I’m going to point out something here, but I don’t really have a thesis to go along with it. It’s going to sound like I’m saying that Canadian critics are harder on Canadian shows than American critics are, but I haven’t found that to be the case in general. In fact, I often feel as though Canadian critics soft-pedal reviews of Canadian shows, because they’re grading on a curve, or they’ve had it up to here with the post-negative-review whining of “but we worked so hard, and it’s so difficult for us, and I hate you hate you hate you.”
Phew. Is that enough of a disclaimer to prove that I’m not using this example to prove a rule?
The point is this: there’s a definite geographic split between the Canadian critics and US critics of The Best Years.
The show, a co-production between the N network in the US and Global in Canada, started airing on Global about a month before hitting US airwaves. The reviews at that time were nearly universally lukewarm to negative. The most positive Canadian review I found was by Dana Gee of the Vancouver Province, who tried to put herself in the shoes of the intended audience — teen girls — and decided they’d overlook its flaws.
When the show was about to premiere in the States, on the other hand, the reviews were nearly universally positive. Sure, there was a review or two that sounded a lot like Gee’s. And even the positive reviews didn’t consider the show flawless. But from the New Jersey Star-Ledger to the Hollywood Reporter, American reviewers liked the show.
The New York Times even wrote a baffling piece about The Best Years’ take on the class divide that didn’t actually get into whether the show was good or not, but you have to assume they wouldn’t have put out that many polysyllabic words on a show that wasn’t worth the effort.
(You can see all the reviews at TV, Eh? At that link, you’ll be seeing everything on The Best Years from newest to oldest, so the American reviews will be first, Canadian reviews towards the end.)
The Best Years is one of those shows that isn’t discernibly Canadian to the viewer. Now, I haven’t seen it, so I’m not even talking about production values, which sometimes separate the American wheat from the Canadian chaff. I mean, it’s set in Boston, stars an American, and has a predominantly American cast — apparently, it was commissioned by the N in the first place. It’s considered a Canadian show in that Global co-produced it, the creator, Aaron Martin, is Canadian, it was shot in Toronto, and whatever other behind-the-scenes details give it the CanCon stamp of approval.
In at least one early article — an interview with a cast member — the journalist didn’t seem to realize that it was Canadian. But the later reviewers knew. Is it possible there’s a subtle bias against a show that seems Canadian in name only? Or that the sample size north of the 49th is too small, since with growing syndication and shrinking numbers of TV critics, the same negative reviews played in many major papers? Or that Martin hit on something that appeals to American sensibilities but not Canadian ones? Or maybe it’s a coincidence that there’s that definite Canadian-American critical divide?
I don’t know. I don’t even know which side I’d agree with. I keep meaning to catch the show, but it’s not aimed at me and so I have no real interest, other than thinking vaguely that I “should” sample it because it’s one of the very few Canadian shows on right now. But it doesn’t really matter what I think of the show anyway, because I’m not the target audience for it.
I’d like to think if I were reviewing it, I’d keep that in mind.