Monday, January 5, 2009

Big Expectations for CBC's Being Erica

There is a big, full page ad in today's Toronto Star promoting tonight's launch of Being Erica (9 p.m. on CBC). The network clearly sees this as their next breakthrough show. Having seen the first episode, it has the potential to be just that--or, as Rob Salem teased in a particularly punchy piece in last Saturday's Toronto Star, the next Being Sophie.
The series stars Erin Karpluk (Godiva's) as Erica Strange, a 32-year-old woman whose life is falling apart. Dumped at work and by her boyfriend, she's back in Hell, a.k.a. her parents house. "I'm suffocating under the weight of your collective disapproval!" she huffs after another tense time at the dinner table.
Along comes a magical therapist (Michael Riley) who asks her to make a list of all the things she regrets in her life. Before you can say "Peggy Sue Got Married" she's granted a chance to go back in time and fix the night she screwed up and got drunk at her high school prom.
I screened the pilot for a few friends and relatives. The women were all intrigued by the premise, but nobody was clamouring to see episode two.
The show is well cast. Karpluk is exactly right as Erica. It is a tricky role because she could easily come off as whiny and put upon. Instead, Karpluk refuses to play her as a victim, giving the character some spine and grit. The role also allows her to show some range playing Erica from 16 to 32. While Karpluk is no Toni Collette, the 30-year-old pulls it off.
That name, though--Erica Strange. We get it. Could you whack us upside the head any harder?
Riley raises the bar as "Dr. Tom." He is sufficiently eccentric (constantly quoting from everyone from Plato to Gen. Patton) yet real enough that you want to know more about him.
The fantasy genre has been a tough sell on network TV lately. Shows like Pushing Daisies, Wonderfalls, The Ex List and Journeyman have all tried and failed despite some decent reviews.
Still, the times should be ripe for escapist fare, especially one that is grounded in a reality many young men and women can relate to. There are plenty of unanswered questions in Erica's life, including what happened to her late younger brother. That gets dealt with in episode 11. Hopefully, this series will catch on well before that point, although Mondays at 9 is a tough timeslot. Being Erica will be expected to draw close to what The Border pulls in that timeslot, and better among young women.
Hopefully, the series will also have more fun with the back to the future premise. Erica's blast back to her 1990-ish dance allows for some music and fashion cues that could go a lot farther than they do in episode one.
The series was created and is written by Canadian Film Centre grad Jana Sinyor, an up and comer who cut her teeth on Degrassi scripts. She says she's lost count of the times she'd like to go back in time and do over stuff that she's done. That impulse should serve her well on this promising series.
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