Screen Time: Why we should be excited about Canadian television

By Sean Sullivan

Two years ago, if I listed off my favourite shows, not one of them would have been Canadian. As a Canadian, I would still have rather watched American television than Canadian television. But that has changed recently. A handful of Canadian shows have been getting attention, two science fiction shows in particular.

This year has already seen the second season of Continuum, the Vancouver-based time travel show, which airs in the United States and the United Kingdom on Syfy, and the critically acclaimed Orphan Black was produced and distributed by BBC America in the U.S. and on Space in Canada. Tatiana Maslany, the Regina-born lead actress of Orphan Black, even won a Critics’ Choice Television Award, beating out American actresses like Claire Danes from Homeland, Elisabeth Moss from Mad Men and Keri Russell from The Americans. A campaign was organized to get Maslany a Primetime Emmy Awards nomination for her seven roles (so far) in Orphan Black — though she didn’t get it.

Fantasy-supernatural show Lost Girl has garnered some attention down south during its last three seasons and, although only airing in Canada, this year’s Toronto-based show Cracked makes a decent entry into the crime-drama genre.

However, Continuum and Orphan Black deserve special attention, not only because of how well received they have been, but because they represent a genre that Canada has become very good at producing: science fiction.

Many long-running American sci-fi television shows were filmed in British Columbia including the X-Files and the later seasons of Fringe. Battlestar Galactica, Stargate and Andromeda were all filmed in B.C.

Following on the heels of popular sci-fi shows produced by American studios, Canada has produced two shows of its own, Continuum and Orphan Black, both set in Canada rather than using Canadian cities as stand in for American ones — though the city in Orphan Black does remain nameless.

Continuum tells the story of a police officer from the year 2077 who is transported back in time with a group of terrorists who are set on overthrowing the totalitarian corporations of the future, in the past. Continuum not only provides a smart examination of the paradox of time travel but also looks at the politics and technologies of today and questions where they may go in the near future. The show has maintained a strict adherence to portraying all organizations and characters as doing the wrong things for the right reasons, continually wondering how far people are willing to go to prevent others from doing wrong.

Orphan Black is about a young woman who discovers that there are women who look identical to her, that she’s one of an unknown number of clones. The show explores the ethics of cloning, the dangers of unregulated science, the development of individual identity and a person’s ownership of their own body. The show is an ethical conundrum wrapped in a feminist allegory.

Both shows are taking a hard look at contemporary social issues that have been prominent in the media and in public consciousness in recent years. If either show is any indication, Canada isn’t willing to hold its punches either.

If Continuum and Orphan Black are the beginning of a larger number of Canadian television shows to be produced in the future, Canadians have something to look forward to.

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