Laughs follow …

Bear with me – I will get to the bear further down the page. For a change, what follows is nothing to do with wildlife, birds or even gardening. This a bit of freelance TV criticism – what should be a pleasant weekend bit of mystery watching is turning out to be jaw-droppingly embarrassing to watch.

Most Canadians I think and readers in other countries will have read one or two at least of Louise Penny’s series of Three Pines mysteries set in Quebec. I think there are 18 of them in the bookshops now and they are pleasant reads that clearly make the author a lot of money. Never ones to miss a chance to boost the profits, our friends at Amazon Prime have jumped in and commissioned, made and are streaming a first season of films based on the books. Four books, two episode each, eight episodes.

First some praise. The plots have been brought up to date by including some heavyweight weaving in of current indigenous people’s issues that are so hot in the news in Canada these days. Rightly so. So far we have watched two of the four stories in the series and they have covered the MMIW (Missing and murdered indigenous women) story and the Residential Schools and their aftermath. Indigenous actors have been recruited to play indigenous characters and the fact that there does not seem to have been any outrage from the communities about the stories and the way the issues are handled rather indicates they have been sensitive about the scripts. That is to be praised because it is hard to achieve.

But … all is not rosy. John Doyle, TV critic of the Globe & Mail, wrote in his review: “But we have to be realistic, too. One strange result of the COVID era is that it seems to have brought on a plague of bad acting. The recently released Three Pines (streams Amazon Prime) is well-meaning and, one supposes, a comforting, traditional mystery series. But the acting is often so wretched you can picture an assistant director on-set, holding a large sign in front of an actor that reads, “Make sad face now.” Comfort TV should not disappoint in the details.”

The details, as he says, are important. Of the many we have noticed the following stand out and make us wonder if we will watch more. Patience, the bear is nearly here.

  1. The chief cop is a Quebec francophone who is said to have learnt his perfect English as a student at Cambridge. In one exchange he states that while not being a particularly religious person, he attended – for the music perhaps – services every Sunday at Cambridge Cathedral. Hard to think any student could have come away thinking they had been to a cathedral in that city. There isn’t one. Period. Not a hard thing for someone in the script department to check. OK, a minor quibble but it tingled our antennae and so we were on the look out.
  2. Blue Jays feature large in the stories. Mystical links, importance in indigenous folk culture etc. That’s fine, no problems there really except that every “significant” Blue Jay that appears is clearly a stuffed bird that has somehow been animated by the film technicians. Its beak appears to be more at home in a Disney cartoon than nature and is evidently made of plastic. The pieces de résistance though are the two shots of the infamous bird sitting on a nest made of shiny and carefully woven twigs (a base for a Christmas door wreath perhaps?) stuck precariously ten feet off the ground on a twiggy tree branch devoid of any semblance of leafy cover and, what’s more, sitting on its nest in late autumn. Head shakes in despair. Next we move on to:
  3. A flash of inspiration (fictional detectives always have these rather than slogging away following the clues and evidence – but that’s OK) leads the chief cop to believe there are bodies of indigenous inmates of the Residential School, a very topical and sensitive subject these days, buried in the basement floor. I am pretty sure that any policeman wanting to preserve even a trace of evidence for future use in court would have called in the forensics guys before he went anywhere near the basement. They would have followed extremely strict protocols. In fact, these days he would almost certainly have also involved the leaders of the nearby indigenous community right from the beginning … that being exactly what is happening all over Canada just now out of respect for the past. Indigenous involvement is paramount. But no, he puts a shovel in the back of his car, drives to the school in the middle of the might – darkness is so much more dramatic – and dug up the bones himself. Really?
  4. Now we come to the bear. This is the rolling around on the floor laughing bit and I am sorry to have kept you waiting but it truly is the continuity and script cock-up to end them all. At the end of episode four there is a police car chasing the bad guy as he tries to escape along a forest road. Flashing lights and grim faces abound and then suddenly they all scream to a stop. More police cars arrive on the scene and guns are drawn though this being Quebec they are not discharged, even as a warning. The chase stopped because sitting happily in the middle of the road is a bear. A big bear. A big BROWN grizzly bear whose home territory is either the zoo at Granby just down the road or 3000 miles away in Alberta or British Columbia. Eastern bears are black bears and a totally different, much shyer and less aggressive, species and if they happened to be on the road at all it would more than likely be in the dusk, not bright daylight. To ice the cake, the filmed bear had been video-photoshopped (CGI has much to answer for) over a shot of some open, autumnal woodland and you could see the joins without even squinting. Cheap job. Unforgivable.

How could any professional film person get so many things to screamingly wrong? If I was funding this series I would want a rebate on the money I had put in. We are unsure whether to stop watching at this point or continue in the expectation of more laughs to come – the plastic Blue Jay will re-appear, for certain. I am also intrigued to discover how all the small boutiques, bistros, bookshops and other businesses manage to make a living in a village far from anywhere and with zero visible tourist trade or visitors. They would all be bust in a week in the real world. Maybe I will continue for the laughs … and more wandering western bears.

My next post will return to the traditional topics – thanks for bearing with me.

PS: I later found an online comment about the bear. Quote ”I see it as more of a group hallucination…like the Chief Cop’s blue jays…as if the CGI bear was looking directly at him and then stood down…”there, I stopped him for you…” Exactly.