What a great problem to have--overcoming the success of Corner Gas.
It's never happened before in Canada. Monday night, as you might have learned from the zillion promos during the Olympics, two new comedies are premiering from some of the folks behind Canada's most successful sitcom. The shows are Hiccups and Dan For Mayor, and they start at 8 and 8:30 p.m. on CTV.
Unlike Gas's rural Prairie roots, Both Hiccups and Dan For Mayor are set in cities. Hiccups is set in Vancouver, which just happens to be where stars Brent Butt and his real life wife and former co-star Nancy Robertson live.
Butt originally pitched this as a showcase for his adorable wife and had no intention to appear on camera. A pilot was shot with another actor, but CTV really wanted Butt in the show and what CTV wants, CTV gets.
Butt felt that if he was going to be dragged before the cameras and also produce and write for 16 hours a day, he was at least going to have his weekends off and not have to fly home to enjoy them. Hence Vancouver as a setting.
Butt plays Stan Dirko, a hapless life coach who can barely keep his own life together. Robertson, plays Millie Upton, a famous children's author with severe anger issues. She's liable to blow up at any moment, like she does in the pilot while stuck waiting in line for coffee. Millie explodes and says things the rest of us just think.
Dirko calms her down. She's had shrinks and others try before but his low key approach works. As Butt says, these two need each other. He's the only one she'll listen to, and she's the only client he can actually help.
Butt does a nice job of quickly establishing Dirko as a whole other dude from Brent Leroy. Dirko is less of an observer, more of a guy who is a little desperate and a lot in over his head. It's more range than a lot of stand up comedians could muster.
Robertson makes the most of her showcase, appearing in almost every scene in the pilot. She more than has the comedy chops and likability to carry a series, even cast as a cranky children's author. You quickly get why Millie connects with her young readers, that she is at heart just a big kid herself.
Dirki isn't the only one giving Millie support. The cast widens to a whole new ensemble, with Laura Soltis, David Ingram and Emily Perkins playing various characters at the publishing house. Paula Rivera plays Dirko's wife, Anna.
None of them made much of an impact in the pilot but they have more to do in subsequent episodes. Butt says by the end of the season it is more about the ensemble than just Millie and Stan.
I liked Millie and hope Butt pushes Robertson to flesh her out even further in future episodes. I also hope the episodes get funnier.
Dan For Mayor is set in the fictional town of Wessex, Ont., but the exteriors are shot on the streets of Kitchener/Waterloo. It's a mid-size Canadian city, so the locals are a little more eccentric, perhaps a little more familiar to Gas fans.
Fred Ewanuick stars as Dan, a 30-something slacker who works in a bar and who's prized possession in the big clunky Ms. Pac-Man machine he keeps in his apartment. The dude just can't let go and move on with life, which is probably why his girlfriend Claire (Mary Ashton) dumped him for successful local businessman Mike (Ben Ayres).
When Claire comes into Dan's bar and announces her engagement, Dan tries to top her by saying he's running for mayor.
If it seems like a flimsy excuse for a series, think How I Met Your Mother, a show that resembled Dan For Mayor. The premise barely matters, it's just about the people. Those two comedies share the same 30-something, let's meet at the bar energy, with Dan's friend and reluctant campaign manager Jeff (Paul Bates) a strong part of the mix.
The first season will follow the election right to the conclusion, leading up to election night. Next season, who knows? It could be Dan For Parliament, or Dan The Mayor, we'll see. But if the team behind How I Met Your Mother can drag out the suspense there, so can this show.
Ewanuick was always a fun go-to guy on Gas but never seemed like star material. What showrunners Mark Ferrell, Paul Mather and Kevin White have tapped into is his tremendous likability. He just seems like a regular guy, easy to root for.
Dan For Mayor is immediately more about the ensemble than Hiccups and for my money gets off to the stronger start. David Ferry (This Is Wonderland) makes an impression as a hippie dude who owns the Fern Bar & Grill where Dan works. Suzanne Coy plays a local eccentric who runs a neighborhood appliance store. These two manage to steal their brief scenes the way Ewanuick used to do on Gas. It all adds up to more reasons to tune in a second, third or fourth time.