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Jimmy MacDonald’s Canada (2005)

by on 2011/07/21

“Let’s build a great Canada!”

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Jimmy MacDonald’s Canada is a very unusual, very complex, and very hilarious programme. (Yes, I spelled it with two m’s and an e, for that is how a good Canadian rolls.) On the surface overt, but with nuance to spare, its simmering human arcs play against the formulaic structure.

Whether you consider it edutainment or satire, Canada is a faux news magazine show set in the mid-1960s. An inspired mashup of op-ed and mockumentary, Richard Waugh portrays Jimmy MacDonald, a devolving television host. Over the course of eight half hours, the stories he reports begin visibly to crush his spirit.

By the end of the series, we’re slowly brought full circle to each installment’s identical prologue. Here, we’re informed he snapped “on air”, stole the reels, escaped in a plane, and then crashed. The episodes we’re watching were the only ones recovered.

The most immediate entertainment, however, is to watch him perform his detested role. Outspoken and disapproving, he snaps and sputters his way through an assortment of “liberal” trends: exercise, fashion, food, hippies, music, sports, technology, and — his final straw — the sexual revolution.

Each themed episode is subdivided into recurring segments, including editorials, correspondence, advertising, and the “Outrage of the Week”. They’re all amazing, truly great, though my favourite is “A Woman’s Advice”. Co-star Teresa Pavlinek plays Marg Margison, a conservative apologist, with whom the frustrated Jimmy is smitten. Desperately cheerful, she tragically fails to make staunch propriety cool.

This kind of disconnect — between the leads’ traditional values and their many emerging threats — provide an ongoing source of humour which never wears thin over the series’ too-short run. Ironically, the host flaunts other attitudes now judged more pejoratively: prevalent smoking, assumed religiosity, and an absolute trust in authority. These latter-day triggers for disapproval appear prominently, especially given the sponsorship breaks for Provincial cigarettes.

Its patterns ring true, become familiar, and are eventually expected. That consistency supports the illusion of an actual TV show (and in a “meta” sense, yes, it really was). The synergy of animation, structure, sets, costumes, titles, and music all contribute to the verisimilitude. With its corny writing and stodgy delivery, the content is amusingly deluded: “I’m Jimmy MacDonald, and I’m going to give it to you straight!”

Now, having praised it so profusely, what outraged me the most about Canada?

Was it the interaction between Jimmy and Marg? When either of them glances off-set, ostensibly to address the other, it’s apparent they don’t exist in the same shared space. An average viewer is sufficiently media savvy to understand the conceit, yet the transition is neither competent enough to convince, nor inept enough to be funny.

What about its appearance? Certainly, an effort has been made to convey a vintage production, still I felt it could have done more with its visual effects. For example, while studio scenes were black and white, their grain didn’t match the stock footage. Furthermore, even some of that footage looked too clean. I’d loved to have seen the results reshot from a screen to add tube artifacts, a process known as kinescoping.

No. Both of these concerns were troublesome, but neither was as serious as this one: I didn’t care for the modern-day framing elements. Before and after every episode, around each commercial break, in full-colour scenes, modern viewers pretend to reminisce. While the breadth of celebrities, politicians, and vox pops involved are impressive, their patchy acting is nearly as distracting as their anachronism. For shame, Jimmy MacDonald’s Canada, for shame.

Well, that just about wraps things up for us. I hope you’ve enjoyed this critical time together. Until the next, don’t forget to hug your children.

And remember, if you’re Canadian, it’s got to be Provincial.

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Unrated, contains mild adult subject matter

Approximately 240 minutes

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