Love. Adventure. Cattle. Sprinkle generously with characters ranging from libidinous widows to arrogant RCAF officers and it’s the recipe for the CBC’s “romantic comedy on horseback.” Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy, a 13-part series which debuts on Feb. 7, is based on the true story of a neophyte rancher, Richmond P. Hobson Jr. (Yannick Bisson), attempting to build a cattle ranch in the B.C. interior of the 1940s. The series begins as Rich, his wife, Gloria (Sarah Chalke), and a business partner Panhandle Phillips (Ted Atherton) emerge from spending six winter months in an isolated log cabin. But don’t look for any sordid love triangles—the characters in Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy are much too proper.
And that is one of the series’ problems. To really sparkle, a romantic comedy must satisfy the primal desire to see young lovers deny, struggle with, almost lose, but ultimately find, true love. This arduous path must be littered with comic obstacles. Love first. Laughs second. That’s why “romantic” comes before “comedy.” But the audience already knows Rich and Gloria are hitched—and without any uncertainty or tensions in their marriage are likely to stay that way.
Still, the show delivers laughs, at least of a gentle variety. They are centred on runaway pigs, outhouse jokes and wayward grizzly bears. There are no real disasters in Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy. Cattle are lost—and found. The CBC scored using this quaint approach in the 1970s with The Beachcombers. An entire episode could centre around its curmudgeon antihero Relic finding a log.
Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy draws its greatest strength from its Second World War time frame. The tumultuous period brings dashing pilots, fugitives and Vancouver society ladies to the cabin. It allows the characters to disregard conventions, such as when Rich hires a female cattle hand. The stories are played with engaging energy by the show’s young cast. Most notably, Nothing Too Good for a Cowboy breaks the standard Canadian one-hour historical series formula. It takes place in the 20th century, is not based on a novel by Lucy Maud Montgomery, and none of its protagonists are little girls named Anne or Emily. For this let us be grateful.
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