Flashpoint (part 2) — cultural reflections…and the acting vacuum

(Continuing from last time…)

Flashpoint‘s cultural legacy will be interesting to ponder.

Some viewers (including American ones) suggested there was a tone to Flashpoint that differentiated it from similar American TV series — and they meant this as a compliment. It was a “liberal” cop drama in a genre that tends more often to skew right and reactionary.

It was a series about flak jacket wearing, assault rifle wielding guys (and gal) in black…who would rather not shoot anyone! When the heroes pull the trigger in an episode, it isn’t a cathartic release for the audience but, in a sense, a melancholy sign that they’ve failed in their task to maintain the peace. Most American cop shows (the thinking goes) are basically action series about gun wielding cowboys who are heroes by the way they use their guns and fists, or at least swagger about with a macho “us vs them” demeanour. Whereas Flashpoint was about level headed cops who rarely raised their voices and left their personal biases in the locker room. These weren’t just the cops you’d want defending you…these were the cops you’d want arresting you! Enrico Colantoini Colantoni, as Greg Parker, the team’s kind hearted negotiator, was as much the star as Hugh Dillon, as Ed Lane, the team’s dour chief sniper.

And this attitude infused the plots. I think I saw one internet post commenting that Flashpoint was a cop series…that didn’t seem to have any bad guys! That’s an overstatement, but it is true that the plots usually try and seek out the underlining motives for the characters, the “villains” as often tragic as evil. And in the episodes with black hat villains…those character aren’t usually the focus of the story. Whether Flashpoint will influence other cop shows, let alone Canadian cop shows, only time will tell. Certainly the crime-drama King seemed to feature heroes less prone to intimidation, macho posturing and “thin blue line” solidarity than some series.

Flashpoint’s underlining compassion may have been a way of bridging fan bases. People who didn’t necessarily like macho, violent, right wing cop series could enjoy it…while those who do like those things could also enjoy it because, sentiment aside, it was still ultimately a hi octane action series with plenty of running about, rappelling down walls, and, yes, shooting.

Though maybe that’s the series’ lesson: you can be an action series and still wear your heart on your sleeve.

Creatively the loss of Flashpoint may have a bigger, negative, impact on Canadian TV. Because Flashpoint acted as a great showcase…for actors.

It was essentially a throwback to an older style of TV drama, Canadian and American both. The sort of dramas that we haven’t seen in much abundance since the 1970s and 1960s. A series in which the guest stars really were the guest “stars”. It almost had an anthology vibe to it, each week telling less an episode of a series, and more a short movie with a beginning, middle and end. The regular heroes took up half the screen time…and the guest stars got the rest.

Actually, in that regard, as a showcase for Canadian actors, in reminds me of the 1980s cop drama Night Heat.

These days, most dramas tend to focus on the regular actors, and guest stars are there just to fill up the scenes inbetween. In cop dramas the principal guest star might only have two or three scenes, most of them in an interrogation room. An actor can still milk a lot from those (I was often impressed with the quality of the scenes and performances in King, despite the actors often only having a couple of scenes) but it’s still limiting. And even in series like The Listener and The Republic of Doyle (maybe the latter because of its inherent light-heartedness) you can struggle to remember the guest players, or you can picture them in your mind, but you might have to work to remember their role, let alone any scenes. (Though I seem to recall the first season of The Listener was a little better in that regard). Whereas in Flashpoint, often the guest roles are meaty parts, following emotional arcs that an actor can really sink his or her teeth into. You might find yourself identifying episodes by the guest stars and their parts as much as the plots. In an industry with too few good roles, Flashpoint was — I suspect — an actor’s dream.

Without it, what’s left? Saving Hope certainly offers some room for flashy roles, guest stars to tug our heart strings with terminal diagnoses — but usually it’s juggling three or four plots per episode. And all series have their guest stars, and individual episodes where an actor can shine, whether it be Arctic Air, Republic of Doyle, Continuum, or what have you. But with Flashpoint, there were usually too two or three roles each episode that were featured guest stars — characters the plot was about and without whom there would be no story. Characters we got to follow in scenes away from the regular actors, allowing them to essentially “star” in those scenes, to carry them. And usually charting out an emotional arc, allowing the actors to play a range of emotions (and, sure, there were also a lot of hostage roles that were probably more taxing on an actor’s tear ducts than their acting skills, but anyway…)

I’m not an actor, so maybe an actor would say that, to them, there’s little creative difference between having two scenes in one series and five in another. And that emotional “arcs” are just something they talk about in drama class but have little meaning when you’re on a set, shooting a scene in a few takes.

I’m not a big fan of Republic of Doyle, but I will give it a nod that guest stars can at least — sometimes — feel like guest “stars” (particularly pretty ladies the hero, Jake, can flirt with), even if I do think the overall writing and (as mentioned earlier) lightness maybe prevents them from quite being the acting vehicles Flashpoint is.

But as a viewer, it seems to me that the guest starring roles in Flashpoint had more impact on me, more influence on how I perceived an actor, and what they were capable of, than guest turns in three or four other series combined.

And maybe that’ll be the biggest vacuum on Canadian TV that’ll need to be filled when Flashpoint is off the air for good.

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One Response to Flashpoint (part 2) — cultural reflections…and the acting vacuum

  1. Wesley The Snipert says:

    hello very cool post man!