If you follow Canadian TV - and, let's face it, many don't - its self-defeating illogic can drive you slowly insane.
Take as one particularly outrageous example, the soapy and campy Paradise Falls (Showcase, 9 p.m.), returning for a third season tonight. This season will bring the original Canadian series featuring the always randy and often bisexual citizens of a decaying North Ontario resort town up to 104 episodes. According to its producers, that makes it one of the longest running shows in Canadian television history. Actually, La famille Plouffe ran for 194 episodes and The Beachcombers racked up 387 (which will begin airing on Vision weekdays as of Sept. 14). But still, it's an enviable track record in the era of cheapo reality shows and fragmented audiences, and you might think it means that Paradise Falls holds an iconic place in Canadian hearts.
And you would be wrong, because if Canadians wanted to take this very silly series to their hearts they would be hard-pressed: its first season ran in 2001; its second in 2004 and it's third … well, it's 2009, isn't it? Seasons are more erratically scheduled on the specialties than on networks, but five years has got to be a record. English Canadian television has struggled to ever produce a prime-time soap that bonds with audiences - witness the recent struggles of M.V.P. , CBC's one-season wonder about hockey wives - but it will certainly never achieve such a feat if it cannot at the very least offer the most basic criteria for inspiring fidelity: regular scheduling.
Paradise Falls , which has raised eyebrows and won fans by featuring a lot of gay sex, is the victim of the vagaries of television funding. The producers had trouble raising money for its second season, hence that delay; it's third season, which was filmed two years ago, and broadcast on the American gay and lesbian channel here! but got stuck on the shelf in Canada when CanWest bought the Alliance Atlantis stable of specialty channels in 2007. Maybe the folks at CanWest had not actually looked at the shows those sought-after specialties were running: Showcase, which like all of the specialties is required to spend set amounts on Canadian content rather than simply air a number of hours, has carved out a niche for itself commissioning dramas and comedies that are low on budget and high on cheekiness - with very mixed results. At its best, Showcase has aired such nasty social satire as The Trailer Park Boys. At its worst, it is the channel that continues to inflict Kenny vs. Spenny on the world, a supposedly comic reality show whose upcoming season features a contest entitled "Who can bang the other's mother?" Anyway, CanWest seems to be slowly figuring out Canadian content on Showcase and is relaunching the channel this fall, complete with the third season of Paradise Falls .
As a show, Paradise Falls , er, falls somewhere in the middle of the Trailer Park /Kenny vs. Spenny spectrum. When it wants to be funny, it is; its more serious moments can be trying, partly because the dramatic plots, including this season a political rivalry, a missing hiker and various hidden secrets, are often weak. The sex can feel gratuitous but the camp is simply the show's sassy style. Tonight, Sacha (Salvatore Antonio), the bed-and-breakfast operator, caters the perfect gay wedding, for himself and his layabout lover Nick (Cameron Graham). It includes buff young waiters dressed only in gold shorts and white angel wings. In a classic comic battle that leaves half the guests in the lake, the wedding is interrupted by the homophobic and alcoholic Frances (Victoria Snow.) Snow's performance as the unrepentant drunk is one of my favourites here, neatly capturing the small-town tough girl and then taking her over the top. Others, such as Dixie Seattle playing local barkeep Bea, supposedly a former man, seem too intent on making nice to tell us much about the character. Generally, the show is anchored by reliable straight men, including Art Hindle as the loud and corrupt mayor Pete Braga, so the others can keep busy with the sexual shenanigans.
I suspect the series' third season on Showcase has more to do with public funding - once you've underwritten the stuff with tax credits, you have to air it - than with CanWest's deep commitment to the series. In TV as in life, commitment would mean showing up more often than three times a decade.
Expedition Africa (History, 10 p.m.) sets out to retrace journalist Henry Stanley's famed pursuit of explorer David Livingston in eight episodes. An international team that includes a navigator, a survivalist, an animal expert and a journalist sets sail from Zanzibar and soon finds itself stuck in a mangrove swamp. Turns out good personal relations can be as crucial to survival as water, a map and a snake-bite kit. This series, which will follow the group on a 1,400-kilometre hike across East Africa, is certainly more original and interesting than producer Mark Burnett's previous effort Survivor , but as always in these reality-TV offerings one begins to question the reality. Just how lost can the journalist be if he is still on camera, and just how dangerous is that voyage across the Zanzibar Channel in a traditional sailboat if it also can filmed, presumably by a crew on a motorized craft. Plus, shouldn't these fearless explorers be wearing life jackets?
Trumbo ( American Masters , some PBS stations, 8 p.m.) tells the remarkable story of McCarthy blacklist victim and Hollywood screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. He was one of the highest paid screenwriters in the business when he was called to testify before the House Committee on Un-American activities but declined to provide information about communists in Hollywood. He went on to write such scripts as The Brave One and Roman Holiday under pseudonyms, before he could finally be publicly recognized again in 1960 for the scripts of Exodus and Spartacus . The 2007 documentary is based on his son Christopher Trumbo's 2003 play of the same title.