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Dan For Mayor, “A Rink by Any Other Name” and “The Trash Compact” (2.01/2.02)

The Dan For Mayor logo

Last year, I registered my disappointment with the first episode of this Canadian sitcom, but professed hope for the second season. How does it stack up to my hopes? Reviews of the first episode  (written by Mark Farrell, Paul Mather & Kevin White and directed by Ron Murphy) and the second episode (written by Jenn Engels and directed by Ron Murphy) after the jump…

Though Dan For Mayor is still about as funny as it was last year (which is, sad to say, not very much), it’s improved very much in another sense: the show is finally as charming as its lead actor. Fred Ewanuick was always winning as Dan, even when the writing made him a purposeless doofus, but we never had a significant reason to root for him. While running for mayor, he never really wanted it, and was completely unqualified, so his journey was not something I wanted to watch. His lack of self awareness also bugged, because he doesn’t work as a Michael Scott-type character.

However, he does work as an underdog trying to do his best, and when these episodes tap into that view of him, they are much improved. The Dan of these episodes is much more enjoyable because he has more drive, more of an urge to do things right, and more at stake if he screws things up. Yes, he’s still a relentless screw-up, but reorienting him as someone who is trying to do things right, but doesn’t quite know how to, is definitely an improvement. Even just the visual aid of putting him in a suit, for some reason, helps make him seem less  useless and more of someone you can root for.

Dan, in a suit, sits next to Chief of Staff Allan looking worried.

And the premiere even ends with a good character development moment. Dan flounders through the premiere, and it works because in the end, he finally has the backbone to do the right thing, rather than the easy thing. Watching him smile as the ‘Gord Cooperson (Wes)sex Rink’ was destroyed, knowing he made the right call instead of folding, was a good bit of character development.

What became clear to me while watching Dan For Mayor 2.0, as I like to think of it, is this: now that Dan’s in office, it’s essentially a Canadian, less funny Parks and Recreation. And the most successful gags they do – for example, the ‘Wessex rink’ with ‘Wes’ fallen off, or the neighbouring mayor with a very close friendship with the town mascot – all feel very much in line with the kinds of gags we’d see from Leslie Knope’s crew. The types of problems Dan will encounter may be different on the surface, and the cast is mostly composed of non-government employees, but the show feels best when, sadly, it’s ripping off another, more successful show. If they could find a way to make Dan more like Leslie Knope without copying her (which is easier to imagine, as the two characters are essentially polar opposites), and make the tone of the show more like Parks without losing its own identity, it might make me laugh as well as the occasional smile I get from it.

Which would, I think, require more of a point-of-view about Wessex itself. Parks‘ Pawnee is a great mix of middle America parody and real-life Springfield (of The Simpsons), filled with colourful characters. We’ve got enough of a cultural sense of small-town Ontario than I’m sure Wessex could be just as funny, if given the chance. The Zamboni gag, for example, was funny. The joke about Wessex vs. Vancouver was funny. If we had Dan encountering more of the city he runs, rather than just his old gang, there’s more opportunity for funny – especially as much of the old gang aren’t providing much comedic fuel these days.

This segues into one of the best, and also troubling, parts of the season two reboot: the cast. I’m really happy with the way they’ve successfully streamlined the ensemble, cutting out characters that didn’t work or had no purpose in season two. Agam Darshi and Suzanne Coy, for example; both had their strengths as actors (with Coy probably being the best of the season one crew, and Darshi having potential as a Kelly Kapoor-type character), but letting them move on let the show keep its focus on the current cast.

They’ve kept Ewanuick (of course), as well as Mary Ashton‘s Claire, Laurie Murdoch‘s Allan,  Benjamin Ayres‘ Mike, Paul Bates’ Jeff and David Ferry‘s Fern. That’s a nice, manageable six castmembers. In my review of the finale, I singled out Exanuick, Ashton, and Murdoch as three of the ensemble’s strongest players, so that is heartening. I’ve also been a fan of Ayres since his work on jPod, even though I recommended cutting his character last season. I’ve reversed my position since, because he does play a role in this dynamic: he and Allan (and to a degree, Claire) represent the group who know how things really work and have the real power. Though I occasionally find the character frustrating, he’s the most overtly comedic supporting player here and, shed of the laborious Claire/Mike “romance”, fits in much better.

Mike, straddling a goat and wielding a discarded computer keyboard.

 

However, take note: of the cast, only two actually work at the Mayor’s Office. That’s Dan and Allan as his Chief of Staff. You might be able to count Mike there, too; though he doesn’t officially work there, he does enough business with them to regularly interact with Dan. However, that leaves half the cast who don’t even work with Dan! Jeff and Fern, if they’re running Fern’s, should be recurring characters at best. The show should have gotten Jeff and Claire in at the Mayor’s office and dropped Fern, making it a nice workplace comedy centred around Dan. The showrunners might have looked at that option and chose to keep Fern’s around, but the place – despite being integral to both these episodes – hasn’t paid much in the way of dividends so far. I think the show needs more of a presence at Dan’s workplace, so we can actually tell stories about him being the Mayor. It’s worked so far, narratively, but I might get more frustrated as the season goes on.

Ultimately, though, Dan is a stronger series than it was last year. It may still have plenty of room to grow, but I’m happy to see the improvement. If they can improve this far between seasons, hopefully it will continue through the year.

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  1. […] Dan For Mayor, “A Rink by Any Other Name” and “The Trash Compact” (2.01/2.02) Though Dan For Mayor is still about as funny as it was last year (which is, sad to say, not very much), it’s improved very much in another sense: the show is finally as charming as its lead actor. Fred Ewanuick was always winning as Dan, even when the writing made him a purposeless doofus, but we never had a significant reason to root for him. While running for mayor, he never really wanted it, and was completely unqualified, so his journey was not something I wanted to watch. His lack of self awareness also bugged, because he doesn’t work as a Michael Scott-type character. Read more. […]



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