’s difficult to analyze why this should be so. Weyman believes, with every justification, that Canadian history is a motherlode of fabulous tales just waiting to be mined for TV. There’s no apparent reason why our pioneering past shouldn’t be turned into a genre as rich in possibilities as the American West. But somehow when you transfer a light-hearted Bonanza script to a settlement located somewhere north of Toronto in the 1830s it just doesn’t work. The main reason, I think, is that the situations are simply not credible. The American western has spent 50 years in perfecting a suspension of disbelief. The inherent improbability of the Cartwrights’ actions don’t bother me. But I find it impossible to believe in the rolling-eyed joviality of Robert Christie’s over-acted Hatch or in the broad farcical antics of the surrounding crew of caricatures. (The entire brigade of stock Canadian character actors, so refreshingly absent in Wojeck, were conspicuously lured into Hatch.)
The irony here is that there’s never an anachronism in sight. Splendid attention has been paid to the historical details of costume and setting. I’ll even accept the fact that people drank a lot in those days. But I cannot accept the premise that our great-greatgrandfathers regularly behaved like rustic yokels hovering between low Shakespearian comedy and late Victorian melodrama.
One of the later episodes, for instance, featured a log-cabin Falstaff, played to the Stratford hilt by Tony van Bridge and cunningly named Oldcastle to tip off any Eng. Lit. students who may have tuned in. By coincidence, the Hatch family were mounting a St. George’s day entertainment consisting of scenes from Henry IV, Part I. Add to the ingredients a villainous government land agent and some vintage gags, and in 55 convoluted minutes you have plays within plays, life aping art, and TV aping history. Weyman pleads artistic license; if so, it’s a license to insult
the intelligence of a good many of us.
But not all of us. After all, even Radisson had its loyal minority and CBC ratings show that Hatch slowly built up a respectable following during the fall. One ecstatic TV critic in Calgary was moved to start a Hatch’s Mill fan club to ensure the series has a second season. Perhaps Hatch, like Scotch-and-Coke, ceases to offend if swallowed often enough. All I can say that my stomach churned with every gulp I got. But then I don’t like Don Messer either.
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