Being Erica on Hulu. Murdoch Mysteries on Acorn TV. Strange Empire on Netflix.
We had talked years ago on why Canadian TV couldn't push past the 49th parallel. Now finding Canadian drama is easier thanks to subscription services.
Strange Empire only ran for 13 episodes in the fall of 2014 and winter of 2015 on CBC. We argued at considerable length that Strange Empire deserved more than 13 episodes, but made that impression after only 2 episodes. And we argued that if Americans got to see the show, they would be a call for more episodes. So after watching the 13-episode run, is all of this still true?
Let's start with the main characters:
- Kat Loving (Cara Gee) Kat is a Métis woman who is a badass who takes on adopting kids who are in danger. She defends those who she cares about.
- Rebecca Blithely (Melissa Farman) Rebecca is autistic and also is a gifted doctor for the times. She says what is on her mind because she wasn't raised in the norms of the times, between being institutionalized and as an experiment of female ability.
- Isabelle Slotter (Tattiawna Jones) Isabelle is a madam who is a spiritualist and smart in the world of business.
Their stories are rich and compelling. Creator Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik has talked about the significance in history behind these characters. These women remain strong in horrible times.
The drawback is that their stories are so painful, so rooting for them becomes difficult in the face of people such as Captain John Slotter (Aaron Poole), a mine owner, husband to Isabelle, and obnoxiously mean and violent.
There are plenty of female characters above and beyond the leads that stand out. Kelly (Michelle Creber) and Robin (Matreya Scarrwener , Kat's adoptive daughters after their father sold them to Captain Slotter as whores. They often have to dress as boys to get around better, a difficult task given their long hair. Mrs. Briggs (Anne Marie DeLuise) and Fiona Briggs (Lost Girl veteran Ali Liebert) are mother/daughter who lose their men early in the series. They are about surviving, especially the mother. The friendship of Fiona Briggs and Miss Logan (Christie Burke) is a hopeful one. Ruby Slotter (Marci T. House) balances loyalty to a family that isn't very kind. Morgan Finn (Joanne Boland) gives us insight into the forgotten people in Western times.
Characters and stories that existed in the West but not in typical Western visions. A very good reason to have more than 13 episodes.
The realism of this Western is often too real. Characters who are black or Asian or women lend us perspective to see how they went through that same period as the stereotypical white men of the time.
Strange Empire did get new life briefly on the Lifetime Movie Network, being renamed Strange Empire: Rise of the Women in 2015. If you missed it, you wouldn't be alone.
"This was an incredibly difficult decision," said Sally Catto, General Manager, Programming, CBC Television. "We're so proud that we were able to do it. I can tell you, it was not about ratings."
If not ratings, then what? Strange Empire got cancelled for some reason. Catto's cryptic words still haunt almost 3 years later. Would Strange Empire have done better, post #MeToo.
This series would have had a huge effect on Gee's career. She was absolutely amazing in Empire of Dirt and had been nominated for Best Actress for that film for the 2014 Canadian Screen Awards. Gee lost out to Gabrielle Marion-Rivard (Gabrielle) for the award.
A dark, lesbian-friendly Western: Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik takes us into a familiar setting with intriguing but not familiar characters to a Western world. Appreciate the 13 episodes that exist.
Strange Empire is available in Canada via the CBC Web site and on Netflix in the United States.
photo credit: Strange Empire/CBC