"Strange Empire" really stood out on the CBC fall TV schedule. Dark, unusual, though still a Western — we really wanted to see if this show delivered.
We were able to get the first 2 episodes of the show, so we got to see for ourselves.
CBC viewers are used to dramas such as "Republic of Doyle" or "Heartland" or "Arctic Air" — nice dramas that don't require a lot of thought to follow the action. "Strange Empire" is a program where you need to pay attention — and you want to pay attention.
Cara Gee, whom I enjoyed in "Empire of Dirt," is the leader on the screen and she is well-suited for the part. Gee could give a few lessons on being a true Mama Grizzly to Sarah Palin. Melissa Farman plays one of the more complex television characters as a woman previously institutionalized and who now works as a doctor. Tattiawna Jones rounds out the group as the wife of the bad guy in our story.
Creator Laurie Finstad Knizhnik has given us a world of intriguing, complex characters set in a time where we traditionally see things in black and white terms. And the most interesting of those complex characters are women.
Being a dark Western means murder is coming. You will lose track of how many died in the pilot episode. The idea of the show is that the 3 women are survivors, and you get to see who died to make that happen.
The drama is engaging; you don't feel like you have to like the show because it's Canadian.
The show draws about 300,000 viewers, based on the last numbers I've seen. Those numbers are comparable to "The Honourable Woman" and about 40% of what "Heartland" draws. "Strange Empire" airs Monday nights at 9 pm after the popular "Murdoch Mysteries" but may not be the most compatible mix of shows.
"Strange Empire" hasn't finished its run quite yet. New episodes return January 12 and run until February 2.
"Republic of Doyle" is leaving the airwaves after this season. Even with new dramas coming, there should still be room for "Strange Empire" to continue to find a home at the CBC.
Many Canadian films take chances and get rewards, though most of us are French-Canadian films. Canada and other countries have a market for a well-done Canadian TV drama such as "Strange Empire."
As much as we concentrate on Canadian film here at CanadianCrossing.com, we also want to spend some time on Canadian TV shows. Though our access to Canadian TV shows is more limited than film.
We give odds on the likelihood of Canadian film crossing the border. "Strange Empire" is a show that easily would cross over, maybe even beyond the United States.
As for the other 3 new shows on the CBC fall schedule, 2 of them are foreign to North America. "The Honourable Woman" is a one-shot deal, and in fact, ran in the United States before the program aired on CBC. "Janet King" is a drama from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation as the debut of the "CBC Selects" series.
"Canada's Smartest Person" fills a financial need for a reality-based program.
If the CBC is running foreign programs, then Canada could certainly produce TV that can cross borders as well. "Strange Empire" would be a fine export to other countries.
Speaking of other shows that can cross borders, we are very curious to see the debut of "Schitt's Creek," coming to the CBC on January 13 with back-to-back episodes Tuesday at 9 pm.
The familiarity of SCTV veterans Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara should be enough firepower for the show to see other markets. We hope to get some episodes of that show and let you know how well the program turns out.
We'll have a CBC Winter Preview early in 2015.
video credit: Strange Empire/CBC