Stephen Leacock, Canada’s preeminent literary humourist, was merciless in his quest for mirth. While not a misanthrope, he associated humans with foibles and folly — objects of relentless criticism. In Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, his 1912 collection of short stories, he at once adores and skewers the residents of Mariposa (a thinly fictionalized Orillia, Ontario). Mariposa has no genuine heroes: Mr. Smith, the hotelier, is a shrewd buffoon with an essential generosity; the Reverend Dean Drone is a well-meaning but bumbling bore, lost in his own scholarly world; Young Peter Pupkin is a pup of a man. Though based on his Orillia neighbours, Leacock saw something universal in the roles such characters played in small-town life. Now, sixty years after its first adaptation, CBC has attempted to bring these stories back to life, in a made-for-television movie that premiered last night.
Executive producer Malcolm MacRury’s screenplay adapts and conflates tales from Leacock’s bestselling collection, and intermingles stories from the author’s own childhood. Drawn mostly from “The Marine Excursion of the Knights of Pythias” and “The Hostelry of Mr. Smith,” Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town, the movie, injects the sad story of Leacock’s alcoholic father and the family’s financial failures. If a student wanted to avoid a few hours of CanLit homework by streaming the movie online, she’d certainly confuse some key plot points on the dreaded pop quiz (the hypocrisy of Judge Pepperleigh, for instance, is transferred onto the Reverend Drone), but she would have a reasonable understanding of Leacock’s sensibilities. The sharper sarcastic edges of his writing have been dulled, but the spirit of Leacock’s prose is still there. (more…)
Damian Abraham is standing on the front steps of the Masonic Temple, a brick landmark in downtown Toronto that was once the city’s premier concert hall. He’s wearing a striped polo shirt and tie-dyed hat with a large, realistic eyeball on the front, which only accentuate Abraham’s physically imposing figure. He’s bald and burly, with a face that can morph from babyish at one moment to seemingly furious the next.
There is a skeletal television crew around him — a box light, a cameraman and one producer talking on his Blackberry, coordinating with technicians at MuchMusic headquarters a few blocks away. Abraham quickly runs through some patter until he’s cut off by the producer, signalling that they’re about to go live.
“Guess who’s baaack?” Abraham opens. This isn’t the first time he’s been in front of camera at this iconic locale. Four years ago, his hardcore punk band Fucked Up was banned from this very building after their live television debut — a performance in a men’s washroom — ended with thousands of dollars in property damage. That was during a live taping for MTV Canada, the network that currently occupies this building. Now he’s back, working for the other music channel in town. (more…)
By the end of the opening credits of the first episode of MTV’s The Buried Life, the concept seems so attractive, so engaging, so right now, that it’s easy to imagine the studio meeting where it was pitched:
Okay, here’s the setup: four twenty-something guys make a list of 100 things they’d like to do before they die, and we send a film crew to capture their exploits. Maybe they’re in a van — no, a bus — cruising, listening to hip hop. They’re kind of rascally, a little outdoorsy, a little West Coast. They’re smart, not self-indulgent. Maybe they’re even Canadian. Here’s the kicker: every time they accomplish something on the list, they help a stranger they’ve met along the way. Boom! — everybody’s happy.
Apparently, everybody was. MTV ordered a pilot, then a full eight-episode season, with premises ranging from standard-issue fluff (“ask out the girl of your dreams”) to the startlingly sincere (“help deliver a baby”). Since its January 18 premiere, The Buried Life has received killer promotion and, relative to cable standards, record-breaking audiences. In a front-page article, the New York Times cast the show as “MTV for the era of Obama.” (No kidding: tonight’s episode is about an attempt to play basketball with the U.S. president.) There’s nothing else like it on television.
The Buried Life is created, produced, edited and even promoted by its four stars from British Columbia: Ben Nemtin, Dave Lingwood, and brothers Duncan and Jonnie Penn. The bucket list? They started it in 2006, and crossed off twenty-four items in the making of an independent documentary that caught MTV’s attention. The show’s name? Inspired by an 1852 Matthew Arnold poem. The foursome’s bus, christened Penelope? They bought her from a nudist in Vancouver. (more…)