"All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players . . ." William Shakespeare
Normally it's a clich to start a review with a quote from The Bard, but with Slings and Arrows it's practically required. Despite the contemporary setting, Shakespeare is essentially a main character. Not a scene goes by without a mention of, an allusion to, or a quotation from the playwright himself. This is television's ode to Shakespeare, and a beautiful one at that. The best part about the show however, is that you don't need to have read a word of his works to enjoy the series. While it's true that familiarity with his plays is rewarded throughout the series, the fundamental core of the show can be appreciated by anybody.
The show depicts a Canadian Shakespeare troupe struggling to keep their personal drama from affecting their stage drama. It does this without ever verging into melodramatic territory, and this is where the success of the series lies: in its effortless ability to highlight the subtle theatricality of life, and the profound and human experiences the theater provides. This is also a show about people stuck inside a profession that they love, even while it consumes them whole. Their biggest accomplishments in life are just a collection of fleeting moments that are over before they even begin . . . much like life itself. Also like life itself, the show is filled with plenty of humor, and rivals even some of the best comedies at times.
The talent is excellent across the board, but the show's leading man is the real gem of the series. Paul Gross stars as Geoffrey Talent, a somewhat mentally unstable washed-up theater actor who hesitantly returns to his old theater troupe. Outside of the protagonist however, Slings and Arrows knows "there are no small parts," because every character gets their moment to shine within a given episode, and just about all of them receive a satisfying ending by the time the show ends. With only three short seasons (six episodes each), it's hardly time-consuming, and is more rewarding than most network dramas that lasted over 100 episodes.
Having in the past three weeks watched all three seasons of "Slings & Arrows" on DVD, I can say without question that this is one of the best shows of any kind I have ever seen. From the brilliance of the writing to the beauty of the acting, this show is television of the highest quality. It manages to be very funny, often darkly so, as well as terrifically moving. There is not a false note in any of this series' eighteen episodes. And it is the rare example of a show that just gets better with every episode. The first season sets a high bar, and each succeeding season clears that bar with ease. The final season, in which artistic director Geoffrey Tennant tries to direct his dying acting idol in "King Lear," is truly magnificent. The entire cast is extraordinary, especially Paul Gross as Tennant, Martha Burns as leading actress Ellen Fanshaw, Stephen Ouimette as former director and now ghost Oliver Welles, Susan Coyne as administrative assistant Anna Conroy, and Mark McKinney as general manager Richard Smith-Jones. And the writing, by regulars Coyne and McKinney as well as Bob Martin, who appears briefly in the first season, is pitch-perfect. If you've never seen this show, I highly recommend it.
I don't watch sitcoms on TV, not any of them and I haven't for several years. They're all a boringly similar substrate that needs to take advantage of lowest-common-denominator humour to "succeed".
"Slings and Arrows" was wickedly original in its concept, brilliantly daring in its presentation, hilariously funny-slash-poignant in its content and just a "who's who" of Canadian talent. And I do mean talent. Paul Gross and Martha Burns as regulars and then in and out of "New Burbage" flitted the likes of Rachel McAdams, Sarah Polley, Colm Feore, Geraint Wyn Davies, Peter Keleghan...and the list goes on.
Over the top storylines about the "creative half", but really, really good comedy.
Slings & Arrows follows the triumphs, tragedies and antics behind and in front of the curtain at the fictional New Burbage theatre festival. Each year New Burbage (a fictionalized version of Ontario’s Stratford festival) puts on a different Shakespearian play, Hamlet in the first season, MacBeth in the second and finally King Lear. You don’t have to be an English major to enjoy it, but Shakespeare lovers and drama geeks will get an extra kick out of it. The show was created by Mark McKinney (from The Kids in the Hall), Susan Coyne and Bob Martin; and the starring cast is a who’s who of Canadian television actors sure to inspire many games of “what have I seen that guy in?” The hunky Mountie from Due South, Paul Gross stars as actor Geoffrey Tennant, who returns to the festival now that he’s nearly bankrupt after having a nervous breakdown playing Hamlet seven years earlier. Back at New Burbage, Geoffrey returns to acting and acting up. He takes over for director Oliver Welles (Steven Ouimette) after Oliver falls over drunk and is run over by a truck of hams. Oliver begins to haunt Geoffrey much like the ghost of Hamlet’s father, only snarkier. Season one also stars Gross’s real-life wife Martha Burns as his former flame actress Ellen Fanshaw, Mark McKinney as Richard Smith-Jones, a scheming festival manager looking to sell out, and Rachel McAdams as a young ingénue actress as life quickly imitated art and McAdams herself became well known. Season 2 features Colm Feore (who played the title role in the CBC movie Trudeau) and Geraint Wyn Davies (who played the vampire detective in Forever Knight) as an actor playing MacBeth, directed by Geoffrey, which of course, doesn’t go exactly as planned. Season 2 plays Sundays at 9 pm on Showcase. Season one and two are available on DVD.
i've only just seen season 1 of "slings & arrows" on dvd. it has enthralled me right away! to be honest i was mainly interested in seeing paul gross again (i'm huge fan of his and of "due south") but this show has to offer so much more! it has a most brilliant cast, it is very funny, at times even eccentric but then again very tragic and touching.
i just loved the scenes between geoffrey and oliver, the vulnerability and madness added to geoffrey's character, the wonderful love story between kate and jack, the evilness of holly, the self-centredness of claire and darren nichols, the manipulability of richard, geoffrey and ellen finally growing closer again, the sensitive way geoffrey explains the characters to his cast and i have finally discovered the beauty of the words of william shakespeare (not being a native speaker they are not part of the things i heard or read at school) ... i guess there won't be much of a chance for this show being broadcasted where i live. poor switzerland, you won't ever know what you're missing! complement: i've seen season 3 as well in the meantime and loved it as much (or even more) than i loved season 1. you can read my review under "the promised end".
i'm really sad there most likely won't be any more seasons. i would have loved to see more of this most wonderful and brillant show that, judging from the amount of people who have been scoring or tracking it in here, strikes me to be a jewel among todays shows overlooked by a major audience ...
Slings and Arrows is another example of excellent programming from Canada.
The acting is great and the story line goes really well.
The second season had Geraint Wyn Davies and he was wonderful in the part of Henry Breedlove.
I would get the first season and watch it before tackling the second. The first season was Hamlet, the second was Macbeth.
Slings and Arrows goes behind the scenes of a fictional theatre festival that is most definitely not the Stratford Festival of Canada. *snicker* The new artistic director has a lot to deal with, including the ghost of his predecessor. Too much fun.
At times laugh-out-loud funny, and at other times amazingly touching, this show brings it all together and hands it to a cast that know their way around both light comedy and one of Shakespeare's most difficult texts (Hamlet in the first season, Macbeth in the second and Tempest in the third).
While it's definitely going to speak more to those who have spent some time in the theatre (and have at least a passing familiarity with Shakespeare), anyone who has ever dealt with co-workers, drama queens, and work crises will recognize the situations.
The title caught my eye as I was looking for something to watch one night. Slings and Arrows. Part of one of Hamlet soliloquies. I thought what is this about? Then I saw Constable Benton Fraiser all mussed, and I was hooked. I was an avid Due South viewer and got quite use to seeing Paul Gross impeccably groomed. Geoffry Tennant is as far along the spectrum as you can get, but Paul Gross plays him with the same intensity and believability. You can also see why Rachel McAdams is winning so many awards of late. It's the play within the play, life imitating art that works here. I don't know how accurate the portrayal of Canadian Theatre is, but the human interaction seems dead on. Oliver was obviously in love with Geoffry and slept with Ellen only to be closer to him. Sounds like something Shakespeare, or Aaron Spelling would write. From the insecure American action hero to the equally insecure scheming general manager there is enough interaction to draw in the most jaded of viewers. I don't know if this show is actually returning but I recommend this program to anyone bored with reality tv and the canned laughter of today's sitcoms.
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