Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Provincialism, Eh?

A little while back I found myself getting a bit annoyed at Jaimie Weinman's dismissal of The Listener. I'll admit I got a bit heated, and wish there was an edit button so I could smooth out a few awkward statements, but my central complaint remains the same.

During June, the wife and I watched The Listener from beginning to end. It's still airing in Canada now, but it had already aired around the world, garnering some pretty eye opening ratings.

I don't what it was that made us like the show as much as we did. At first it was just nice seeing Toronto as Toronto on television, looking a heck of a lot nicer than I remember, and a heck of a lot nicer than where I live now. But as we watched the first few episodes, we found ourselves enjoying the "non-detective" elements - the repartee between Toby and his partner, the funny side bits where the glaring boss walks in on them, the light tone, and the back story. Eventually I found myself agreeing with Weinman a bit, in that I found the "mystery" elements less satisfying.

My wife loved the partner elements, and at some point in every episode, she would laugh out loud. The fact that almost everyone in the show seemed not only normal, but like someone who would believably be living that sort of life was also a selling point. Mind you, I did think that Charlie was a little too good looking for her role. The tight fitting outfits reminded me a bit too much of the usual CBS method of making female detectives wear tight pants, and form fitting t-shirts with plenty of cleavage.

Other than that small quibble, there wasn't much to complain about.

What I liked most is that, from a sci-fi perspective, Toby really has no guide to go by but himself. Also, he has control over his own gift. In Medium, Alison has no control over her gift, she just goes to sleep and a dream comes along. In season five, there were some hints that her dreams may be "heaven sent" in a manner of speaking, but all Alison can really do is sleep and hope to dream the right dream. In the Ghost Whisperer, Melinda is usually a passive receptacle for whatever spirit bumps into her. Toby, on the other hand, can actively go out and use his gift, and as the show progresses, he gets smarter in how he uses it.

I like that the writers really thought about the implications of not only the gift, but of others learning about it, and how they could interact with Toby. In one episode, when Charlie is tied up and held at gunpoint, she could communicate with Toby without the bad guy knowing, allowing him to successfully fool the bad guy into thinking that Charlie's back up had arrived. As the season progressed, and more people became privy to Toby's gift, the level of danger he was in began to increase, and events began to spiral out of control.

A number of my colleagues here had watched the show and loved it as well, and it has performed solidly in Canada so far. As far as the negative critical reaction goes, I guess it may just boil down to the self-critical nature of Canadians, because the show is a heck of a lot better than 90% of what was on the US Networks this year.

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