The world of Canadian television is tumultuous. Countless quality programs premiere annually on Canadian airwaves but quickly fade as audience attention is drawn south by the American networks, resulting in a short shelf-life for most shows.
Da Vinci's Inquest creator Chris Haddock, however, has found the recipe for success. After an eight-year run with his initial offering, Haddock is poised to launch another show on the CBC. Intelligence delves into the murky world of crimelords and police informants. The series follows the interplay between marijuana smuggling kingpin Jimmy Reardon (Ian Tracey) and Organized Crime Unit director Mary Spalding (Klea Scott). When events in the pilot episode go tits up for Reardon, he's forced to offer himself to Spalding as an informant on the condition he be protected from the law. Her own job in jeopardy, Spalding quickly agrees, setting up the delicate balancing act to be seen throughout the show.
"We have a very distinct kind of West Coast outlaw here that's evolved out of both the character of people out here, but also the economic situations and the advent of a market for B.C. bud," Haddock explains. "These are rounders, these aren't Sopranos-style gangsters. These are West Coast guys who aren't cutthroat killers. These guys would be the same kind of guys who'd be on the fish boats or logging and all those kinds of seasonal jobs that disappeared here. Growing weed and smuggling weed took up the slack for a bunch of people who would generally work for part of the year and spend the rest of it spending their nut."
Initially conceived as a starring vehicle for Tracey, who had a supporting role as detective Mick Leary on Da Vinci's Inquest and spinoff Da Vinci's City Hall, the two-hour Intelligence pilot aired last year and garnered five Gemini Award nominations. Haddock credits the early success to the pedigree of the cast and crew--several cast members have worked with Haddock on previous projects and the bulk of the crew moved with Haddock from Da Vinci's City Hall.
"We spent quite a while working with Da Vinci, trying to find our own style," reflects Haddock. "Because it's the same creative team, I wanted to make sure that we didn't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I thought we had achieved a lot of really good stuff in terms of stylistic achievement and production value achievement for such little dollars we have, but we also wanted it to look different."
With many award nominations already earned, and the massive success of the Da Vinci series, expectations for Intelligence may already be at dizzying heights. Haddock, however, remains unphased. He stresses the importance of constant improvement in such a competitive industry, especially when pitted against American programming.
"The benefit of working with a team for a long time is that you actually can achieve some of those things," Haddock notes. "You've already established your parameters with many of these creative people you work with, so your creative collaborations have already grown. Nobody looks at Intelligence or Da Vinci and says, 'That's a Canadian show. It's got a quarter or a third of the money of any American show.' People look at our show and they compare it with the best. What we accomplish with a quarter or a third of the budget of U.S. shows is a miracle. It's just because we've all put our nose to the grindstone and accepted the conditions of making TV here."
Perhaps one of the ways Intelligence is to compete with its American brethren is with familiarity. While the cast features Haddock regulars Tracey, John Cassini and Camille Sullivan, it also includes faces familiar to American audiences like Klea Scott (who had a supporting role on Millennium) and Max Headroom-star Matt Frewer. Haddock is filled with praise for his cast, especially Tracey.
"He's become a very charming gangster, and I think it's important that people look at that and see that not all gangsters lack charm and not all charming people are trustworthy," Haddock remarks. "I think it's a very nice area to play with in Intelligence. The good guys are bad and the bad guys are good, and I think that's what life is like."
Episode 1 or "The One Where Ross Gets Indicted for possession"
After the events of the pilot, the first weekly episode introduces the players. We get a sense of Jimmy's day-to-day activities, and meet his business partner Ronnie, young daughter Stella, volatile ex-wife Francine and impulsive brother Michael. We also get a sense of the juggling act Mary Spalding has to do to keep her job and keep Jimmy as an informant.
While early scenes in the episode may have a new viewer confused, within the first 10 minutes everything is explained and the pieces of the puzzle all start to assemble. This episode does a great job at humanizing every character without glorifying what they're doing, and the ending acts not only as a callback to the opening scene, but also as a harbinger of things to come.
Episode 2 or "Jimmy and Mary's Adventures Through the Penal System"
After the events of the previous episode, Jimmy has to go around mending fences and trying to corral his brother before things get out of hand. Meanwhile, Mary continues to battle with her superiors over using Jimmy as an informant, eventually reaching a compromise that may spell trouble down the road.
Another episode spent building characters and subplots, but another episode done well. While the first episode painted the informant relationship as fairly harmonious, this episode features the first hint that perhaps both sides aim to exploit the other as much as possible.