Friday, April 4, 2008

Farce's Long Fade To Black Begins Tonight

Tonight marks the season finale of Air Farce Live (CBC, 8 p.m.). The hour-long special will be a little more special tonight given the surprise announcement this week that the series is bowing out next New Year's Eve after one more half season of 11 more episodes.
I'll be in the bleachers tonight and expect to be joining in on a standing ovation for a Canadian comedy tradition that will have lasted 16 seasons in television. Farcers' Roger Abbott, Don Ferguson and Luba Goy have been together much longer, making people laugh for 35 years, dating back to the debut of The Royal Canadian Air Farce on CBC radio in 1973.
Can't blame Abbott and Ferguson, who have carried this show on their backs for years, for wanting to wind things down now that they have entered their 60s. If Red Green lodger Steve Smith gets to go to Florida or where ever every winter, well, what the hell. Abbott, Ferguson and Goy have earned a rest too. I still say CBC will have a very hard time launching anything new on a Friday night that will come anywhere close to the 700,000 or so who watch Farce every week. Air Farce: The Next Generation could have lasted for years.
There have been some comments in the press and in blogs that it was time to stick a fork in Farce anyway, that their day had passed and that the series had become old fashioned. "Not the chicken canon again," critics moan, unaware that the howler is only hauled out twice a year (including tonight, where maybe it should be aimed at Abbott and Ferguson themselves for ending the show).
These people haven't seen the show in a while, especially this season, when producer/performers Abbott and Ferguson took on the challenge of a weekly live sketch series, keeping their barbs more topical and up to the minute than The Rick Mercer Report or This Hour Has 22 Minutes, both of which tape days before they broadcast.
The contributions from the younger troupers, Jessica Holmes, Craig Lauzon, Alan Park and Penelope Corrin, has added a welcome edge to the Farce foolishness in the last few years and transitioned it away from the mom and pop Doughnut Shop sketches that did get a little stale and doughy toward the end. Those quirky little "Farce Films" (one tonight features Lauzon and Ferguson in a cautionary tale of back yard rinks) added a whole other layer to the show, as did several sharp bits of animated satire. Park, by the way, was goofing on Barack Obama long before Fred Armisen at Saturday Night Live got into the act. (Mind you, the U.S. writers strike knocking SNL off their air for three months may have had something to do with that.)
Having attended many studio tapings over the past several years, I'll miss everything about Air Farce. I love the live TV feel, the sight of a crew snapping a set into place in 30 seconds, cameras wheeled into place, the cast emerging from a frantic costume change and a drive by make up attack. These men and women were professionals, real troupers, steeped in a tradition as old as vaudeville but as relevant as SNL.
Plus, when you sit in the bleachers, you see up close how much they love what they do, which is put on a show. Goy in particular just lights up in front of a studio audience, chatting up the front seats between set ups and working bits into something as routine as an off camera exit.
Hard to imagine Abbott not spending his Friday nights warming up a crowd by asking people in the bleachers what town they came from or giving a shout out to some group in from Winnipeg or Dartmouth. He and the others traveled all across Canada (especially in the radio days) putting on shows in rinks and stadiums. They know how to play to the regions, making sure there is something for Saskatchewan to laugh at in every show as well as Owen Sound and Montreal. Once they hang it up, it may be quite a while before anybody will ever care like that again.
When Saturday Night Live ends, and it will end someday (executive producer Lorne Michaels says it will be precisely when the costly show is no longer a profit centre for NBC, plain and simple), they just won't make shows like this anymore. Nobody will know how. Not the performers, the directors, the writers, the costumers, the makeup people, the cable pullers, the carpenters, the crew. That's a passing I understand--hell, they're saying newspapers will be gone in 2-5 years--but I'll mourn nevertheless. You need to see the joy in making a TV show to remind you why you fell in love with the medium in the first place.
The good news is you still have time to catch and celebrate that joy 12 more times, starting tonight.
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