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CBC's Cracked: The public broadcaster's drama problems in a nutshell

"Major crimes mixed with medical issues" is how CBC describes Cracked (CBC, 9 p.m.), its new cop drama that has been running since early January.

The description suggests an awkward symmetry, and Cracked is certainly that. It's well-meaning and features some excellent acting, but it's a shambles as TV drama. Often predictable to the point of ludicrousness, it is too heavy on the "medical issues" front.

The show captures, in a nutshell, CBC's big, self-inflicted quandary – apparently it won't air a drama that doesn't have a public service announcement as part of the texture of the show.

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The gist is this – Detective Aidan Black (David Sutcliffe) is a messed-up Toronto police veteran who is still suffering some trauma from an occurrence that required him to shoot two people. As far as the bosses are concerned, he did no wrong, but he is reassigned to what's called the psychological crimes unit, which deals with people or crimes that involve mental illnesses. These good cops are, as CBC says, obliged to "struggle to achieve balance between protecting the public from harm and protecting the dignity of all citizens – often at the expense of their own mental health."

While Cracked is, we're told, based on the experiences of real cops dealing with the mentally ill on Toronto's streets, several episodes in, it still feels oddly fabricated. Often it is fatally banal.

Part of the problem is the trite set-up for the larded police procedurals that unfold weekly on the series. The unit includes psychiatrist Dr. Daniella Ridley (Stefanie von Pfetten ), who was a big-time shrink at a hospital but is nobly motivated to help the cops, the set-up tells us. There is also the skeptical, hard-nosed rookie Poppy (Luisa D'Oliveira), whose toughness is counterbalanced by a really nice, humane psychiatric nurse (Dayo Ade). Each case requires the characters to be revealed to be exactly the way they've been described, to the point where it seems like cardboard cut-outs are being moved around the scenes.

Mind you, Sutcliffe, who is in almost every scene, is excellent. He's low-key and solid, even when the script calls for broad strokes and implausible plot twists. Around him, however, a lack of subtlety abounds. And while the show does have the merit of using a lot of good Canadian music on its soundtrack, there are scenes that scream obviousness – because the music is being used to underscore an already pronounced point.

Cracked is created by Tracey Forbes, who has written for many Canadian series, including Falcon Beach, Instant Star, The Bridge and Flashpoint, plus some episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Her co-creator is listed as Toronto Emergency Task Force officer Calum de Hartog. I'm sure it seemed like a good idea to put a TV-cop-show spin on authentic issues of mental health on Toronto's streets but, like so much of what CBC attempts in drama, it's neither one thing nor another. It's not thrilling entertainment, nor is it scathing enough about the isolation of those with mental-health issues.

Tonight's episode, which is a repeat of one that aired a few weeks ago, is a guaranteed groan-inducer. The CBC synopsis is this: "Aidan develops a dangerous relationship with a woman he rescues from a psychotic killer still on the loose." Right. Well, the woman is played by Canadian Kathleen Robertson, who was so fabulously good on Boss. Here, she is utterly misused in a script that telegraphs its key twist in the opening minutes. All the viewer has to see is her character's weird embrace of Det. Black when she's rescued, and you can see everything that's coming. It's all too blatant and banal.

Also airing tonight

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Talk To Me: The Story of James Patrick Peek (CTV Two, 8 p.m.; TSN 2, 9:30 p.m.) deals directly with the issue of mental illness. Made by TSN producer Mike Farrell, it's about his friends, the Peek family, and in particular James Peek, who committed suicide in 1999. He was just 17 years old and, as he's described, "the prototypical Canadian teenager." A great hockey player, good student and well-liked, he suffered from depression but the warning signs of suicidal intent were missed. The program focuses on his family and their efforts to understand and to do something to help local mental-health programs. It is, at times, very tough to watch, but it's a story worth knowing that resists the simplicity of easy explanations or sentimentality.

Also note that CITY-TV is repeating the two-hour pilot episode of the great FX Canada series The Americans (CITY-TV, 9 p.m.).

All times ET. Check local listings.

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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More


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