Prattle on
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
So, Little Mosque on the Prairie...

I have love for the CBC that I can’t shake, nor do I really want to shake it. I give all CBC shows a chance and I am normally glad that I do. However, last night I watched Little Mosque on the Prairie. It was more than a little disappointing, but I don’t know what I was expecting because I saw this coming a mile away. The story, just in case you missed the marketing, is about a small Muslim community in rural town called Mercy, Saskatchewan. They have gotten a new Imam to move there under some false pretenses and comedy follows. Well, the comedy is supposed to follow, but in this case, it doesn’t.

There are some notable Canadian actors in the show and possibly the best looking man in Canadian television (no, I am not talking about Ian Hanomansing – or Ian Handsome-man-thing as I like to call him), Zaib Shaikh who plays Imam Amaar Rachid. The premise, for some reason is shocking to some people, but the writers and producers seem to think that Muslims in rural Saskatchewan is automatically funny. It’s not.

What is it about CBC situation Comedy? The group sketch shows are very good (with the exception of Air Farce which must lift their material from suburban elementary school playgrounds). But the sitcoms are like watching a cold dead fish on the floor. It would be awesome if it came to life so you could watch it jump around. The dialogue is wooden, the jokes are obvious and I feel like I am being told everything I already know or assume.

In my high school drama class one of the key lessons Mr. Finan taught me about dialogue is that people in real life do not take turns talking as if we are holding talking sticks. Nor do we wait for the audience to get the joke. It seems that the actors and directors for Little Mosque never learned that lesson. Or perhaps they were trying to pace the show like the wildly successful Corner Gas, but the attempt comes off as phony.

OK, there is a culture clash between the people of Mercy, Saskatchewan and the Muslim community that are recent arrivals. They are part of the greater community but they stand out, especially now in what news personalities insist on calling ‘the post 9-11 world.’ But, there seems to be no truth in fiction here. All of the action happens somewhere in the ridiculous spectrum. As if the fact they are Muslims living there makes everything ridiculous. For example, at the end of this first episode we learn that the man responsible for bringing the Imam to the town has mislead him about the salary. Now this is just stupid. The writers ask the audience to believe that a former LAWYER from TORONTO never discussed his salary before he moved to Saskatchewan. The Imam says that he is flexible about his salary and then learns that there is no money to pay him. But, the four days he spent dealing with the culture clashing community is enough to make him feel bonded to the to the people there so he doesn’t leave. Instead he takes the news super well and even seems to think it is funny. Just the fact that he is there is enough to make him stay, even to his own detriment.

How many people watching the show expected the new Imam to have trouble at the airport? Well, I guess that was in the previews. How many times did you think you were gonna hear the word “terrorist”? Could the writers be more obvious? Yes. How many times are we going to have to hear the anti-Toronto bias? Last night it was like I was being bashed over the head with it repeatedly. Guess what, it’s not funny.

I don’t know if the Corner Gas people were watching, but they must feel completely ripped off. Perhaps they should take it as a compliment. Corner Gas is a smashing success and a very intelligent show. Little Mosque looks to be an obvious rip off. Let’s look at the similarities. Corner Gas has Lacey, the Toronto import running the café where the community congregates. Little mosque has the New Imam from Toronto who runs the congregation for the local Muslim community. Both shows are set in rural Saskatchewan. Little Mosque has done their best to mimick the pace of Corner Gas. The Muslim community is full of querky townsfolk. Dog River is full of querky townsfolk. It seems to me that the CBC threw this one together over the weekend after watching the Corner Gas DVD set but thought to themselves “hey, you know what would make it timely and controversial, make them all Muslim!” Or, someone approached the CBC with a show set in the Muslim community and then the executives watched a lot of Corner Gas.

I wonder why this show exists. It is typical of CBC’s attempts to remain relevant, interesting and controversial at a time when the choices for consumers is increasing not only in number, but in the way we choose to consume entertainment. Not only do they have to compete with better quality and more challenging programming on networks that didn’t even exist 15 years ago, but those of us who don’t even subscribe to those channels that carry this programming can download what we want to watch from a multitude of internet sites, or we can rent the DVDs. I have watched , Weeds, Big love, Six Feet Under, Carnivale, Deadwood, The Sopranos and a number of others shows from UK. But that takes planning and in some cases, space on my laptop.

While our choices have increased, there still are only a few hours in an evening. Sadly, last night Little Mosque didn’t even stand up to the competition available on my television that only gets 3 channels. I passed on Degrassi to watch the Rick Mercer Report – always worth it and Little Mosque on the Prairie – a smashing failure. When Little Mosque went up against Degrassi, CTV brought their A-game. Someone got stabbed in a very timely story line about violence in that age group. Now, twenty years after I first started watching Degrassi, it has brought me back. I was sorry I missed the episodes last night, but no fear I can watch them on the CTV broadband network whenever I want. Good work. If I missed Rick Mercer last night, I’d have to wait for a repeat.

The CTV broadband is a great idea and is exactly what ABC does but only for people in the US. It is the perfect venue for another CBC show, Jozi-H. That show, much more interesting than The Hour (the most painful hour on television where ageing hipster, George Stroumboulopoulos talks to the audience like we are idiots) suffers from a terrible time slot, Friday night at 9:00pm. I am normally hoisting a glass of wine by then.

The last CBC show that made a blatant attempt to be relevant was 11 Cameras. The show was about people all over talking to each other via web cam. I don’t know how it did in the ratings, but regardless of how obvious the show was I thought it was pretty interesting. But it was like the show was developed by some 55 year-old guys sitting around a boardroom table at the CBC all talking about this new fangled thing their kids were all using called web cams. Still, I wish that writing team would work with the Little Mosque people. Perhaps they would come up with something worth missing Degrassi for.

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