Slings & Arrows is one of the great shows of television’s New Golden Age, and one of its least known. It’s a tragedy, in that such a treasure of art and entertainment has in effect lain dormant, and all who have not watched it are so much the poorer for it. But we may still be captains of our fate!
Just three seasons long, it’s as funny a comedy and as intense and touching a drama as anything else in the last decade, of a struggling small-town but big-name theatre company. The plots revolve around the business struggles of the group; the ever-hazardous current productions; the conflict between art and commerce; Shakespeare or musicals; the young and old actors; and the batty directors, one of whom is haunted by the ghost of his own old director. You don’t need to like Shakespeare or theatre to love S & A, because it is, above its subject and setting, hilarious, smart and well-executed. The writing is spectacular, both in season-long plotting and in the mechanics and dialogue of each moment. The acting, well… this could be the greatest ensemble in TV history.
An amazing roster of Canada’s greatest actors of the last twenty years fill the screen and give the performances of their lives. Among them are stars like Don McKellar, Mark McKinney (Kids in the Hall, Drowsy Chaperone), Paul Gross (Due South, Men With Brooms, Paschendale), and a young and stunning Rachel McAdams (The Notebook, Midnight in Paris), but virtually every cast member is recognizable and brilliant. Peter Keleghan, perhaps most notably Ranger Gord from the Red Green show is spectacular every time on screen. Colm Feore and Sarah Polley show up for a season each.
The show brings across scenes of Shakespeare in a uniquely meaningful way by providing a context (usually a parallel story in the current storyline) with pre-emptive explanation of the scenes and soliloquies. For example, Paul Gross, the theatre’s creative director gives an absurd course in Shakespeare Lessons for Businessmen. In one scene, convincing a shy Bob Martin (Drowsy Chaperone) that he can pull off Macbeth, Gross delivers an explanation of the Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow soliloquy that is itself powerful, dramatic and beautiful. When Martin then gives the actual soliloquy it’s doubly effective. (Fast forward this clip to 2:56 for it).
So, why are we talking about all this? Because Slings & Arrows has recently been brought back by Neflix, and has been receiving some overdue praise in the American and international press. Check here and here for examples.
We all have a second chance. Slings & Arrows is, in many of its tangled plots, a story of redemption: For Gross and McKinney’s characters, for the aging heroin addicted King Lear in Season 3, for the ghost, and for the theatre company itself. Now, Slings & Arrows offers us all that shot at redemption.