In the late Seventies, when North American television series tend to be more surface than substance, there are few Canadian fiction writers crowned by the Governor General who would sign their name to a television cops and robbers script. Butin Quebec, the new French-language CBC television adventure serial Les As (The Aces)—the story of a hard-hitting journalist working for a sleazy sun-yellow tabloid—is authored by none other than
Victor-Lévy Beaulieu, winner of the 1974 Governor General’s Award for his novel Don Quixote de la Dimanche. Beaulieu, 32, thus becomes the latest in a long line of first-class Quebec novelists to write a téléroman (literally, television novel), an institution so important in Quebec that the seven serials produced by French-language CBC last year reached an astonishing total of 5,256,300 viewers during February and March in the Montreal region alone. Since the fabulous Plouffe Family, perhaps the best known of the Quebec serials because it also ran in English, the television situational has become a genre of gigantic importance in Quebec: Les Belles Histoires des Pays d’en Haut (Good Stories From The Backcountry) and Rue des Pignons (Street Of Gables) ran 20 and 11 years respectively. Beaulieu’s predecessors began with Plouffe-creator Roger Lemelin and included Claude Jasmin, author of Ethel And The Terrorist.
Significantly, the tack Beaulieu has taken with Les As is a kind of Americang ization. He claims the old | studio-hatched “kitchen g dramas,” despite their tradi3 tional role as reinforcer of x Quebec’s cultural fibre, have failed to evolve with the times. “I purposely chose to do something more American,” he says. “It corresponds more to the way we live in Quebec now.” Unlike Seraphim, the miserly mayor of a Quebec small town who, for nearly 20 years, was the popular hero of Les Belles Histoires des Pays d’en Haut, Les As journalist Guy Leclerc is a tough city man. He is surrounded, not by gently eccentric townsfolk but by the sinister underworld, political corruption and suicidal women.
Beaulieu’s so-called Americanization is really a belated acknowledgement of a completed process: full membership of Quebec in the electronic Global Village. More than a quarter of the lucrative fourmillion-dollar Quebec dubbing industry, for example, goes into converting largely American TV series into French. RadioCanada, besides offering eight homemade téléroman, schedules an equal number of dubbed English-language imports, while in the Montreal area privately owned TéléMétropole offers another 1914 hours a week including, among others, Les Incorruptibles (The Untouchables) and Auto Patrouille (Adam 12). Says a spokesman for the private station, “The American series are popular because Quebeckers have the same problems adapting to big-
city life as other North Americans.” But it’s tough to be “more American” without American means. Beaulieu complains about Radio-Canada’s overly thin spreading of its budget on homemade pro-
ductions. “What counts in this genre is the rhythm,” says Beaulieu. “We lack both money and experienced technicians. You just don’t train the camera on a departing car for an entire minute.”
Although problems such as a provincewide power blackout on the night of the premiere, preemptions by major-league baseball and two local newspaper strikes have prevented much critical comment to date, Les As seems to be getting a fairly chill reception. Le Devoir television critic, Gilles Constantineau, rightly complains about the quality of the acting and direction, perhaps, he says, “because there hasn’t been time to constitute a team.” Despite its clumsiness, however, Les As has a certain charm and a touch that clearly separates it from its countrified predecessors and American role models—a nagging social conscience. As the series develops, hero Leclerc uncharacteristically rejects the crooked politics of yellow journalism, gets involved in union activities and leads a fight against his dissolute patron. “It’s always the same problem,” says the weary Quebec reporter after untangling yet another intrigue of political corruption. “Money... the benefits of capitalism.” GAIL SCOTT
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