Monday, January 5, 2009

Being Erica Pilot Is Being Awesome

I'll finish my Anne kvetching in the next few days. Let's move on to another example of show that is working well, if its premiere is any indication...

With advances notices like John Doyle's preview in the Globe and Mail here and Bill Harris' equally delighted preview in the Winnipeg Sun here, CBC's new Quantum Leap for women, Being Erica, has a lot to live up to. And CBC has been treating their advance advertising blitz like they've got a slam dunk on their hands.

I'm delighted to discover Being Erica not only lived up the excitement, it exceeded my expectation. Despite its high concept the producer's kept it grounded in the characters' reality and avoided overplaying the magic. It's an engrossing, funny, observant modern comedy that has a good times with it's genre concept.

Erin Karpluk’s  character Erica travels back in time, where she has a chance to take mulligans on life-defining moments, in the new CBC show Being Erica.

They also walked that creative tightrope between the drama and their sense of play, somehow managing to avoid the obvious choice at every turn, preferring to make the kind of real choices a character might make in those times. They get a big hand from this corner.

I'll happily spend an hour each week in this show's playful world with great characters like leads Erin Karpluk and the never-less-than delightful Micheal Riley. It was also lovely to recognize cast members from Jana Sinyor's previous teen sci-fi drama series, Dark Oracle, making appearances in Erica's colourful past. Her ability to marry high-concept with real life is augemented by a larger than usual co-pro budget that allows her to make the real world look like a place where magic can truly happen. Let's face, Toronto has rarely looked better.

The stand-out things for me were all little character bits: Erica trying to find an eighties outfit her adult sensibilities can stand and talking to her chaperon at her high school prom about how young and vapid teenagers are, all the while sounding younger and more airheaded with each sentence. It's the little things that make the magic.

Karpluk plays with the idea of modern woman in her thirties being absolutely out of sync with her younger selves, though she is just as prone to embarrassment and self-pity. And Micheal Riley makes a very funny guide through time, alternately mocking, pushing, arguing and ignoring Karpluk as she muddles through her impossible situation. I suspect speculating on the nature of his character will become forum fodder for the run of the series.

John Doyle sums it up best in his preview article.

"Erica is no ditz and Karpluk maintains the essential dignity and integrity in the character. Her eyes can stab at you, give the character a fierceness that's absolutely necessary to avoid the trap of Erica Strange as helpless, hapless female.

In a later episode, Erica gets to confront a young man who exploited her sexually in high school. The situation could have been played for laughs, or Erica could have been made a mere victim, but it's superbly done as Erica's rage and contempt is crystal clear. There's no self-pity, just the fury of a woman who realizes she was duped by a dumb, handsome male.

That kind of tone is necessary to keep the show on an even keel dramatically. There's whimsy and occasionally there's broad humour, but Being Erica is a smart show, buoyant and unpredictable.

There's no shame in CBC's search for female viewers. But there's always a temptation in the mainstream TV racket to make the central female character indulge in ludicrous and self-pitying impulses. Being Erica doesn't do that. Erica Strange is a character anyone can like, root for, and admire. CBC has the woman it needs and wants."

For more, Blogger extraordinaire, Denis McGrath, has an up close and personal interview with Series Creator Jana Sinyor and Executive Producer Aaron Martin here.

I'll be interested to see what the numbers are on the premiere. Did CBC's multi-media ad blitz pay off?

Live the adventure.