That's my fear with The Border, which premiered last night on CBC. The 13-episode series continues Monday nights at 9 p.m.
The series has its moments. It opens with a tense airport situation, with special agents (and the audience) watching every move of one or two possible terrorist suspects. Suddenly, the elite Immigration and Customs Security squad closes in and the suspect is swarmed. There is a bit of a chase, and what happens next would NEVER happen on 24--the dude is apprehended WITHOUT A SINGLE SHOT BEING FIRED! It's like Jack Bauer joins the Peace Corps.
That's the "so Canadian" part I like about The Border. This isn't just another hour-long kill fest. The incident also had a very timely, ripped from the headlines feel, with two Muslims at the centre of a Toronto terrorism scare. A point was made about the impact of Homeland Security-style crackdowns and the rights of innocent until proven guilty new Canadians.
What came next though seemed way too contrived. The ICS bust was scooped by CSIS and U.S. Homeland Security officials. They seemed bloodless and cranky. Bad Americans.
This extra layer should set this series apart from a dozen or so American action hours. Good Guy Canadians just doing their job, also have to contend with Heavy-handed Americans. Kinda writes itself.
Except that, well, it kinda writes itself. Which disappointed me as I continued to watch The Border. When it wasn't just confusing, everything seemed a bit too obvious.
The problem, I think, starts with the central characters, none of whom I felt particularly compelled to root for. This did not seem to be the fault of the actors. I'd just seen these characters too many times before.
For example: the ruggedly handsome Father Figure Boss (played by James McGowan), a 50-ish character who is vulnerable yet in command (like the leads on all three CSI's, Without A Trace, Shark, Criminal Minds, etc. etc.). The Womanizing Tough Guy (Graham Abbey), described even in the press notes as "an all-round cowboy." The Beautiful Smart Girl (Nazneen Contractor) who, in this instance, as a Canadian-born Muslim, is also the Mysterious Outsider. Beyond caricature is "Heironymous" Slade (Jonas Chemick), the most omnipresent archetype on TV this season, as the squad's resident Brainy Geek.
Perhaps I'm being a bit hard on The Border as I screened it after catching up with The Wire. Almost nothing on TV compared to The Wire in terms of believable characters and real, yet compelling, plots.
And if I'd just looked at the pilot for The Wire, maybe it would be a more fair comparison (especially since The Border pilot dates back to December of 2006). But The Wire somehow always managed to draw the viewer in to the plight of total strangers through a deep and powerful and genuine human connection. The Border tries to do this through association with headlines and, in too many instances, through caricature.
My other beef with The Border--the first hour took itself way too seriously. Granted, so does 24. Still, The Wire manages to connect through humor as well as drama. The Border's office nerd did lighten up a few scenes. Catherine Disher brought attitude as another ICS agent. But heaping a runaway teen daughter onto McGowan's angry Major Kessler character just seemed too Jack Bauerish to me.
What this series needs, and what it gets next week, is a bad ass American woman. Sofia Milos joins the series as special agent Bianca LaGarda, a Homeland Security Yank who locks horns with Kessler and company. Again, another cliche--the Bitchy babe as the hero's adversary can be found on everything from Bones to House--but why not--this Border could use a little spice.