TV: Best Laid Plans (2014)

February 26, 2014 | By

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BestLaidPlans_2014Film: Very Good/ Transfer: n/a / DVD Extras: n/a

Label: CBC Home Entertainment – EOne / Region: 0 (NTSC) / Released: April 22, 2014

Genre: Comedy / Political Satire

Synopsis: Skilled political speech writer Daniel Addison is blackmailed by hs party manager to run a “stealth” campaign in which a cranky candidate must lose, but things go very wrong when Angus McLintock strangely acquires grassroots popularity.

Special Features: 3 making-of featurettes – “From Book to Screen” + “Great Characters, Great Cast” + “On Location in Ottawa”




Based on the novel by Terry Fallis, this 6 episode CBC series follows the surreal events which push a skilled but poorly respected speechwriter to make a deal with his abusive boss and agree to run a loser candidate in a small Ottawa riding to fend of threats of an unwarranted RCMP investigation of fiduciary impropriety.

Jonas Chernick is very affable as Daniel Addison, the brilliant wordsmith charged with running a “stealth” campaign for Liberal candidate Angus McLintock (flat-out brilliant Kenneth Welsh), a recent widower and professor who agrees to be the token candidate in exchange for Daniel agreeing to take over a political sciences class populated by doe-eyed brats.

Naturally, Daniel’s biggest challenges come from trying to ensure his candidate stays out of the media limelight, but things come to a head when his over-achieving team of supporters (students and highly motivated seniors) demands their hero make a proper public appearance at a rally to prove he does indeed exist. Worked into this crazy quilt is Daniel’s cheating and very bitchy ex-girlfriend Rachel (lithe Sarah Allen), and young Lindsay (Jodi Balfour), the pretty daughter of Muriel (Barbara Gordon) who leads Team Angus’ senior wing.

Character actor Ron Lea plays a strangely anachronistic beat reporter – his gear is comprised of pen, paper, wrinkled clothes, and hat in an age of digital recorders and camera-friendly wardrobe – and Sonja Smits (Traders) has a small role as the Prime Minster. Eric Petersen (Corner Gas, Street Legal) is stuck with a one-note grumpy senior who’s highly possessive of longtime unrequited love Murial, and Raoul Bhaneja does his best to transcend the volcanic behaviour of Daniel’s invective-charged boss Bradley. Also woven into the large cast is Philip Akin (War of the Worlds) as Lea’s editor, and Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall) as the Liberal’s bonehead leader, George Quimby.

With such a solid team of actors and writers (Susan Coyne, Jason Sherman, and author Fallis), it’s disappointing that the cast has been directed to behave ‘quirky’ in every scene, exaggerating dialogue delivery & physical reactions in that cartoon tenor that made the CBC’s Little Mosque on the Prairie so grating. Having major and minor characters act at the same pitch level feels terribly strained, and there’s only a handful of roles that truly deserve such behavioral oddness. Co-director James Allodi hails from the network’s Mosque series, which may explain the homogenous nature of the cast’s ‘quirky’ performances. Peterson also channels a visible dose of Corner Gas’ cranky Oscar Leroy, and when the show allows for some sobering drama – Angus’ eulogy to his late wife – things become piercingly maudlin, but amid the series’ obvious flaws Allodi and co-director Peter Moss manage to extract several choice comedic moments from the scripts.

Daniel’s periodic addresses to the camera work well because it pushes the entire narrative to a kind of loopy political satire, if not a fanciful daydream, with the audience brought in as participants. Daniels’ acumen for creating good P.R. and recognizing disastrous choices also pays off with a few cultural references, such as his reaction to a news piece in which Quimby wears a hairnet identical to the ill-fated cheese factory visit of Bloc Quebcois leader Gilles Duceppe.

Trevor Yule’s music tempers the actors’ physical performances, and Gavin Smith’s cinematography really brings out the beauty of an idyllic sunny Ottawa. Although broadcast in HD on TV, the series is currently available only as a 2-disc DVD set from CBC / EOne, augmented with a trio of making-of featurettes. Given Season 1’s finale ends with Daniel’s most feared outcome for his candidate becoming a reality – the curmudgeon is sent to Parliament on behalf of his kooky constituency – green-lighting a second season might ensure the commercial viability of a neat 2-season Blu-ray set in 2015.

The CBC’s website contains teasing deleted scenes which didn’t fit the pacing of their episodes, but they also feel like redundant bridge material that was shot purely for the web, which is fine, because it gives the curious some material to sample before delving into the series during a rebroadcast, or via the site’s online streaming.

Strained quirkiness aside, Best Laid Plans is a healthy self-deprecating poke at Canadian politics with appropriate doses of ridiculousness.



© 2014 Mark R. Hasan


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