Sometimes a bad review is just a bad review

I’ve been hard-pressed to keep up with the Flashpoint postings for TV, eh? since there are reviews and interviews from the US media, too, and there’s a whole lot more of them than there are Canadian media. Since the show has made me work harder than usual, it’s good to see the ratings were great on both sides of the border, given the summer Friday night timeslot.

Clearly, the Canadian ratings were boosted by all the extra publicity generated by CBS. You could read only People magazine and still know about the show, whereas for most Canadian shows, you could read your local paper faithfully and never know about their existence.

Not all the publicity was positive; the reviews were mixed. However I’ve read a few items lately, including from John Doyle of the Globe and Mail and Alison Cunningham of TV or Not TV, that perpetuate what I’m sure is a myth: that the positive versus negative reviews are divided between Canadian and US critics. In reality, reviews in Canada and the US were equally mixed – some positive, some negative, some a mixture of both. Don’t believe me? I dare you to sort through all those postings (and yes, I missed some).

It is true that there were a few US reviews that were chauvinistic, making me roll my eyes at some of the snide references to its Canadian origins. There was definitely some hostility in a handful of reviews at the perceived strike-breaking aspect of importing a Canadian show. But most reviews didn’t fall into either category, and this is a case where Canadians were just ahead of our neighbours to the south: we got our snide on back when the sale to CBS was announced, and mostly kept that out of the reviews.

The division in reviews doesn’t appear to be between nations, but partly between (of course) differing tastes, and partly between differing expectations. Tellingly, some of the most negative reviews referred to it an “action show.” But Flashpoint isn’t trying to be strictly an action show. It focuses on the impact that the case of the week has on its heroes as much as the case of the week itself. If a critic evaluated it based on the procedural and action elements without evaluating the psychological and emotional elements, the review tended to be more negative than even those who simply weren’t convinced by the more touchy-feely aspects. Hmm, maybe missing the point of a series makes for a bad viewing experience.

In both countries, the timeslot played a factor in many reviews, too. The networks were perceived as not being behind the show because it premiered in the summer, and late on a Friday – a double deathslot. Many critics played that fact up as a sign of its quality, rather than simply examining the show itself for signs of quality and then discussing the timeslot separately from the content of the show.

Something similar happened with The Best Years, where timeslot expectations leaked into reviews, though that time it was covert. The US reviews of The Best Years on The N – a teen-focused network — were considerably more favourable than the Canadian reviews. One key difference is that it aired on Global at 10 pm … not exactly a youth-friendly timeslot. So while the show was clearly aimed at a younger audience, Canadian critics generally reviewed it as if it were a serious, adult-oriented drama, without mentioning the target audience. You can fault Global for putting it in a bad timeslot and therefore asking for those reviews, but I fault the critics for not mentioning the disconnect between timeslot and audience, but instead letting the timeslot dictate their expectations without comment.

In any case, whether you read only the Canadian reviews or only the American reviews, you’d be left with the reasonable idea that most critics weren’t wowed by Flashpoint. They aren’t wowed by CSI: Miami, Numb3rs, NCIS, or The Unit either, and yet audiences have a way of making up their own minds. Flashpoint will be lucky to follow the long line of shows that critics snub and audiences embrace, and time will tell if they embrace this one for the long term.

Whether they do or not, Flashpoint doesn’t need our own chauvinistic protectionism to counteract whatever US xenophobia it faces. The strong initial ratings prove it can fight this battle itself, where it matters: in the hearts of the audience, not the critics.

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