There are a lot of televisions made in Canada these days and a lot of Canadian actors are busy, busy, busy. This does not mean that they are all recognized or that there is genuine recognition for great work.
These are very strange times on Canadian television, despite all the commotion. There isn’t much written about it in truly critical terms, and the way the industry honors work is just flawed. A look back at the nominees and winners in the acting categories for the 2021 Canadian Screen Awards is appalling: most of the nominations were for shows that have already ended (Kim’s convenience, Schitt Creek, Cardinal) or for the now disowned Trickster.
So this column today boils down to a short list of notable performances that I have seen, rated and admired. God knows I haven’t seen it all here, but this is a year-end list of great Canadian TV performances in 2021. As you’ll see, most of them are directed by women.
The 21 best TV series to air so far in 2021
First, Meredith MacNeill in Hard enough cases (CBC, CBC Gem). We all knew about MacNeill’s comedy talents since Show by Baroness von Sketch but his work in this wonderfully indescribable detective series was superlative and nuanced. Her character is a boss, a mother and, although sometimes confused, a very good cop. The moment in the opening episode where she says (to her new partner, black cop Kelly Duff, played by Adrienne C. Moore), “I am aware of my privilege and I am an ally!” was one of the highlights of the whole year.
Speaking of Hard enough cases, there was a great job by Katie Douglas on this show as a deceptive and cunning teenage girl. And Douglas was brilliant again in the Netflix series Ginny and Georgia, which was full of good Canadian actors. The underrated series also featured wonderful work by Sara Waisglass and Sabrina Grdevich. Hope they are all back for the upcoming second season.
Sofia Banzhaf essentially carried the enchanting satire The Communist’s Daughter (CBC Gem), a series that has now won so many digital festival awards that it has won the “Web Series World Cup” and earned a feature in The Hollywood Reporter. As teenage Dunyasha McDougald, Banzhaf plays the daughter of two married Communists, as she tries to fit into a new high school during the 1980s of the Reagan era. His enthusiasm is simply admirable. There is also a beautiful tour of Nadine Bhabha (from Letterkenny) as Jasmine, who tries to guide desperate Dunyasha to cool.
Then Bilal Baig and Supinder Wraich in Kind of (CBC, CBC Gem). While Baig has rightly received praise for her work as the ironic, dryly funny and charismatic Sabi, Wraich is simply brilliant as a sister, Aqsa, who has to maneuver between Sabi and their mother; she is the sleep star of this outrageously good and quirky series.
Pascale BussiÃ¨res stands out in Way above me (To really want to). The series is very unusual: a Quebec drama built like a detective series but in reality about social workers specializing in mental illness. As Dr Justine Mathieu, BussiÃ¨res has the most difficult role, as a mental health specialist who cannot diagnose his own feelings about a man brought to him for evaluation and eventual treatment. He is a real confrontational figure, drenched in melancholy, and we never take our eyes off BussiÃ¨res.
Florence LongprÃ© and MÃ©lissa BÃ©dard seduce in Can you hear me (Can you hear me ?, streams Netflix). Like Ada (LongprÃ©) and Fabiola (BÃ©dard), these two actors are the quintessence of working-class Montreal. They barely have a dime and thrive on sex, drugs and petty crime. Ada is the role of stage thief and LongprÃ© inhabits it with enormous strength. But Bedard has the most demanding role as a woman doing what she can to survive emotionally, especially in her relationships with woefully maladjusted men.
Last year around this time, I noticed the tremendous work of Brian Markinson and Jessica Matten, as the mismatched cops on Tribal (APTN) and, in the second season, they’re even better. Their two characters have evolved and this evolution is a delicate job for the actors. They do it with aplomb in another underrated but must-see Canadian drama.
Finally, the ubiquity of Tony Nappo (in Hard enough cases, Stray, The mysteries of Frankie Drake) is welcome. Nobody does better with the crispy but lovable guy, and he brings so much more to it.
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