The Playgoer: Slings & Arrows: Season 3

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Sunday, February 18, 2007

Slings & Arrows: Season 3

McKellar & McKinney, sage stage satirists

Yes, not only the best but also the only(!) primetime series about a professional theatre company... is back for a third and final season. And it premieres tonight on Sundance.

Here's an excellent primer and background piece on the show from the LA Times. In the sensible tradition of British telly, the creators are exercising admirable restraint in calling it quits in advance at 3 seasons, saying that's really all they need to tell the story they set out to tell. And that was the plan when it originated on Canadian Broadcasting Company--but now that it's a hit in the US, naturally Sundance is pushing for more episodes.

If only more fine American TV knew when enough was enough.

(Aside: the tv series is an odd animal that way from a writing standpoint, isn't it? In what other medium does a writer not have control over when his/her work actually ends?.... I guess it's more analagous to being an author of airport/serial-mystery thriller machines like Robert Parker, Sue Grafton et al than a playwright or screenwriter.)

I admit to liking the show mostly because it is about the theatre. But it sure helps that--for all the over-stating and romantic comedy tropes that come with wide-audience television--it is actually very smart about theatre. Each season has been very carefully and deliberately built around a Shakespeare tragedy that the fictional company is doing. The "Hamlet" season involved an institutionalized director (and a spoof of Keanu Reeves' now-forgotten Canadian tryout in the role); the "Mackers" season put the focus on power games and actors' competitive egos; and now they are ending, fitfully, with "King Lear" giving veteran Stratford thespian William Hutt (now an octogenarian) a chance to reprise his famous King Lear there as part of a storyline of an old actor returning for a farewell performance. Sounds also like a metaphor for a dying theatre in a dying tradition.

Death has been a notably dark and relentless theme in this otherwise goofy comedy. The hovering over the proceedings of the former artistic director's ghost would be just Topper-esque silly if it didn't dovetail so nicely with the madness and ghost images in the plays themselves. One episiode even had great fun with the problem facing all resident theatre co's: their audience is dying! After an old subscriber is found dead in her seat at opening curtain, an "edgy" ad agency goes wide with images of geezers on life-support, leading to much hilarious damage control.

That old Canadian standard bearer, the Statford Fest, of course, is the unsubtle model for the show's "New Burbage Festival" (clever renaming that--but what would have been the Old Burbage--the Globe???). Among the many revelations to me in the LA Times article is that the actor playing deceased hack of an AD (Stephen Ouimette) in real life actually ran the Stratford for many years! So really, the show is a collection of theatrical inside jokes. Which is exactly why I love it. Let's enjoy our elitism whereever we can these days, eh?

And if that's not enough of a lure, it's co-written and stars "Kids In The Hall" genius Mark McKinney (as the Managing Director, no less!) and the team behind "Drowsy Chaperone", including the hilarious Don McKellar who shows up once a season as a Eurotrash wannabe director with another awful concept and new plans to abuse actors in rehearsal.

Busy tonight and don't have DVR? Check the Sundance schedule for repeats. (All of Season 2 is being repeated tonight in advance of the permiere.)

1 comment:

J. Kelly said...

Love the show, too. One small correction to your post: Ouimette is "a former Stratford Festival director" in the sense that he has directed at Stratford, not that he has run the festival... I'm not sure why the writer wrote "former," because as far as I know he'll probably direct more shows at the festival in the future.