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Sara MacIntyre: Canadian TV's newest villain

It is often said that we don't have a star system in Canada. This is hooey.

All you have to is be really, really irritating, and you're a star in this neck of the woods. Last week a new star emerged, a deeply aggravating woman. It led me to think about vexatious women on TV.

When this TV season started, all the talk was about strong women characters emerging on shows by, for and about women. This is, in general, thought to be a good thing. Many of the shows fizzled and the lingering memory of this phase of network TV development is bound to be the number of exasperating characters. Like Whitney Cummings on Whitney.

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But while Whitney is merely silly, the truly interesting women characters are either villains or victims. It's the victimhood-addicted who are forgettable. So let's start with the new star, the villain.

Sara MacIntyre, B.C. Premier Christy Clark's new director of communications, is one such star who emerged last week. A set-to with local media went from testy to hostile to absurd, and the footage went viral. If you haven't seen it, you must. At an event in Vancouver attended by Clarke, MacIntyre pushed her face in front of the cameras and said, "Guys, the Premier is not taking questions today." The ensuing argument was toxic.

It's tremendous television. MacIntyre, all gum-chewing, hair-swinging, finger-wagging, mall-rat malice and attitude, expressed her utter contempt for the reporters and TV crews with aplomb. She was so sharp it looked like she'd even cut herself if she happened to look at herself. The idea that a reporter might want to ask the Premier a question was, to her, so patently outlandish that one imagined her cackling with derision in her dark lair after the event.

Reaction to the infamous incident was fascinating. Local reporters in B.C. bemoaned the fact that Ottawa-style media-handling was being imported to B.C. (MacIntyre previously worked as press secretary to Our Glorious Leader, as if you couldn't guess.) CTV Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife went on the air to report, with sadness, that in Ottawa the MacIntyre attitude is the Harper's government's tactic with the press, day in and day out. No respect. A media expert was interviewed about MacIntyre's attitude and pronounced it a disaster. A CTV reporter in Vancouver condemned the hostility to the press as undemocratic, a rebuke to voters who want to see politicians questioned.

This is all very well and good, but what really matters is that we have a new female, grade-A villain. Someone so utterly obnoxious and real that one hopes MacIntyre sticks around for years, aiming her gum-chewing, screw-you disposition at the TV cameras all over the country. British Columbia should not have this phenomenon to itself.

By the way, I'm astounded that Christy Clark feels the need for an absurdly badass media handler. Like many who have written a thing or two for the country's newspapers, I've met Clark several times. For years, all my visits to Vancouver included an appearance on her radio show. Clark was a great interviewer – shrewd, smooth, knowledgeable and charming. The brief post-interview chats were always informative and entertaining. So the idea that as Premier she needs an attack dog for media matters seems crazy.

And yet I hope she doesn't ditch this new rogue termagant. Sara MacIntyre is a villain, and much more gripping on TV than anyone in her position who takes the bland approach.

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Like most things to do with politics, it's best to think of the situation as an ongoing TV drama. Most things that matter in politics happen in front of the TV cameras.

On TV, female villains are captivating. On Smash, a drama about the drama of creating a Broadway musical, the expected star was Katharine McPhee, playing the nice, talented Mid-Westerner Karen Cartwright. But as the series has progressed, it's her nemesis, the buxom, scheming Ivy Lynn (Megan Hilty) who is the one worth watching. Because she's as nasty as all get-out. On GCB, it's not the alleged heroine, Amanda (Leslie Bibb), all reformed mean girl and victim, who makes the show worthwhile. It's all those vicious women who are out to destroy her.

In fact, it's those female characters adducted to victimhood who are boring. On I Hate My Teenage Daughter, the two moms, victims of their nasty daughters, are way less interesting than their kids.

In the case of Sara MacIntyre, the fact that she acts like a cartoon villain, but is authentic and not a TV character, makes her antics all the more delicious. I can't wait for the next episode of her venom-filled adventures on TV. At last, a new Canadian star has emerged.

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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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