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Blackstone, “Future? What Future?” (1.01)

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A review of the Showcase drama’s pilot, written by Gil E. Cardinal and directed by Ron E. Scott, after the jump…

Blackstone is not groundbreaking television, up to the level of Breaking Bad or even Canada’s own Durham County. It may not even be a great show, which is kind of the standard nowadays, with enough great TV to drown in every year. But it’s a decent show that delves into new territory, with loads of potential unrealised as of the pilot, and I’m interested.

(Trigger warning: This review discusses the off-screen rape of a teenage girl, though not in detail.)

It’s the story of a First Nations reserve, steeped in corruption, depression and social problems. The Chief blames Ottawa for the money problems, but while lax government oversight might be a real issue, the money is lining this particular Chief’s pockets. Meanwhile, the reserve’s young spend their days sniffing glue, getting drunk and, in one girl’s case, being raped by lecherous men and the adults drink and struggle to stay engaged in their own lives.

This pilot is interesting in that it digs into the culture of the reserve. I’ve heard much about the state of reserves, and to see that dramatised really nailed some things home. I had some problems with it, particularly the idea that a ‘modern’ woman must save the reserve from the corrupt chief unjustly blaming the government for the problems that source back to the reserve’s inhabitants, but I feel like a lot of those simplistic themes might be complicated by later episodes.

The style of the show is notable. It aims for a tone of realism, and the scale of the show is very true to life, much like The Wire or  In Treatment. While those shows are tighter-written, the show does make this work in its favour, with documentary-style filming allowing us to feel like this reserve, and these characters, are real. And though few of the characters pop out as terribly interesting, they do feel real, and the dialogue only occasionally feels over-the-top or unreal.

The cast ranges from pretty good to shaky. Carmen Moore, as lead Leona Stoney, is the only one who really pops here, showing off a number of layers to her character while keeping up with the script. Eric Shweig, as the corrupt chief that Leona unseats at the end of the pilot, also helps carry the pilot with a believable charisma, even as he campaigns at a young girl’s funeral in front of her family. Michelle Thrush, as Leona’s alcoholic sister Gail, has moments in both directions here, and we’ll see if she’s able to nail the difficult role more consistently come episode two. Nathaniel Arcand as Victor, the frontrunner for lead of the show before Leona takes centre stage, is… frustrating. There are moments where his screentime feels merited, like challenging the Chief at the meeting or talking to the reporter about the numbers. However, the rest of the time, I find the character grating, and I’ve yet to figure out whether that’s the writing or Arcand.

Roseanne Supernault, the quiet standout of the pilot as troubled teen Natalie Stoney, presumably won’t be returning after her character’s death this episode. That’s a shame, because the atmosphere of broken teens was a big thematic undercurrent in the front half of this pilot, and she would have been a great connection to that world for the show. Especially as we barely touched on it, and now our only potential connection there is Victor, which does not excite me at all, to be honest.

The rest of the cast didn’t really rate on my scale. I expect future episodes, if I can get my hands on them, should give me enough material to make a conclusion. That’s ultimately my conclusion about the show as a whole. I liked what I saw here, but it didn’t impress me as much as I’d hoped. The show’s storytelling will show whether or not it is more than it at first seems. I hope I get the chance to find out.

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