I have always loved Canada, with its nature and its accents and its French and its unironic Celine Dion love and its health care and its freakishly clean cities. But mostly, I have always loved Canada for its television. Canadian producers don’t deal in the megabucks that American producers do, so they tend to be far more daring; the TV industry there also just tends to foster more creativity, and its audiences tend to shrug at a sex scene here or an abortion plotline there. So its TV exports tend to rank among the best, and many of them are underappreciated gems/cult favorites here in the states.
If you haven’t checked these out, do so immediately, in honor of Canada Day:
Being Erica: I miss this show so much! It ran here on SoapNet a few years ago, and now you can get it on iTunes. It starts off looking like your basic fumbling-young-single-girl show but quickly turns into what I think of as rom-com-sci. (Yeah, that phrase didn’t catch on for good reason.) The title character stumbles into an arrangement with a magical shrink who conducts therapy by sending her back in time to key moments in her life for re-dos. The absurdly winning Erin Karpluk pulls off teenage-hood as well as she manages her ever-changing “current” life.
Degrassi: This high-school series (in the states on TeenNick) explores every nuance of being a teenager, in all its grit and glory, from every kid perspective possible — jocks, geeks, outcasts, popular kids, pregnant girls, rockers, everyone gets his or her day here. In its epic 12-year run (so far), the show has melded soapy addictiveness with sensitivity in attacking issues from sex to abortion to school shootings to eating disorders to dating violence to addiction to date rape to gay and transgender issues. And this is just the continuation of the seminal ’80s Degrassi shows, with some of those original cast members showing up here as parents, teachers, and school administrators.
Slings & Arrows: The nice people who made Smash into the great hate-watching target of our time should have taken some cues from this show about a struggling Shakespearean company. It’s got a ghost situation, like any good Shakespeare-related romp, but other than that it’s more about its perfectly realized characters than about any high concepts. Absolutely addictive … and bonus points for a pre-fame Rachel McAdams appearing in the first season. You can get it or stream it on Amazon.