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Monday, May 6, 2013

'Flashpoint' S5: Canadian S.W.A.T.

The DVD set, which is being released on May 7, 2013, of the fifth season of Canadian police drama "Flashpoint" is one of the few shows that I have reviewed blind in that I had not seen nor heard of it.

The press release for "Flashpoint" that included the description that "the SRU [Strategic Response Unit] is a team of elite police officers trained to take on anything including rescuing hostages, defusing bombs, scaling buildings and profiling suspects all to diffuse highly dangerous situations and save lives" evoked images of the mid-70s ABC police drama "S.W.A.T."

Further research revealed that the SRU was modeled on the Toronto Police Emergency Task Force and that  "Flashpoint" aired over the ion television network in the United States.

A great deal of reflection, and a strong interest in being fair, led to concluding both that this season of "Flashpoint" was average and that being average is just fine. Further contemplation led to realizing that average shows only seem not-so-great because we fanboys compare them to favorite shows that we immensely enjoy.

Remembering a strong fondness for the wonderfully quirky Canadian series "Slings and Arrows," "Trailer Park Boys," "Corner Gas," and "Todd and the Book of Pure Evil" waylaid any concerns regarding any subconscious bias regarding shows from north of the border. 

This police procedural simply does a nice job following the procedure each week. In this case, the procedure typically involves the team jumping into action on learning of the bad guy of the week capturing an "innocent" or "innocents" of the week. One hook is that not every hostage is as pure as initially believed.

The team then develops a plan that will capture the malfeasor while protecting the innocent against further peril. It is just as typical that something goes awry roughly fifteen minutes before the finale but that the team prevails in the end.

This formula has successfully worked on television for roughly 50 years. Average shows such as "Flashpoint" present the stories in a way that keeps the audience's attention for roughly one hour; below average series depict contrived situations, suffer from horrible acting, and/or have laughably deplorable production values.

The only laughable element in "Flashpoint" was that Vancouver-born surfer dude type and "Final Destination" dreamy actor Dave Paetkau did not really pull off playing elite team member Sam Braddock.

Paetkau's manner was fine, but his intonation was all wrong for the role of hard-core hero. The few times that he spoke, the audience expected him to call a colleague either "dude" or "bra" or refer to the bad guy as "bogus." This supported the theory that Paetkau's main purpose was to stand there and look pretty.

Superman fans can only hope that Paetkau did better in a role as a threat analysts in "Man of Steel."

The miscasting of Paetkau demonstrated that the primary elements that make a procedural above average relate mostly to the characters. Cop shows in the '70s were wildly popular because the titular characters had quirks that included regular consumption of lollypops, parking their car in their living room, or often having a cockatoo on their shoulder. (This provides a bonanza of Googleable opportunities for you millenials.) In other words, the cops had strong personalities that made them more interesting than the people in our everyday lives.

More modern examples of interesting television detectives are the brilliant Temperance "Bones" Brennan of "Bones" unintentionally amusingly being sharp and condescending much of the time and the team members on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation" having extraordinarily interesting individual and group histories as well as hobbies that range from the history of the mob in Las Vegas to characteristics of different mushroom types.

I have written many times that I loved awesomely dreamy and goofy lab rat Greg Sanders, who once danced around in a Carmen Miranda (Google it) fruit hat, over the more stoic field investigator that he became.

Conversely, the "Flashpoint" team always seemed very calm. Additionally, I did not get a very strong sense of them as people or their individual roles on the team despite watching the first four and last three episodes of the eleven fifth season episodes. (I never learned the last names of a few main characters and never learned the first name of one.) Virtually all of the action occurred while the group strongly focused on the task at hand.

Watching the situations unfold kept me on my couch, but not on its edge. The season premiere pitted the team against hijackers who had taken control of a passenger jet to obtain the release of the leader of their group that did not acknowledge the government's authority regarding any aspect of their lives. The twists were whether any hijackers were concealing themselves among the passengers and the fate of an all-American (or Canadian) teen.

A more personal episode revolved around an undercover drug investigation in which a former colleague of SRU lead sniper Ed Lane participated. Ed's presence at an apparent revenge assassination attempt directed at the colleague got his team involved. An above-average moment in that episode had Ed channeling Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry character. In the case of "Flashpoint," the "punk" was not lucky.

Other plots involved an interesting look at many facets of the practice of capturing American executives for very little fun but a great deal of profit and the risks associated with biohazard labs.

An episode, which was the season (and likely the series) finale, that involved an investigation of a serial arsonist is one of the season's best. It provides looks at both training exercises in which firefighters participate and a somewhat insightful glimpse at the stress that these professionals face.

More personal aspects of the arson episode includes a rare crack in the confidence of top negotiator Greg Parker, played by Enrico "Veronica Mars' dad" Colantoni, and a resolution of a surprisingly little mentioned ongoing plot line regarding a forbidden clandestine relationship between team members.

The bottom line is that "Flashpoint" is a good show that had the potential to be more "NYPD Blue" than"The Mob Doctor."

Anyone with questions or comments regarding "Flashpoint" is encouraged to email me.