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Slings and Arrows? More Like Kings and Sparrows! - The Book of the Celestial Cow

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December 17th, 2007


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11:18 pm - Slings and Arrows? More Like Kings and Sparrows!
Last year, out of nowhere, everyone I knew suddenly started talking about this show called Slings and Arrows. And by everyone I mostly mean Buffistas. But it wasn't just them! Unconnected members of my flist were recommending the show! So I decided I would check it out...eventually. Once the third and final season aired, there was a resurgence of interest, and I decided I would check it out...eventually.

Finally, eventually has come, and I have seen and loved Slings and Arrows, a Canadian comic drama comprising a mere three seasons of six episodes each. It won't take up too much of your time once I convince you to watch!

But what is it about? As you may guess from the title, it's about Shakespeare! Or, rather, Shakespearean theatre at the New Burbage Festival (obviously modeled after the Stratford Festival). The three seasons deal with productions of Hamlet, Macbeth, and King Lear, respectively, although subplots involve other productions.

But who are the dramatis personae? Well, there's Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross of Due South fame), the once-brilliant actor who goes from running a failing independent theatre company to becoming Artistic Director of the New Burbage Festival when his old director and mentor, Oliver Welles, vacates the position (although he continues to advise Geoffrey, much to his consternation). Ellen Fanshaw is Geoffrey's former lover, now an aging actress prone to dalliances with younger men. Richard Smith-Jones (Mark McKinney of Kids in the Hall fame) is the Business Manager, responsible for making sure the festival actually makes money. And then there's Anna Conroy, the administrator who makes sure everything doesn't just fucking fall apart. The last two actors are also two of the three writers for the series; like Spaced, the creators wrote every episode, and also like Spaced, given all the connections between the actors, it's clearly a labor of love, a show made by people who wanted to make this show because they could.

I think that anyone who has done any theatre before would love this show because it gets it all right. The cast members hooking up, the constant tension, the dynamics different actors bring to the cast, the madness before opening night, the magic that happens onstage, etc. There's even a frazzled stage manager and an old singing gay couple. Everyone in the company feels like a real character, just from the little bits and pieces we see of them; it's a great ensemble.

I've never done any professional theatre, so it was interesting to get a glimpse inside that world, where it's a job and they can have rehearsals during the day! And it's also a business, so you get into all sorts of fun conundrums of business sense vs. artistic integrity.

I found the first season to be the weakest, actually, since they spent so much time setting up the damn series there was little time for a disastrous production of a play, which is what I signed up for! The second and third seasons impressed me more, as they allowed the characters to develop (and I hadn't actually expected to care about the characters and their development until I saw it in action!). They explored why they were who they were and took them on journeys. They delved a little more into the nature of theatre (while using Darren Nichols, a pretentious twat, to satirize it at the same time). And, always, as you might expect, the play itself was used to great effect to mirror the action and highlight certain character traits and plot points (and sometimes other Shakespearean works find their way into the story: the Hamlet season has a subplot with subtle undertones of Macbeth that become hilariously textual in the finale).

The comedy is very understated for the most part. Scenes will often end with the punchline on a downbeat, so you barely even realize there was a joke for a second, and then you get it and crack up. And Wikipedia calls the series "blackly comic," to give you an idea of the sort of humor you're in for.

Lastly, a note on casting. You get Rachel McAdams! Sarah Polley! Don McKellar! Geraint Wyn Davies! Okay, I didn't really know who he was, but he starred in Forever Knight, so I guess he's famous.

Most of all, what I loved was that the show was always a testament to—and I hate to sound like a pretentious twat—the transformative power of theatre. It's what Geoffrey believes in: he believes in the play. And it's wonderful to see what happens to both the audience and the actors when you put on a great play properly. It's like that line in Sports Night: "I didn't know we could do that." And that's what Slings and Arrows does: it shows that we can do that.
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(27 memoirs | Describe me as "inscrutable")

Comments:


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From:squaringkarma
Date:December 18th, 2007 07:43 am (UTC)
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Hmm, maybe I'll acquire it for the old man. He does love his Shakespeare!

Come to think of it, he may have mentioned it. Hmm.
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From:harper47
Date:December 18th, 2007 12:50 pm (UTC)
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I'm a huge, huge fan of Slings and Arrows and I couldn't agree with your post more. I always feel as ifI know these people(well their real life counterparts). This is theatre in all it's glory and messiness. And I love Shakespeare when it's done right. I taught a Shakespeare workshop one summer that I still remember with huge fondness.



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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 18th, 2007 04:16 pm (UTC)
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You! Of course you'd love it! I forgot to mention that another thing it does is show how fucking beautiful Shakespeare's language is.
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From:jeeperstseepers
Date:December 18th, 2007 12:55 pm (UTC)
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Geraint Wyn Davies!

Other people recognize the name Geraint Wyn Davies?!

Okay, I didn't really know who he was...

Oh.

Forever Knight and Kindred: two bad-when-I-watch-them-now-but-I-loved-them-when-they-were-on vampire shows you ought to see.
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From:mawombat
Date:December 18th, 2007 02:16 pm (UTC)
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dude, I was a total Vachon fan....bad hair, guitar-playing, ex-conquistador!
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From:jeeperstseepers
Date:December 19th, 2007 12:53 am (UTC)
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Mmmm, Vachon. He was my favorite too.
From:wee_warrior
Date:December 18th, 2007 01:10 pm (UTC)
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This actually sounds really good! I might try the show out; not that there will be much new stuff over the next few months, anyway.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 18th, 2007 04:18 pm (UTC)
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Right? I hope you enjoy it. *hug*
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From:mawombat
Date:December 18th, 2007 02:15 pm (UTC)
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Glad to hear that you liked it. S&A is really fabulous and more than that, it is a direct parody of the Stratford Festival of Canada in Ontario. Especially, the whole bit about putting in musicals.

I like the different seasons for different reasons. I like the first and third seasons the best; the first, because it's such a dead-on parody (complete with importing the American action film actor, hee!) and the third because of the great thematic overtones. William Hutt, who played Lear in that season, died last year in real life, so it's a sweet testament to that Stratford icon. I had some problems with second season (the gay romantic lead turning straight, for example), but I love Darren Nichols, so who can complain? But I think I like it best because it's soooo Canadian; with Canadian actors being Canadian (instead of pretending to be American), lots of them, a riff on SFoC, etc. It's simply mahvelous.

I just wish there had been more seasons.

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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 18th, 2007 04:24 pm (UTC)
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Especially, the whole bit about putting in musicals.
Hee.

William Hutt, who played Lear in that season, died last year in real life, so it's a sweet testament to that Stratford icon.
I saw that in Wikipedia! Man.

I had some problems with second season (the gay romantic lead turning straight, for example), but I love Darren Nichols, so who can complain?
I think I may have liked the second season the best, oddly enough, if only for the scenes of the first two performances. The scene with Jerry in Geoffrey's office the next morning nearly brought me to tears. The first season, like I said, took a while to get into gear, and the third, even though I love Lear, was just too sad and depressing. I agree that each season has its strengths, though.

a riff on SFoC
On what?

I just wish there had been more seasons.
Me too!
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From:mawombat
Date:December 19th, 2007 06:05 pm (UTC)
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I agree with you that the Darren Nichols approach to R&J in 2nd season was hysterical. I loved the whole chess pieces thingy.

SFoC = Stratford Festival of Canada

I love it most when TV series seem to be made especially for me and Slings & Arrows was like that. Very Canadian, with Paul Gross (Ewww! Fraser!!), about Shakespeare (check out my website: http://www.shakespeare-revue.com/ to see how obsessed I am, plug! plug!), about the theatre, making fun of it, making love to it! seriously, did they read my mind when they made this series?

The third season was very depressing, but very cathartic and, I feel, a good wrap-up to the series.

And I second
[Error: Irreparable invalid markup ('<ljuser="punzerel">') in entry. Owner must fix manually. Raw contents below.]

I agree with you that the Darren Nichols approach to R&J in 2nd season was hysterical. I loved the whole chess pieces thingy.

SFoC = Stratford Festival of Canada

I love it most when TV series seem to be made especially for me and Slings & Arrows was like that. Very Canadian, with Paul Gross (Ewww! Fraser!!), about Shakespeare (check out my website: http://www.shakespeare-revue.com/ to see how obsessed I am, plug! plug!), about the theatre, making fun of it, making love to it! seriously, did they read my mind when they made this series?

The third season was very depressing, but very cathartic and, I feel, a good wrap-up to the series.

And I second <ljuser="punzerel">'s comment: "Yay Canadian TV!"
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 19th, 2007 06:24 pm (UTC)
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I agree with you that the Darren Nichols approach to R&J in 2nd season was hysterical. I loved the whole chess pieces thingy.
I was actually referring only to the Macbeth, but I agree with your agreement of my statement that I didn't make! "I'm still seeing CHARACTERS, not ARCHETYPES."

Neat website!
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From:punzerel
Date:December 18th, 2007 05:25 pm (UTC)
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I've always wanted to watch that. Yay Canadian TV!
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From:filmtx
Date:December 18th, 2007 08:59 pm (UTC)
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I've heard of this show as well. But I didn't really know much about it. Thanks for the rec. I'll have to check it out... eventually.
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From:pidgehuss
Date:December 18th, 2007 10:25 pm (UTC)
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Lordy. The "New Show Squee" tag is pretty much going to dictate the next several shows that I try and watch, now that TV is dying and being replaced with choir competitions and things I could not care even a little bit less about.

::hugs your good taste tight::
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 18th, 2007 10:27 pm (UTC)
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I am planning to make a summary post of that tag to point out its usefulness in this situation! Maybe not till the new year, though.
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From:beeker121
Date:December 18th, 2007 10:55 pm (UTC)
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I've only seen season one of Slings and Arrows but I have two and three in my netflix list to watch in the near future. As someone who does professional theatre I can tell you that they get all the bits right, and I love their stage manager to bits. I'm excited to see the rest of it soon. I'm glad you liked it.
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From:spectralbovine
Date:December 18th, 2007 11:08 pm (UTC)
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I was always thinking of you with Maria. She was great. And I'm glad to hear that it matches up to professional theatre as I thought it did.
From:golden_aurelia
Date:December 19th, 2007 09:01 am (UTC)
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Geraint Wyn Davies! Okay, I didn't really know who he was, but he starred in Forever Knight, so I guess he's famous.

Ha! I've worked with him. He also has at least one album out.
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From:seawench
Date:December 19th, 2007 03:00 pm (UTC)
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It's every professional show I've ever done. And then some.

One of the things that makes it even better for me is that a lot of those actors have actually played the same roles at the Stratford fest (Paul Gross was their Hamlet one year, etc).
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From:electricmonk
Date:December 20th, 2007 01:28 am (UTC)
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Hey, you're in an lj news post. I knew you when, man.
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From:superfrayed
Date:July 3rd, 2008 10:48 pm (UTC)
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lol, you've convinced me to watch this :D Not that Don McKellar and Sandra Polley weren't enough.

Have you ever seen Twitch City?? That's another series by Don which is one of my favorite shows ever!
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From:spectralbovine
Date:July 3rd, 2008 10:54 pm (UTC)
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I've never even heard of it! But I don't really know much Canadian TV.

Don McKellar is Darren Nichols, the pretentious twat. He's very entertaining.
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From:superfrayed
Date:July 3rd, 2008 10:59 pm (UTC)
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Oh Twitch City is fantastic! It's yet another short series,w/ 2 seasons, this one is about a dude who won't leave his apartment and is obsessed with a Jerry Springer type show.. Callum's in this as well as Molly Parker and a couple of Kids In The Hall make appearances.

lol ok I'm done pimping Canadian stuff for now. Thank you for listening :D
From:sabra_n
Date:September 22nd, 2011 08:29 am (UTC)
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After having this show on my "to watch" list for years, I finally, finally watched it over the past couple of weeks and I kinda love it and just wanted to spout off about that fact in any remotely appropriate space.

...And now I have "Chin Up, Hamlet" stuck in my head. ("Buck up, you melancholy Dane...")
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From:spectralbovine
Date:September 22nd, 2011 08:32 am (UTC)
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Hurrah! I have felt like rewatching it since I got back into theatre.

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