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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

question of the day: What Canadian films and TV shows should I be reviewing?

It seems bizarre, but I’m much more familiar with British film and TV than I am with the entertainment output of Canada. So I’d like to expand my viewing horizons a little to encompass my neighbors to the north, and by reviewing, on a regular basis, more Canadian TV shows and movies.

What Canadian films and TV shows should I be reviewing?

I’ve already got a short list of material to get to, beginning with a Paul Gross marathon:
Due South
Slings & Arrows
Men with Brooms
H20
The Trojan Horse
Passchendaele

And then I’m also interested in:

The Red Green Show
Ginger Snaps
Murdoch Mysteries
Show Me Yours

What else do you recommend?

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me. Responses to this QOTD sent by email will be ignored; please post your responses here.)



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  • Norm

    The FRENCH Canadian stuff is 100 times better than the rest. Now, it might not always be easy to find these films in the US (and with English subtitles), but here are some great recent-ish titles:

    Jean-Marc Vallée’s C.R.A.Z.Y.
    Denys Arcand’s Les Invasions Barbares
    Yves Christian Fournier’s Tout est parfait
    Denis Villeneuve’s Polytechnique
    Patrice Sauvé’s Grande Ourse
    Bernard Émond’s La Neuvaine
    Louis Bélanger’s Gaz Bar Blues
    Yves Pelletier’s Les Aimants
    Philippe Falardeau’s Congorama
    Sébastien Rose’s Le Banquet
    Robert Lepage’s La face cachée de la lune

  • Mo

    One Week- That one for sure. It could have been too cute for its own good but Joshua Jackson really grounds it and makes it special. I loved it. (Some of the self-referencing humor may go over any outsider’s head, but that is going to be true for almost anything from here.)

    On tv:

    Being Erica – A 30-something girl who screwed up her life gets a chance to time travel back and change it. I don’t watch it anywhere near as much as I wish I did, but I’ve always loved what I’ve seen of it.

    Corner Gas – A sitcom set on the prarie in the middle of nowhere. It’s hilarious.

    Hmm… I’m trying to think of more, but having a bit of trouble. Frankly most Canadians are more familiar with American and British content than their own. Our local industry’s bread and butter is American productions which having Canadian locations, crews, and often casts are embraced as our own (Stargate, X-men, ect.)

    Plus protectionism keeping sub-par local fare alive has soured a lot of people on genuinely local things. There are lots of little indie movies that get government funding but no one ever sees them or usually even knows that they exist, and on tv protectionism means that most of our local content is now reality and current events shows. (Think “Think You Can Dance Canada and Canadian Idol.) Come to think of it, the two main things that I do watch are “The Hour” (highly recommended and all online and on youtube) and “The Rick Mercer Report” (he was our Jon Stewart long before Jon Stewart).

  • JoshDM

    If you can find it, I’ve always been curious about the Canadian-produced TV series “Power Pack”, based on the Marvel Comic of the same name. Couldn’t tell you where to find a copy.

  • Althea

    Red Green is addictive. It’s very broad humor, and at first you think a little is enough, but the next thing is a little wilder and sillier, and it just goes on. It always ends with the Man’s Prayer – one of those things you just have to hear again.

  • Leslie Carr

    Mo, I’d love to see a program called “Think You Can Can-Can Canada?”

  • Rachel Hartman

    Well, if you’re already indulging in Paul Gross (quite understandable), why not give Wilby Wonderful a try? The cast also includes Callum Keith Rennie, Sandra Oh, Ellen Page (before Juno), and while I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest smalltown story I’ve ever seen, I enjoyed watching it. It’s even available on Hulu.com, last I checked.

  • luddite

    Bon Cop, Bad Cop is a movie worth trying and for a T.V. series – it came out in the 70’s but was really great – I’d have a look at SCTV.

  • luddite

    “““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`
    also Little Mosque on the Prairie“““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““““`

  • misterb

    Hockey Night in Canada is the longest running tv show on the planet. You can’t get more Canadian than that.

  • “Little Mosque on the Prairie” — *that’s* the one i was trying to think of. and Wilby Wonderful is on order.

  • I second Polytechnique. Very harrowing account about misogyny, survivor’s guilt, and coping with the trauma of a school shooting years later. Much better than Gus Van Sant’s Elephant.

    Also by Denis Villeneuve, Maelström is a darkly surreal romance that is told by a dying fish on the chopping block. The first half is the most daring.

    I think you’ll have fun ripping into One Week, though. That self-indulgent movie by Michael McGowan is grating torture. Joshua Jackson stares forlornly at Canadian landscape over and over again while Campbell Scott narrates very trivial philosophies of life. It’s also very condescending to the hero’s atheism as well as his fiancé who has the thankless task of staying home to complain every time he calls her. Her reaction to his one-night-stand is especially insulting: Can’t she not get angry…no, wait!…he has to dump her first before she do that! And what the hell are they doing back in bed together without so much as a confrontation back home?

  • A. Mous

    I really enjoyed the 2004 miniseries “Regenesis”. Possibly “too science-y” for some, but I loved it for that.

  • vb

    give Hard Core Logo a go – Callum Keith Rennie and Hugh Dillon in a road movie about a fracturing rock band. It’s billed as comedy on the dvd package, but is very violent and sweary. I can watch it over + over cos every time a different character seems like the villain in the carcrash the story becomes. One of my 2 fave films ever (the other is not a canadian film)

  • A. Mous (Mon Jan 04 10, 4:43PM):

    I really enjoyed the 2004 miniseries “Regenesis”. Possibly “too science-y” for some, but I loved it for that.

    Well, first of all it wasn’t a miniseries, it’s a full-fledged series that’s gone past it’s 4th season already (38 episodes so far).

    The first season was amazingly brilliant, especially if you like science / microbiology or even if you think you might. Also: Ellen Page! It gets a little more action-y over the next few series, but it’s still a well-written, well-acted show. And well-worth your time.

  • Matthew

    Atom Egoyan and David Cronenberg are both interesting Canadian directors, although I suppose their work spills over into being international.

  • Michelle

    The Murdoch Mysteries TV movies are good. I was pretty unimpressed by the TV show, but I’ve only seen about two episodes.

    ReGenesis is one of my favourite shows of all time. I liike to think of it as a sci-fi show, with a very strong emphasis on the “sci” part. I can’t recommend it enough.

  • You should check out an older TV show called “Made in Canada” it’s about a Canadian Television company and it has perhaps one of the best intros ever.

    “But I’m in Television, I can get behind anything”

  • Neil

    MaryAnn,

    I kinda sorta skimmed over the other comments/suggestions and didn’t see this, so above all else, you should watch the Showcase series [i}Trailer Park Boys.[/i] It is, in my opinion, hands down the funniest damn show to come out of Canada in…well, ever…

    Like a lot of other TV series, it didn’t really hit its stride until a couple of seasons in (I think season three, actually, was when it really found its feet.) The third, fourth, and fifth seasons are what I consider the “golden age” of the series; it got kinda “meh” in season six, and pretty much took a complete nosedive in the seventh (and final) season. It’s a shame how the series ended, but I guess that’s how it goes sometimes.

  • Neil

    One more thing: see if you can get your hands on a copy of bittersweet movie about hockey and family called [i]The Rhino Brothers[/i]. I’m not a fan of hockey (I know, a Canadian non-hockey fan…blasphemous…), but hockey just serves as a backdrop for the REAL story…just a fantastic little film…

  • Sebastien

    I second Being Erica. It’s a very interesting show and I would quite enjoy seeing your take on Erica and her actions. My fiancee and I are avid watchers and I find the heroine pretty complex. Sometimes I root for her, and other times I find myself thinking ‘Geez, give it a rest and move on!’

  • David

    I thought Maelstrom was terrible: it’s all premise, no payoff. Ça finit en queue de poisson, pun intended. And Bon Cop Bad Cop was also terrible: it’s one of those American buddy cop flicks done, but instead of having the heavy handed humour between the cultural misunderstandings between a white and a black cop, we get the privilege of seeing it carried out between a french-speaking and an english-speaking cop. No stereotype is left unexplored, except, sadly for the stunning lack of insightful discussion about poutine, which is inexcusable in such a film.

    As for Canadian films I’d recommend, I’d recommend Manufacturing Consent by Mark Achbar and Peter Wintonick. They’re the same folks who did The Corporation, also a fine Canadian film. As for TV shows, I’d also recommend Hockey Night in Canada, but mute the Don Cherry sections.

  • My favourite Denys Arcand films are The Decline of the American Empire (Le déclin de l’empire américain the predecessor to The Barbarian Invasions,) and Jesus of Montreal (Jésus de Montréal). Both are painfully funny.

    My favourite Atom Egoyan film is The Sweet Hereafter. It’s based on an American short story but is set in “The Interior” as we British Columbians call it, near Spences Bridge. The cast is led by Ian Holm, but the rest of the actors are Canadian. Atom Egoyan is from my hometown of Victoria; his parents run a store there called “Ego Interiors”.

    I also adore Snow Cake, written by a Brit, but set in Wawa, Ontario with a Canadian cast with a few exceptions — such as the leads! Alan Rickman and Sigourney Weaver.

    I have a soft spot for Bollywood/Hollywood, a delightfully (and intentionally) silly Cinderella tale set in Toronto, with the luminous Lisa Ray and directed by Deepa Mehta.

    Thirty-three Short Films about Glenn Gould is amazing, and for a peep into anglophone/francophone Canadian tension, you might try Bon Cop, Bad Cop. (Although, as an American, you might not get the humour). Both star Colm Feore.

    As for TV, to date no one has beaten Slings and Arrows for anyone who appreciates Shakespeare, clever writing, wonderful acting, and sharp satire.

  • grinder

    Fubar and Ginger Snaps.

  • Melissa

    Movies: Shake Hands With the Devil, an excellent film based on Gen Romeo Dallaire’s book about his experiences in Rwanda. Dallaire was demoted to Col in Hotel Rwanda, if that gives you a better frame of reference. I really think that if this movie was American, it would have been an international award contender.

    Margaret’s Museum, starring Helena Bonham Carter, is about a young woman growing up in the poverty of 1930’s Glace Bay, Cape Breton. Cape Breton used to heavily rely on mining, and was (and is) a fairly impoverished region. Great movie, gorgeous scenery, touching and original love story. It is based on a play of the same name. And oh, the music…

    The Boys of St Vincent is a TV miniseries filmed years ago about the rampant sexual abuses in NFLD Catholic run orphanages. It is a VERY thinly veiled portrait of the real life horror that was Mount Cashel. Disturbing to say the least, but important.

    Actually, during the 90s there were a fair number of great Canadian TV movies. Million Dollar Babies is about the first set of quintuplets known to survive. They were born to a poor family and were quickly snatched by the government. For years, they were literally turned into an attraction; they were placed behind one way mirrors and people could pay admission to see them. Needless to say, they grew up majorally fucked up and eventually successfully sued the Cdn government.

    Butterbox Babies is another good miniseries, and is the true story about a woman and her husband who ran a home for fallen women in rural Nova Scotia. Its height was during the Depression, and she eventually turned it into quite the going business. Of course, what people didn’t know was that she would frequently tell the women their babies had died while in reality, she sold them to childless couples. Babies that DID actually die were buried in butter boxes in the back yard.

    The Sleep Room is a fantastic tale about the real life LSD and brainwashing experiments a Canadian shrink carried out on his unwitting patients, fully funded by the CIA. It’s a true story. A lot of Canadian movies are true stories, come to think about it.

    Sadly, I’ll have to warn you not to get your hopes up about Passchendale .

    TV shows:

    Monday Report, hosted by Rick Mercer. Biting social and political commentary. Rick really made his name on This Hour Has 22 Minutes, and he continues to be the star on his own show.

    Now, the following are reality shows, but the host (and writer, producer, etc) is the incredibly talented Andrew Younghusband. I’ll be honest with you, I have more than a little crush. ;) Not your typical reality shows: real people, not overly contrived, and Andrew’s sarcastic deadpan wit is why I developed my crush. The shows in question are Canada’s Worst DriverCanada’s Worst Handyman. CWD takes 8 (?) contestants and puts them through a series of challenges designed to make them better drivers. The worst ‘wins’ the title. Some of these people terrify me. CWH is the same premise, albeit more light hearted. I like it, because I am HORRIBLE at fixing things, but at least I know it! Both of these shows are shown on the Discovery Network, and I believe CWD is its highest rated show.

  • RogerBW

    Very much to my surprise, I’m enjoying Flashpoint. Yes, it’s a cop show, but there’s some real effort and thought going into it.

    It could very easily have been “the shootiest cops in Toronto”, but even though it’s about a SWAT-equivalent unit they go through many episodes with no gunfire at all.

    Characters aren’t desperately complex, but they are at least characters rather than templates. Sometimes they screw up, and then they have to live with the consequences.

  • cookie

    Rent-a-Goalie! Seriously crude, violent and sweary but pants-pissingly funny as well…

  • sunny_alberta

    Da Vinci’s Inquest?

  • Also Recommended:

    Claude Jutra’s Mon oncle Antoine (1971)
    Unsentimental story about a disenfranchised mining community and an unexpected tragedy set in Quebec over Christmas holidays. Shares the somber tone of Margaret’s Museum

    Jean-Claude Lauzon’s Léolo (1992)
    Haunting film about a deranged and fanciful childhood spent in a Montreal tenement. You will never think of tomatoes the same way again.

    Richard Kwietniowski’s Love and Death on Long Island (1997)
    Wonderful and poignant comedy about a dignified British author (John Hurt) who helplessly falls for an American movie star (Jason Priestley) after seeing Hot Pants College 2 by accident. One of the very best films of the 1990s.

    Lisa Cholodenko’s High Art (1998)
    Powerful drama about a photographer struggling with drug abuse. It stars Ally Sheedy, Radha Mitchell and Patricia Clarkson.

    François Girard’s The Red Violin (1998)
    The 300-year history of the priceless instrument provides suspenseful drama set in Cremona, Vienna, Oxford, Shanghai, and finally Montreal.

    Richard Kwietniowski’s Owning Mahowny (2003)
    Philip Seymore Hoffman plays a compulsive gambler who embezzles millions of dollars from the bank he works at. A nerve-wracking character study.

    Julia Kwan’s Eve and the Firehorse (2005)
    Insightful and touching drama about how two sisters develop interesting views of religion. Wait til you see how one of them envisions Jesus and Buddha in the same room together!

    Paul Arcand’s Thieves of Innocence (2005)
    Angry documentary about how the Quebec government ignores victims of child abuse and coddles the rapists.

    Sarah Polley’s Away from Her (2006)
    Compelling account of a woman (Julie Christie) suffering Alzheimer’s disease and her husband (Gordon Pinsent) trying to cope with the loss of her mind.

    Films by Guy Maddin:

    The Saddest Music in the World (2003)
    Delightfully absurd satire set in Depression era Winnipeg (Voted the Saddest Place in the World!) where Lady Helen Port-Huntley (Isabella Rossellini) holds a global dirge competition to sell her beer. Maria de Medeiros shines here (“No, I’m not an American. I’m a nymphomaniac.”).

    Brand Upon the Brain!
    Maddin looks backs on his childhood in this lurid and darkly comic fantasy. Here his parents harbor a shocking secret involving the orphans locked in their lighthouse basement!!! This one is my personal favourite.

    My Winnipeg
    Maddin pays tribute to his hometown with a flurry of embellishments, outrages, perversions, dreams, and fond memories. A very special film.

  • Kids in the Hall, people! In fact, the Kids have a new miniseries coming out (in Canada) this month, called Death Comes to Town. Ha ha, for once we get something before the Americans do!

    Also, second Ginger Snaps. Haven’t seen the sequels, though.

  • spuffyduds

    Slings & Arrows (series)–a marvelous three-season gem about a Canadian Shakespeare Festival, starring Paul Gross! Hilarious and wistful and moving, and quite possibly the best-written television show I have ever seen. And Don McKellar is sidesplitting as Darren Nichols, the most terrifyingly pretentious director in history.

    Twitch City (series)–Don McKellar again, Molly Parker, Callum Keith Rennie. McKellar plays an agoraphobic TV addict–it’s sort of a cross between “Being There” and “The Young Ones.” The alternate-universe episode in which the world is taken over by cats is extraordinarily loopy.

    Durham County (series)–Hugh Dillon plays a homicide detective who moves from Toronto back to his small hometown, which turns out to be pretty darn rife with evil. Beautifully shot and just creeptastic–seriously, I was highly unsettled by just the opening credits.

    Last Night (movie)–The quietest, most wistful end-of-the-world movie you will ever see. Doesn’t deal at all with what is actually ending the world, just with what people choose to do in their last few hours. Don McKellar’s perfomance is heartbreakingly controlled, Sandra Oh’s is as well, and Callum Keith Rennie’s plan for his last weeks on earth is hilarious and oddly sweet.

  • spuffyduds

    And oops, I see you already have Slings & Arrows on there, I missed that on first reading–I was overcome by the show’s awesome! ;-)

  • Magess

    Can’t wait to hear you report on the Paul Gross marathon. I love him. Even in Eastwick, which was basically terrible, he’s delicious in a hammed up kind of way.

  • Actually, there’s a claymation series that just got 13 episodes and ran for one summer. It’s called, “What it’s like being alone” and it’s just … something. Worth checking out the first episode alone, really. It’s got some great lines.

  • Films: Hard Core Logo, Last Night

  • gsharp

    I agree with previous posters that you should see Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, The Red Violin and Bon Cop Bad Cop. They are all beautiful movies. (If you have trouble finding Thirty-Two, let me know and I’ll send you my copy.)

    The other films I’d recommend is Lilies and Atanarjuat.

  • Terry Peckham

    I wonder if the drama series “Defying Gravity” qualifies as Canadian? I believe CTV did have some hand in it. In any case haven’t seen it reviewed on FF, and since it is extremely well done Science Fiction (all too rare no matter the country), thought I’d toss it into the ring. Sadly, in hiatus or cancel mode now.

    Cheers,

  • GRJ

    This should keep you going for a while:

    http://www.academy.ca/hist/history.cfm?curstep=1

    It is the Genie/Gemini awards database for Canadian film and television.

  • Mo

    *slaps forehead* I completely forgot, the National Film Board has its own youtube channel now: http://www.youtube.com/user/nfb Decades of all our best stuff in one place, and it doesn’t get much more Canadian than that. Ooh, and they have Ryan up. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gvfgLBMmtVs If you haven’t seen that one already, you need to.

    Enthusiastically seconded on “Made in Canada”. It’s brilliant. (And it was filmed in Halifax! *grins*) Apparently some US channel picked it up under the name “The Industry”. Because of course like all Canadian content that sneaks south of the border, we couldn’t possibly let on that it might actually be you know, Canadian.

    Yes, for tons of movies that are worth seeing that we don’t know about, check out the Genies for sure.

    As for Trailer Park Boys, well, I’m from Nova Scotia where it’s set, I don’t like it, and I’m traumatized. There’s no getting away from it- it’s everywhere here. But enough people like it that it might be worth a look. With the warning that it’s very much a love it or hate it sort of show.

    And one last (very,very old) one that might make some people around here groan but it still doesn’t get much funnier and wittier than Wayne and Shuster. (I’m in my 20’s for anyone about to whine about being stuck in the past. I still think they were one of the funniest comedy teams of all time.)

  • Nina

    I second many of the films/shows that have been mentioned, especially Twitch City and Corner Gas. Am I the only one who thinks that Bon Cop/Bad Cop could make a good TV show?
    I tried so hard to like Little Mosque on the Prairie, but I just found that the jokes were often really beaten into the ground. However, I did only see one episode quite a while ago, so maybe I need to give it another chance.

    Some others:

    Billable Hours – It’s a comedy about a group of young lawyers in Toronto. It has its moments. Many people liken it to The Office.

    Moccasin Flats – a drama that takes place on a reservation in Saskatchewan. It really highlights the oppression our First Nations people face, and their struggle to retain their cultural identity. Also the first Aboriginal created drama series in North America.

    Naked Josh – about a sexual anthropology professor and his ever-changing relationships.

  • Nina

    While I haven’t yet seen it, I’ve heard amazing things about David Cronenberg’s “Videodrome”, as well.

  • Durham County’s opening credits were the only good thing about that show.

    If you can find it, you need to watch ‘Intelligence’, probably the best spy show of the decade.

    Fair warning, though, it was canceled on a cliffhanger.

  • Ren

    I enjoyed Blood Ties, although I don’t know if it counts as Canadian TV – it was filmed in Toronto, and based on books by a Canadian author.

    And if you’re willing to watch cartoons, Class of the Titans and Storm Hawks are both Canadian. And cancelled. But they’re up in their entirety on youtube, or at least were the last time I checked. And you might like to check out the Canadian National Film Board’s collections of animated shorts – The Log Driver and The Cat Came Back are two of my favourites.

  • ProudCanuck

    Less Than Kind – great little Canadian series about a dysfunctional family starring Maury Chaykin. Exec produced by Mark McKinney (from Kids in the Hall and Slings and Arrowns.)

    Also – new series called Crash & Burn. Its lead, Luke Kirby, is really appealing (and was also in Slings and Arrows!)

  • Rachel Hartman

    I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to mention ReBoot.

  • Christine

    ‘Slings and Arrows’ and ‘Twitch City’ are both readily available for rental here in the States. I haven’t seen ‘Made in Canada’ since PBS aired it as ‘The Industry’ about ten years ago, but it’s worth tracking down, even for just the Megan Follows/Mandy Forward episode.

  • Stephen

    If you are looking for a truly unique Canadian film check out Kissed, an early Molly Parker film. The film is a tender portrait of a necrophile.

  • Jess

    You should definitely watch New Waterford Girl. It is my alltime favourite movie. About futility and yearning to escape small time life in New Waterford, Nova Scotia, it is a wonderful, touching and funny little film starring Liane Balaban (Josh Jackson’s fiancee from One Week), Tara Spencer-Nairn (the blonde cop from Corner Gas) and everyone’s favourite heartthrob of the ’80’s, Andrew McCarthy! Who could ask for more??

  • just_thinkin

    Since lots of films have already been covered (e.g. Ginger Snaps, The Red Violin, Away From Her, etc.), I’ll recommend some interesting genre pictures, all by Canadian director Vincenzo Natali:

    Cube
    Cypher
    Nothing

    …and he currently has Splice at Sundance.

    For TV shows, in the mid-90’s there was a comedy on CBC called The Newsroom by Ken Finkleman that was good, and pre-dates by a fair stretch the kind of thing you’d see on later series like The Office and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

  • Stephen

    I looked it up and Kissed was Molly Parker’s film debut.

  • If you are looking for a truly unique Canadian film check out Kissed, an early Molly Parker film. The film is a tender portrait of a necrophile.

    I suspect MaryAnn would be more interested in another element of the movie that I dare not give away at this point.

    (Yes, I’ve seen the movie. Yes, it is worth seeing but it’s not exactly a movie all types would appreciate.)

  • Moppy

    Some favorites of Canadian TV:

    Twitch City
    Rent-a-Goalie
    The Hour with George Strombolopolous (sp?)

  • gsharp

    One that I just watched was Amreeka. Beautiful subtle and a relevant movie.

  • If you can find it on DVD, look for a series called “This is Wonderland” about a neophyte lawyer named Alice (naturally) who defends bizarre cases at Toronto’s Old City Hall. A terrific grab bag of popular Canadian actors and some truly off-beat characters and situations. The first season was the best, they tried to make it more mainstream in the second season and then it got canceled. Don’t they realize Canadians just don’t respond to “mainstream”?

    Also, another mini-series worth a look is Durham County, a cop VS serial killer tale set in the suburbs. Very, very dark and stars Hugh Dillon of Flashpoint.

  • Robin

    I definitely recommend Bruce McDonald’s Dance Me Outside, which was one of Adam Beach’s first starring roles, as well as Hugh Dillon’s first film appearance.

  • GibsonGirl

    I third the recommendation of “Made in Canada” which was (at least here Deep in the Heart) shown on PBS, under the title “The Industry” which we followed with something akin to religious fervor until it just… disappeared. It was created by and starred the afore mentioned Rick Mercer, and he is bloody marvelous. To the Guy Maddin films, add 2002’s “Dracula: Pages from a Virgin’s Diary” which is part filmed ballet, part silent film homage, all weird and wonderful. I personally, will be bookmarking this excellent listing, so I can perhaps follow along with you on this lovely exploratory journey!! Thanks!

  • jason

    Davinci’s Inquest is fantastic, a sort of “The Wire” but not as over-the-top gritty.

    And yes, “Ginger Snaps” is great too.

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