#10 – ENNIS ESMER
Ennis Esmer had recurring roles in three TV shows in 2017. Currently, he is hacker/consultant Rich Dotcom, working for the FBI with fellow co-opted hacker Patterson (Ashley Johnson) on BLINDSPOT (that’s the show where a woman is found naked in Times Square with her body covered with prophetic tattoos). He came back to DARK MATTER this year as Wexler from the alternative universe. (Unlike other characters from that show who were darker in the altverse, Wexler was the reverse. Original Wexler was evil. Alt-Wexler was more of a practical opportunist, much like the Raza crew.) It seemed likely that we would see more of Alt-Wex, but DARK MATTER was inexplicably cancelled by SyFy.
Esmer is also Detective Kurtis Mazhari, the friendly cop who bends the rules when he has good reason, on GlobalTV’s PRIVATE EYES (which stars Jason Priestley as a former hockey star and Cindy Sampson as the Toronto PI who hires him as her partner.) Unlike Wexler and Rich Dotcom, Mazhari has a love interest (Zoe Chow, played by Samantha Wan). PRIVATE EYES is currently on hiatus in the middle of Season Two on Global TV in Canada, and will resume sometime in the summer of 2018, probably about the time the show will begin airing on ION-TV in the US.
All three seasons of DARK MATTER can be streamed on Netflix. BLINDSPOT airs on NBC Fridays at 8/7c.
#9 – BARBELLE
BARBELLE is a female written, directed, and produced ten-episode web series featuring a cast of queer characters. It follows the story of a newly famous pop star duo (played by Gwenlyn Cumyn and Karen Knox), who are also a couple, and who want to break up but can’t because of contract obligations. (Actually, only one of them wants to break up, and each is still in love with the other.) I almost never finish watching a web series. I mean to, but after a couple of episodes, other things intrude and I never go back, but this one was different, and it’s not just because Veronica Vale and Alice O’Hara are complex and intense characters. BARBELLE did a clever thing. They released the first eight episodes four at a time, making each four-part burst about as long as regular tv episode. That kept my interest.
Cynthia Hicks is outstanding as YouTube pop sensation Lulu St. Clair, and it was good to see Kiana Madiera again (she also appeared on DARK MATTER and WYNONNA EARP this year). Natasha Negovanlis (the star of CARMILLA) turns up as “the ghost of girlfriends past”. There is no definite word yet on a second season, but there really needs to be one.
Naomi Snieckus launched this podcast early in the year, describing it as “a sit-down with the brightest minds and most charismatic women in entertainment…funny, frank talk about success, life in the public eye, the victories, embarrassments and vagaries of fame”. There have been twenty-eight episodes so far, including interviews with Zoie Palmer, Inga Cadranel, Tommie-Amber Pirie, and Melanie Scrofano. (The one with Cadranel is my personal favourite.) Next to be interviewed on the FIRECRACKER podcast will be Indo-Canadian playwright Anusree Roy, and actor Joanne Boland (who will be Nicole Walker in Bravo Canada’s new detective series CARTER, due to premiere on 20 February.)
A former member of Second City Toronto, Naomi Snieckus plays socially awkward teacher Bobbi Galka on the long-running CBC comedy MR. D (Tuesdays at 9:30). Her most notable film appearance is as Miriam in Maureen Bradley’s 2014 film TWO 4 ONE (available on iTunes and Amazon Video).
#7 – SONJA BENNETT
Bennett is on this list because she wrote Episode Six of GHOST WARS, which was the best episode of anything I”ve seen this year. That show can be a bit obscure sometimes, and Bennett’s episode went a long way toward clarifying the story line while at the same time providing a much appreciated closer look at the McGrath-Dufresne family. Her character on GHOST WARS, Karla Kowalski-Jones, has become quite significant toward the end of Season One. In episode 9 she begins to experience an accelerated pregnancy after having had sex with her husband while he was possessed by a “ghost”.
Bennett also wrote an episode of KIM’S CONVENIENCE (the one where Appa disciplines the 5 year old son of one of Janet’s professors), and she wrote (and starred in) the award-winning 2014 film PREGGOLAND, about a thirty-something who pretends to be pregnant to fit in with her friends. KIM’S CONVENIENCE can be streamed on the CBC website in Canada but is not yet available in the US. PREGGOLAND can be purchased from Amazon video or from iTunes.
#6 – PEOPLE HOLD ON
“We basically cast the film as we created the characters of the story. We drew on the fact that we had a ton of old friends, as we all grew up as actors and we wanted to draw on who they were as people and shoot it in a way that gave them a freedom to really make it something natural and authentic, so we shot it so there would be overlap. We’d try new things, go off-book, and so it’s a really intimate exploration of your lifelong friendships…and we kind of focus on people in their late-twenties, but I think that that’s pretty universal, regardless of how old you are and death of childhood and all these great things, and all set against the beautiful backdrop of Northern Ontario and Parry Sound with towering pines and smoky granite, it’s a beautiful thing.”
—- Michael Seater – (to Charles Trapunski of Scene Creek)
One of the things that makes PEOPLE HOLD ON unique is that the cast and director worked together during the entire process of creating the story. Seater and his business partner Paula Brancati (who also stars in the movie) developed the plot about a group of longtime friends spending a weekend together at a cottage. They loosely crafted each character around each actor, then presented the ideas to their friends. The cast actually had known one another for a very long time, and that helped, because they were cooped up in two small cabins in the woods for the fourteen days of filming. I am not often surprised by the ending of a film. This one caught me completely off guard. (This film was discussed at length in a previous post.)
#5 – TITI STIER
Not a lot of information is available about Stier, other than that she is a twenty-four year old Argentinian singer/songwriter. A year or so ago, she did an excellent cover of Laura Marling’s Rambling Man and that got my attention. She lists Charles Trenet, Edith Piaf, Joni Mitchell, Ryan Adams, Father John Misty, and Bob Dylan as musical influences. (Marling is also clearly an influence.) In 2015. Stier moved to Paris, where she sang in the streets of Montmartre. When she finally realized that music was more than a hobby for her, she returned to Buenos Aires, where she recorded the five-song EP “By the Riverside“. Titi Stier has appeared twice at the Open Folk Festival in Buenos Aires and was part of Lollapalooza‘s 2017 lineup.
Her songs are written entirely in English, and one wonders what she has written in Spanish, and if she will ever record any of that. Below is track two of the EP.
#4 – DIRK GENTLY
“Sherlock Holmes observed that once you have eliminated the impossible then whatever remains, however improbable, must be the answer. I, however, do not like to eliminate the impossible.”
—- Douglas Adams, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency – 1987
DIRK GENTLY is one of the best bits of science fantasy TV in years. At the end of the second season, my favourite villain, Suzie Boreton (Amanda Walsh) is left on a sky train ride to nowhere; Todd’s sister Amanda has just learned the usefulness of her neurological anomaly (pararibulitis); and Dirk has finally opened his detective agency. But there will be no more holistic detection on BBC America, which has decided to cancel the show after two seasons. However, some hope for continuation remains. A petition is circulating urging Netflix to “Renew Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency for Season 3/Future Seasons”, and, at this writing, has more than 20,000 signatures.
This blog hasn’t written about DIRK GENTLY, but THE FANGIRL ZONE PODCAST has covered the show episode by episode through 2.9. (They will eventually discuss the Season Two finale, I’m sure.) Below is their take on the very first Dirk Gently episode.
#3 – PEARL MACKIE
“The thing that I liked most about Bill was that she wasn’t grappling with her sexuality. She didn’t need to come out – it wasn’t an issue! It was always just about, I’m gay and happy and this is who I am. This is who I like, and this is who I’m in love with.”
—- Pearl Mackie — Pink News, October 2017
For whatever reason, Doctor Who was adrift in Seasons 8 and 9. The Doctor seemed to be in some sort of therapy most of the time, and quite unsure of himself. Then Bill Potts arrived and the Doctor was suddenly confident again. He even punched a racist in Episode 10.3. Having Mackie as a companion seemed to give the Doctor purpose again, and made the series look and feel like Classic Dr. Who.
In 2018 there will be a new Doctor and a new Companion. Mackie’s first post-Dr Who role is as Charlotte in ADULTING (The Guardian’s first original podcast drama created by Eddie Robson), which follows a group of old friends as they are reunited at a wedding after a dark event in their past previously forced them apart. The first six episodes of that are now on The Guardian’s website.
And Mackie will play Lulu (a friend of lodge owners Meg and Petey Boles) in an Ian Rickson production of Harold Pinter’s THE BIRTHDAY PARTY, which will open 9 January and run through 14 April at the Harold Pinter Theatre in London.
#2 – SOMEONE ELSE’S MOVIE
Hosted by Norm Wilner, senior film writer for Toronto’s NOW Magazine, SOMEONE ELSE’S MOVIE is just what the title implies. Each week, an actor, director, screenwriter, critic or industry observer talks to Wilner about a film that she or he admires, but had no hand in making. Wilner’s guests seem to often choose films that influenced them early in life.
There are more than 150 episodes of this podcast, so catching up with them all would take a bit of time. My personal favourites are: Katie Boland on THE ETERNAL SUNSHINE OF THE SPOTLESS MIND, Adam Barken talking about THE NINTH CONFIGURATION (a movie I’ve never gotten around to watching, but will now), and then there is Kelly McCormack‘s wonderful stream of consciousness ramble on Brian DePalma’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE (below), from which you will learn much more about McCormack than you will about the movie.
#1 WORKIN’ MOMS
“This isn’t a mom-com. I hate that word! Flaws are really interesting. We only see female protagonists who are likeable, with one cute flaw, such as adorable clumsiness. I’m fed up with it. Humans are incredibly selfish. And in parents, flaws become hyper-focused.”
—- Carol Reitman — The Toronto Star, January 2017
Even if your lifestyle is nothing like theirs, even if you’ve never been married, even if you don’t have kids, these characters are portrayed so honestly that one cannot help identifying with each of them at one time or another. “I made a commitment early on that if I was doing this, I was telling the truth, showing my blood,” Reitman told Joanna Schneller of The Globe and Mail. “It’s as scary as it gets. But it also makes me feel very human.” The four mothers the show focuses on are: PR executive Kate (played by the show’s creator Catherine Reitman), reluctant real-estate agent Frankie Coyne (Juno Rinaldi), cunning psychiatrist Anne Carlson (Dani Kind), and Jenny Matthews (Jessalyn Wanlim), an I.T. specialist in the midst of an identity crisis. (Wanlim was Evie Cho in Season Four of ORPHAN BLACK.) Dani Kind had quite a year in 2017. Along with her portrayal of Anne (“I tell my family I have I.B.S. so I can lock myself in the bathroom and play candy crush.”), she was the unforgettable Widow Mercedes in ten episodes of WYNONNA EARP. So far, WORKIN’ MOMS is unavailable in the US. All episodes are available on the CBC website, including the special flashback episode about Anne’s 2005 wedding that aired recently. Season Two will premiere on 9 January at 9:30pm.