The strike by members of the Writers Guild of America has cast a pall over this TV season. But there's a silver lining for Canadian TV: More Canadian productions are turning up on our commercial channels in prime time during the regular TV season. This weekend, there's a terrific Canadian example of that old-fashioned genre, the miniseries. Would Be Kings (CTV, Sunday, Monday, 9 p.m.) is a crime drama, and a very superior one. Slick, hushed, intelligent and exciting, it's about power, betrayal, money and revenge. It's about two cops who are cousins and best friends. One is a successful careerist and the other seems headed for disgrace and oblivion. What happens in the course of the twisting and gripping two-night story is that everything changes. Ego and evil deals intervene.
When the story opens, cop Patrick (Currie Graham), the careerist, is looking at a local drug war unfold. There's an explosion at a drug lab. This helps to create a media frenzy and puts the cops under pressure. For some time, Patrick's team has been monitoring and infiltrating a drug operation, but now there's pressure to get results. Already under pressure because his dad (Stephen McHattie) was a legendary cop and his wife (Natasha Henstridge, from the Species movies) wants a lifestyle that he can hardly afford, Patrick starts thinking about a fast move to help his career.
Meanwhile, cousin Jamie (Ben Bass from The Eleventh Hour, who is superb here) is a cop in freefall. A drug case falls apart and he tries to exact personal revenge, a situation from which Patrick rescues him. Jamie is doing drugs, drinking and feeling sorry for himself. Patrick is the one making the moves upward. Patrick uses his dad to make a connection with a local crime boss (played by Robert Forster with a wonderful blend of menace and charm) and in turn uses that connection get results on the drug case. He's weaving a web of intrigue and compromise that could ruin him if it unravels.
What happens is wonderfully plotted - the first few minutes of the miniseries are a tad confusing, but just concentrate and you'll soon be locked into it - and captivating.
From what I've read, Would Be Kings (written by Tassie Cameron and Esta Spalding, and directed by David Wellington) is loosely based on Shakespeare's Henry IV plays, but that's a very, very loose connection. Yes, a surprising figure rises to the occasion and asserts a moral authority. However, this is a cop drama about moral intelligence as much as it is about murder, drugs and dangerous undercover work, and it has no grandiosity. It's just smartly entertaining.
Also airing this weekend
The Russell Girl (Sunday, CBS, 9:30 p.m.) is a tepid TV movie - a Hallmark Hall of Fame production - about Sarah Russell (Amber Tamblyn from Joan of Arcadia), a twentysomething aspiring medical-school student who returns to visit her small hometown to share some important news with her family. It's bad news, which she herself receives in the first few minutes of the drama, and she finds herself attempting to confront her past. As so often with these U.S. network TV movies, the point is for the central character to learn some lessons by revisiting her small-town past, and the drama evolves very predictably. The movie was made in and around Toronto and also stars Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Jennifer Ehle, Tim DeKay and Henry Czerny. According to a recent interview Tamblyn gave, the movie is about communication and forgiveness. Indeed it is, but it takes a very long time before there is any drama that grips the viewer. It moves along very, very slowly and, in the end, it is indeed comforting. If that's what you're after.
Doyle's quick picks
This new HBO series, like last summer's Tell Me You Love Me, is about therapy, shrinks and their complicated interaction with their patients. Gabriel Byrne plays Paul Weston, a psychotherapist. What we see, as the series runs Monday to Friday, are his sessions with regular clients, who vary from the merely neurotic to the near-demented. Each Friday, Paul sees his own therapist (Dianne Wiest) to talk about his patients and his own life. And, oh yeah, his marriage to wife Kate (Michelle Forbes) is in trouble. It's an intriguing format - minimalist, yet inviting the viewer to stick closely with Paul's patients. There's an awful lot of talk, not action.
(TMN, Movie Central, 8:30 p.m.)
Yep, it's back. There are eight new episodes, apparently made before the writers' strike shut down production. Some fans of Lost were all but stunned by the ending to last season. Were the characters actually off the island? Was that a flashback or a flash-forward with Jack (Matthew Fox) having some sort of drug problem? According to hints from the cast and from ABC, this batch of episodes deals with the concept of time. And there are some characters who reach a bad end. Be warned. By the way, Space will re-air last season's finale on Wednesday at 9 p.m. and CTV airs a catch-up special at 8 p.m. on Thursday.
(ABC,CTV 9 p.m.)