Non-Canadian Canadian TV Shows

If you know of any other movies or TV shows, American, British, but also non-English language, with some sort of significant Canadian on-screen element (a principle character, etc.), e-mail me here. Since these aren't reviews per se, I'm happy to include entries on films and TV series I haven't seen myself.

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When it comes to TV series, the pickings are pretty scarce. There has rarely been an American or British TV series featuring a regular Canadian character, let alone being set in Canada. This despite the fact that many successful TV actors have been Canadian, and American series occasionally feature non-American characters -- in five Star Trek series, featuring characters who are supposed to be from all over earth, none has ever been identified as Canadian (despite the fact that both Capt. Kirk and Scotty were portrayed by Canadian actors) -- though in an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation a character mistakenly thinks Riker is Canadian. For the heck of it, I've divided this section up into two categories: series which had some sort of Canadian presence on a recurring basis, and series that had some sort of one-shot Canadian element.

A bit off the topic, but interesting to note: a series of very popular British radio serials from the 1950s and 1960s, lumped under umbrella title Journey into Space, featured a multi-national crew of space explorers including two Britons, an Australian, and a Canadian.

All in a Family (Hong Kong)

(1994-???) Hong Kong-made family sitcom about cultural and generational gaps when the eldest daughter marries an American and the son brings home a Chinese-Canadian girl. Apparently the Chinese-Canadian character was supposed to be Chinese-American, but Canadian actress Angela Chow convinced the producers to make her character Canadian...Wow! Give the lady the Order of Canada. I mean, when was the last time you heard of a Canadian actor in an American or British series/movie who fought to have his or her character made into a Canadian? Answer: just about never!

Any Human Heart (UK)

(2010) Mathew MacFadyen, Jim Broadbent, Hayley Atwell, Kim Cattrall.....Mini-series is a decades-spanning bittersweet dramedy about an Englishman, his life, loves, and misadventures -- which occasionally embroiled him with historical people and events. A generally involving, well acted production. At one point the story has him involved in the investigation of the (still unsolved) murder of Canadian millionaire, Sir Harry Oakes (not that the program explicitly says Oakes was Canadian).

Deadwood (USA)

(2004-2006) Gritty, HBO-made western set in the real life Deadwood circa the 1870s. Timothy Olyphant plays the nominal hero in this ensemble drama, playing real life Seth Bullock. Though Bullock lived his adult life in the U.S., he was born and raised in Canada -- and this is actually mentioned occasionally in some episodes! This is another cable series going for a "shock" effect with lots of profanity and vulgarity. But even if people really did talk like this back then (and I suspect no one knows, since it's unlikely to have been written down), it's highly unlikely that they would've used the exact same four letter words and euphemisms that are used today. The overt grittiness just seems self-conscious and affected and, frankly, silly, which is the opposite effect of what it's supposed to seem, which is natural and realistic -- although, the series does have a dark, wry sense of humour, so maybe the over-the-top profanity is meant to be funny. Still, "grittiness" aside, the series itself is worth sticking with for a few episodes, to see if its your thing, boasting some crackerjack performances (Ian McShane is a stand out as a local villain), effective atmosphere, and some unexpectedly poetic and oblique writing. Canadian actress Molly Parker is also in the cast.

Deception (USA)

(2013-) Serialized mystery-suspense drama about murder and intrigue involving a wealthy family, and the cop (Meagan Good) -- and former family friend -- who reintegrates herself (undercover) with the family to investigate. A recurring character, a tabloid reporter, is Canadian (the cops threaten to have her deported when she jeopardizes the investigation -- warning she can spend the rest of her journalistic career digging through Mike Myers' garbage. C'mon -- that's funny). Canadian Victor Garber co-stars.

How I Met Your Mother (USA)

(2005-) "Friends"-style sitcom about New York-based pals, starring, among others, Neil Patrick Harris, Cobie Smothers, Alyson Hannigan. Series regular Smothers is Canadian and in one episode (to explain why she hadn't gone home for the Thanksgiving Holidays) it was mentioned that her character was Canadian.

The Larry Sanders Show (USA)

(1992-1998) Garry Shandling starred in this (arguably pioneering) sitcom for American cable, going behind-the-scenes of a late night talk show and without a laugh track (some have suggested it anticipated The Newsroom). Part way through the series, Canadian Scott Thompson (of The Kids in the Hall) joined the cast; Thompson, who's gay, was asked to play a gay character...but had a little more trouble convincing executives to let him play a Canadian as well...but he did. Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor also starred.

Lost (USA)

(2004-) Fantasy-drama is a surprise hit about the survivors of an airline crash who find themselves stranded on a mysterious tropical island. Why "surprise" hit"? Because there have been plenty of lost/marooned series over the years, and with the exception of Gilligan's Island (a comedy) they don't usually do well. Why is Lost different? Hard to say, 'cause it ain't necessarily any better than many. The stuff on the island suffers from the usual implausibilities, and a sense that the writers will throw in mysterious, intriguing aspects (like a giant monster)...and then forget about it just as quickly, meaning it's of the old "two steps forward, one step back" school of plot progression. Where the series is different is by having each episode feature -- often cleverly plotted -- flashbacks to one of the characters lives just before boarding the plane, showing how they got to where they got (emotionally as well as physically). Slick and well-acted, it's certainly an O.K. series...but, I'd argue, so far not as ambitious or complex as the Canadian-made Amazon. The characters are supposed to be multi-national, and Canadian actress Evangeline Lily plays one of the leads (it's an ensemble, but even in an ensemble, some characters are more prominent than others) and, low and behold, her character was actually identified as Canadian! Subsequent episodes indicated she was lying but the audience didn't know that for a number of episodes...which means a large American audience happily tuned in, week after week, believing one of the leads was Canadian! And pundits claimed that would never happen! In another episode, another character claimed to be Canadian -- though he too was lying. Which is interesting and reinforces, not the belief the audience rejects Canadian references, but that there seems to be an anti-Canadian bias among Hollywood filmmakers -- I mean, you got a series with a multinaational group of characters (including Americans, Australians, Englishmen, Koreans, Iraqis and a crazy Frenchwoman) and the filmmakers would rather have characters pretend to be Canadian, than actually be Canadian. Go figure. The series has some moral problems, too, when, barely are the characters there a week, than they're already torturing each other for information...uh, memo to series' creator J.J. Abrams: Lord of the Flies was not meant to be a blueprint for creating an ideal island society! Also starring Matthew Fox, Naveen Andrews, Emilie De Ravine, Daniel Dae Kim, Terry O'Quinn, and others.

The New Avengers

Actually, the Canadian episodes of this were partly Canadian, so it's listed in my main Canadian reviews here.

Newsradio (USA)

(1995-1999)  Former "Kids in the Hall"-er Dave Foley starred in this sitcom set at an American news radio station. Although his character was initially introduced as an American, part way through the series' run it was revealed he had lied...and was really Canadian.

Northern Exposure (USA)

(1990-1995) Rob Morrow, Janine Turner, Barry Corbin and others starred in this quirky, then-popular, comedy-drama about a big city doctor who reluctantly takes a job in rural Alaska and encounters the various eccentric inhabitants. Apparently the sexy young wife of the bar owner was supposed to be Canadian, and there's even an episode where she goes home for a visit. Thanks to an e-mailer for this one.

Sergeant Preston of the Yukon (USA)

(1955-1958)  Richard Simmons starred in this adventure series about a mountie and based on an earlier radio show.

De Zomer van '45 (Dutch)
a.k.a. Summer of '45

(1991)  Mini-series following the lives of two Dutch girls at the end of the war who have affairs with Canadian soldiers and the repercussions when they become pregnant. One, whose lover died, and the other, whose lover returns to Canada, intending to bring her over once he's made some money, but complications arise when he meets a young Canadian window. Despite my kind of drab description, this was a genuinely compelling, dramatically powerful saga, in a mix of sub-titled Dutch and English (for those leary about sub-titles, a surprising amount of this was in English). What's depressing is how Canadian this series was. Canadians are raised with the belief that, no matter what the rest of the world thinks of us (dismissing us as nebbishes and nobodies) in Holland we're remembered as veritable super-heroes who liberated them from the Nazis. I don't know if that's true, or whether a Dutch person might shake his/her head and say, "huh?", but that's the mythology in Canada (and is generally confirmed by Dutch people, including someone who signed the Guestbook). So this series played upon a bit of shared Canadian-Dutch history, and it featured Canadian actors in the Canadian roles (including Christianne Hirt as the prairie widow) and Canadian locations. So why's that depressing? Because apparently the Dutch producers tried to interest Canadians in jointly producing it...and were turned down. That's right. This very good (better than a lot of Canadian mini-series that come to mind), very Canadian mini-series couldn't find a Canadian partner, presumably because Canadian producers were too busy making movies set in the United States starring American actors! As Charlie Brown would say: "Good Grief!" Eventually it aired in Canada on the CBC. It's been a while since I saw it, but I think it may've been 6 hour long episodes. I think.

Twin Peaks (USA)

(1987-1989)  This cult horror/comedy/drama/fantasy/soap opera was set in a town near the U.S.-Canadian border, so bad guy Canadians cropped up occasionally. Canadian actors in the cast included co-star Michael Ontkean, and supporting players Don S. Davis (as a General) and Kenneth Welsh as a homicidal ex-F.B.I. agent.

UFO (British)

(1970) Live-action British series by Gerry Anderson (best known for his super-marionation puppet series) about a covert organization fighting off UFO attacks on earth. According to one e-mailer, in the French-dubbed version of this series, one of the regular characters is frequently identified as Canadian...anyone know if that's true in the original, English language version? As well, apparently one episode had a UFO crashing in Canada.

Wiseguy (USA)

(1987-1990)  TV series (filmed in Vancouver, Canada) about an undercover F.B.I. agent (Ken Wahl), it had an unusual format of doing series within series. That is, for seven or eight episodes, the story would be set in a particular milieu (the clothing business, the record industry) with the hero working to bring down a particular mobster, then the series would switch to a new villain and location. Most of the storylines were set in the United States. However, in the 2nd half of the first season the cop spends many episodes trying to bring down brother and sister mobsters played by Kevin Spacey (before he became famous) and Joan Severance, anchored off the coast of British Columbia. Canadian Jim Byrnes co-stared throughout the series as "Lifeguard".

Guest Appearances

Barney Miller (comedy USA) - a mugging victim is Canadian, leading to jokes with the victim claiming she must have been an obvious target, so clearly a foreigner.

Bionic Woman (drama USA) - 2007 remake of the 1970s series about an average woman with robot parts recruited by a covert American spy agency. In one episode, a sub-plot has her playing body guard to the spoiled daughter of a Canadian arms manufacturer. The series itself may be filmed in Canada (certainly the arms manufacturer was played by a Canadian actor -- Malcolm Stewart)
Boston Legal (drama USA) - Comedy-drama about the various, not wholly ethical, lawyers at a Boston law firm. In one plot thread in an episode, series principals James Spader and William Shatner go fishing in B.C. The episode plays with some environmental themes and wraps up with a scene of the two characters in a Canadian court room (with legal robes yet)! In real life, Shatner was born in Canada.
Chicago Fire (drama USA) - Or: "Emergency: The Next Generation", being a drama about a Chicago Fire department, mixing daring rescues with soap opera drama (and despite my flippancy, it's actually pretty good). In one episode, a comic sub-plot has a couple of Canadian firemen visit the station as part of a work exchange, arousing the ire of one of the regulars who, it turns out, once had a bad experience in Canada. Funnily, the show has him recognize their nationality by their accents...yet no one making the episode realized that Canadians usually pronounce lieutenant as "leftenant". They also refer to the "commonwealth of Canada" -- huh? Though a Canadian would just refer to "Canada" (no accessories) if they wanted to emphasize the exoticness, they could've had them say the "Dominion of Canada."
CSI: Miami (drama USA) - Successful spin-off from the hit "CSI: Crime Scene Investigators". Apparently in the second season opener, the characters investigate two murders, including of a Canadian model, leading to the involvement of the Canadian government. And, apparently, the Canadians were the good guys!
Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (comedy USA) - the inventor hero meets and aids a debonair Canadian super-spy, ala James Bond -- actually, this may be a Canadian series. I'll have to check that.
Law & Order (drama USA) - a Canadian woman flees back to Canada, and the heroes work to have her extradited but face the problem that the Canadian government wants a guarantee she won't face the death penalty. Canadians like to think of themselves as being buddy-buddy with Americans, so when American movies or TV shows take a nasty attitude to Canada, Canadians assume it's all in fun. I think that's a little naive. Case in point was this story, in which Canada seemed to be portrayed as the "evil, foreign empire" even to the point of the protagonists making some odd, derogatory claims about Canada. Admittedly, I've never been impressed with Law & Order (the series where no crisis can't be solved before the next commercial break). Still, there you go. Canadian actress Jill Hennessey was a regular for a few seasons.
The Lone Gunmen (comedy-drama USA) - An episode where the heroes, in a minor sub-plot, end up tracking a bear poacher to a secret meeting in a Vancouver warehouse. Filmed in Vancouver, three of the stars of this light-hearted X-Files spin-off (see below) are Canadian.
MAD TV (comedy USA) - This sketch comedy series was inspired by the popular comic book, though really it's just a variation on Saturday Night Live. Canadian Dave Foley guest starred in one episode and delivered a very funny, absurdist monologue acknowledging his Canadianess and pointing out differences between the US and Canada ("Americans are ruled by a president...Canadians are ruled by a small boy with super powers").
Murder Rooms: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes (historical-mystery U.K.) - A series of TV movies -- mainly fiction, but inspired by the fact that the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, had been the assistant to Dr. Joseph Bell (played by Ian Richardson), a part time police forensics consultant who Doyle himself claimed had been the model for Holmes. In the first of the movies (aired under the title: "Dr. Bell and Mr. Doyle: The Dark Beginnings of Sherlock Holmes") a pivotal supporting character is from Canada...though the filmmakers themselves seem a bit muddled about the difference between Canada and the United States, making references that are more clearly American than Canadian (perhaps because the real life person did live in both countries).
Murder, She Wrote (drama USA) - at least three episodes. One, set in Quebec, seemed suspiciously like they had intended to make it British, but thought it'd be easier to set it in Canada. All the guest stars were British and it's pretty...awkward. Maybe to apologize, they did a subsequent episode set at the Calgary Stampede that was much more authentically Canadian. Another episode (brought to my attention by a friendly e-mailer) involves Native Indian rights in B.C. -- guest starring Canadian actor Graham Greene.
Out of Order (comedy-drama USA) - Made-for-cable (and you know what that means) drama about a screenwriting couple. In one episode, the lead (Eric Stoltz) is briefly in Canada to oversee a movie he wrote. That's one of the few times a Hollywood production has, in the narrative, acknowledged that lots of Hollywood movies are shot in fact, Out of Order itself is filmed in Canada, with some Canadian actors cropping up in small supporting parts.
Saturday Night Live (comedy USA) - a sketch about America being conquered by Canada. SNL producer Lorne Michaels is Canadian.
The Saint (drama British) - 1960s series starring Roger Moore as Simon Templar, the globe hopping debonair crime fighter of the shady background. In the episode "Judith", Templar is in Montreal trying to prevent a tycoon from cheating his inventor brother. Julie Christie was one of the guest stars in the episode (putting on a North American accent).
The Simpsons (comedy USA) - Long running animated sitcom has thrown in a few Canadian jokes from time to time. In 2002, an episode had the Simpsons come to Toronto so that Bart could pursue his girlfriend. The episode was heavily -- I mean heavily -- hyped in Canada, getting cover spots on TV guides and everything. Yet when the episode aired, the Canadian sequence amounted to about 5 minutes of screen time! Doh! (as series regular Homer would say). Not one of the series' better episodes (kind of meandering and episodic), nonetheless there were some amusing gags. In the 2004 season, another episode has Homer trying to bring cheap Canadian prescription drugs into the U.S. -- a little more biting and political than the previous Canadian-themed episode.
Six Feet Under (serio-comic drama USA) - Edgy, critically acclaimed HBO series revolving around a family who runs a funeral parlour. In its final season, one of the supporting characters hires a Canadian nanny (for one episode), who is portrayed as kind of flakey and a little too guilelessly nice (inviting a homeless man to the house for lunch without asking her employer).
South Park (comedy USA) - Kyle's little brother is an adopted Canadian orphan. And in another episode, the kids come to Canada (done as a Wizard of Oz parody).
Suits (drama USA) - Legal drama about a high priced firm (the hook being the firm has a major secret that could see them all disbarred -- one of the characters, though a legal eagle, didn't actually graduate from law school!) In a 3rd season episode a couple of characters have a brief meeting in Toronto. Why -- isn't really clear. Since the series itself is shot in Toronto, perhaps the cinematographer had just been pestering the producers to let him use the skyline in a shot (the scene is shot from a low angle to show off the buildings). One of the series' stars -- J. Patrick Adams -- is Canadian.
Tarzan (adventure USA) - a short-lived 2003 reinterpretation of the Tarzan saga in the "Smallville" mould, set in New York with Jane (Sarah Wayne Callies in her first major role) a police detective. In one episode, a guy she's investigating is from Toronto (hence why his priors don't immediately show up when she does a background check) -- the clue? He uses Raptor (the Toronto basketball team) as an internet handle. The series was filmed in Toronto (and I think Callies actually has a Canadian connection -- even later making her home in B.C.) Just as an aside: this was a series which I kind of dismissed when I saw one or two episodes but, later, long after it was cancelled, I watched the whole series...and actually dug it a lot more, particularly if you view the 8 episode run less as a series, and more like a "mini-series", with a developing story arc that runs through them. Worth seeking out and giving a second look.
That 70s Show (comedy USA) - Some of the characters go up to Canada to buy some beer, but end up held at customs by some overzealous Mounties (played by Canadian actors -- and SCTV alumni -- Dave Thomas and Joe Flaherty). Everyone even ends up singing the Canadian national anthem (and doing a fine job of it, too)! Series regular, Tommy Chong, is Canadian.
The West Wing (drama USA) - Considering that Canada is the US' neighbour, biggest trading partner, and military ally (including the bi-national NORAD), it's perhaps curious how little presence Canada has had in this popular drama about life in the American government. Particularly since the series' president -- an intellectual and Pulitzer Prize winner (played by Martin Sheen) -- seems modelled more after some Canadian prime ministers than he is after any American president. One might even say Canada was being conspicuously ignored for the first few seasons. However in its third seasons it threw in a few minor references and one major one. In one episode, there's a humourous sub-plot where one of the regulars, secretary Donna, discovers through a quirk of border re-evaluation, that she's really a Canadian (though her American citizenship is re-instated by episode's end). This leads to a climactic scene where the Canadian flag is hoisted during a party and the Canadian national anthem is sung. Another joke sub-plot in a later season has a border clash between yahoos threatening to escalate into an international incident. Yeah, the West Wing people seem to see Canadian as fodder for jokes and buffoonery but, given the undercurrents of xenophobia in the series, I suppose Canadians should be grateful they aren't taken more seriously by the filmmakers. Canadian Gary Farmer guest starred in one episode as an Indian Chief seeking a meeting. Other Canadians have cropped up in minor parts (I seem to recall Cameron Daddo and Barbara Eve Harris in different episodes, to name two).
The X-Files (drama USA) - has featured more than one foray onto Canadian soil (it is a global conspiracy, after all). Though no significant character has ever been Canadian, the early seasons of this cult series were filmed in Canada and many of the pivotal actors have been Canadian -- particularly in the case of parts that started out minor but grew in importance, such as The Smoking Man (William B. Davis) and many of the others involved in the series' conspiracy sub-plot, like Krychek (Nicholas Lea), and Laurie Holden (can't remember her character's name) as well as good guys the Lone Gunmen (see above). One episode, which featured a shooting at a Vancouver chess tournament, was awkward. The crime takes place on Canadian soil, but next thing you know, the F.B.I. has the villain in custody -- how'd that happen, eh?
Zero Hour (drama USA) - part of the genre of serialized mystery-thrillers (that tend to be ill-fated when it comes to ratings -- and this was cancelled after three episodes!), this one from the more outlandish end of the spectrum, starring Anthony Edwards and involving secret societies and globe hopping intrigue that ties back into Nazi-era experiments. In the first episode (and spilling over into the start of the second) the American characters' follow one clue into the Canadian arctic -- one of the few (possibly first?) times Nunavut has been referenced in an American TV show.

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