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King, “Lori Gilbert” (1.01)

Jessica, her hsuband and partner stand outside a restaurant.

A review of the new Canadian series, written by Greg Spottiswood and directed by Clark Johnson after the jump…

Well, that was… alright.

The good: Amy Price-Francis is very likable in a difficult role, managing to fuse both the more feminine aspects of the role with the parts typically associated with masculinity – that is, being a tough, smart detective. Suzanne Coy, usually the best part in similarly-Canadian Dan For Mayor, works well as a confidante with a bit of personality. Gabriel Hogan is charming, if negligible, as Jessica King’s barely-seen husband. Alan van Sprang is fun to watch as he fearlessly takes on the arduous task of not making the boorish, bumbling Det. Spears either comedically ridiculous or fall flat, and almost makes him work dramatically. Structurally, it’s a decent procedural.

Clearly you can just feel the enthusiasm radiating from this review.

King is boring. Its lead character is not, but she’s trapped in a cop procedural that doesn’t offer anything new to the genre, filled with supporting characters with little-to-no substance. Some pilots, when blessed with a strong central character, manage to keep up with the energy of that character even when the weekly plots and the ensemble cast aren’t up to par; see, for example, the somewhat-similar Body of Proof that premiered on ABC this season. King, however, doesn’t. for example: The connection between Jessica’s desire for a child and the uselessness of Lori’s parents just doesn’t provide the link that Proof managed to build between its lead and victim, despite the fact that in King, there’s a very clear emotional connection between the two cases. The case itself, however, is so mundane and filled with cardboard characters that you are never really invested. That, and Jessica only once or twice seems to think about that connection, while Proof was all about how Dr. Megan Hunt connected with patients and cases.

The show doesn’t feel excited about anything but Jessica King. Unfortunately, that extends to the characters she interacts with and the world she inhabits, so even this pilot’s most promising element is held back by… well, everything else. The parts that sing are everything with Jessica navigating the difficult world of being a woman and a detective, whether it’s her conversations with the Chief, dealing with her hothead partner, or using her position to get after-hours shoes. Her sparring with Spears over his failure to do the job also rates, as she terrifies a rookie in the men’s bathroom while cutting him down. This doesn’t, however, include most of the scenes about the case or any of the scenes about her someday pregnancy. Which is the bulk of the screentime.

Of course, just as I said with Proof, there’s definitely a chance the show could spread its wings and be good, even excellent, by the end of its inaugural season. The cast are mostly shadows at this point, much like the squints on Bones who would, by season’s end, become the framework of an excellent character drama. Zoe Doyle‘s character was immensely annoying, for example, but only had a handful of clearly-expositional lines that made her seem almost nonsensical in her dialogue choices. The rest of the case, other than Coy (who, given to a lesser actor would have been similarly annoying and vague), are completely unmemorable. That’s a flaw here, but leaves potential for down the road, should they prove talented… and, if not, work as figures to replace in seasons to come.

Will I be watching King? In a word, no. At least, not week-to-week. Summer tends to leave me with plenty of free time, and in the waning months of July or August, perhaps burningĀ  through eight hours of the show to see if it improves will look like a good time.

While watching this, two minutes in my sister and companion yelled, “This is Canadian, isn’t it?“. It wasn’t any particular prevalence of maple leaves, or any key themes, or recognisable actors. It was that we were both struggling not to roll our eyes a minute into the episode. This is just another example where I feel like not mentioning the elephant in the room: that there’s only one television show I’ve genuinely loved, and thought was comparable to our Southern neighbours’ product, in years: Durham County. And while that show is beautifully shot, it almost always comes down, every single time, to the quality of the scripts.

I’m rather disappointed, as a Canadian who fights for our need to build a strong stable of Canadian shows, that time and time again I find our new shows feel like American shows I already know, just with – specifically – weaker scripts. As an aspiring television writer, that bugs me. There is no reason our writing work should be any less strong, in structure or dialogue or anything, compared to American scripts. Unlike special effects or big budgets, which its harder to justify for a smaller audience, it costs nothing to write a better script but hard work on the writer’s part (and money for a few extra drafts in the budget, which may be what’s hurting us). I expect there’s an entire story or three I don’t know about the issue, from the point of view of the writers and the studios and the networks… In the end, though, we should be developing stronger scripts, and I’m somewhat frustrated that I keep coming to that when I watch Canadian television. I hope it’s a problem the industry is elastic enough to fix.

As for King… It’s got a very good lead character and a lead actress who fits like a glove. Let’s hope the show around them is worth your time come end of season.

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