Today marks the birth, in 1920, of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and so to mark the occasion I’m going to write about Due South.
Right now, any Mounties reading this may well be throwing up their hands in disgust. I apologise. I know that Due South is not representative of the methods or practices of the RCMP, and I wouldn’t want anyone to think I’m trivialising the work carried out by a respected law enforcement agency. But I can’t help it; Due South is one of my favourite TV shows and I want to celebrate it.
(I’d also be stunned if it turned out that any Mounties were reading this, but if you are, please leave a comment!)
Due South, which ran from 1994 to 1999, is the story of an upright Mountie who, after uncovering a Canadian conspiracy that cost the life of his father, finds himself exiled to Chicago, where he works with the local police force. Now, I’m aware that synopsis doesn’t sound great – even the cast admits that, when they first heard the pitch, they were reluctant to be involved, simply because it sounds, well, a little uninspiring.
Pitches can be deceptive. For instance, that one line description fails to mention that Constable Benton Fraser owns a deaf wolf. Nor does it mention that the ghost of his father regularly shows up to dispense largely unhelpful advice. It doesn’t mention that three of the supporting cops are called Huey, Dewey and Louis. And while it’s a culture-clash comedy, Fraser’s incredible politeness and dedication plays into every stereotype people have about Canadians when compared with Americans. Sure, Due South is a cop show, but it also fits into that small genre of shows where the use of stereotypes is less offensive laziness and more a calculated effort to embody the positive values everyone associates with a country - The Avengers (Steed and Mrs Peel, that is, not Captain America and Thor) is another good example, and there’s a strong current of it running through Doctor Who and The West Wing. Due South may be funny, but you don’t find yourself laughing at Fraser – you find yourself holding doors open and saying “thank you” a lot more. Because Due South makes being polite the path to awesomeness.
The show’s heart is probably the major component in its success. It’s interested in the little people – pizza delivery boys, department store Santas, struggling small businesses. Fraser becomes the hero of those who, in any other cop show, would be background extras. Like the politeness, this is a source of humour, but not the butt of jokes – while Fraser’s desire to help a random person on the street exasperates his partner, Detective Vecchio, it’s Fraser who’s played as correct, the moral centre of the show. The ‘little people’ are as deserving of respect, politeness and dignity as anyone else. It’s not an earth-shattering message, but it’s one that deserves more airplay.
Aside from the writing, the casting is also great. Paul Gross and David Marciano were fantastic as Fraser and Vecchio, the buddy-buddy core of the show. Honourable mention also goes to Leslie Nielsen, who not only plays up to his comedic talent, but also reminds us that he started out as a serious actor. This sort of show stands or falls on the charisma of the cast, and while Gross was not only a great leading man, he and his fellow actors managed to turn something they thought might have been stupid into somthing loveable and loved.
One final thought – Fraser’s uncanny ability to bring to mind a piece of random trivia that helps solve a case is attributed to his grandparents being librarians, a rarely mentioned but currently quite relevant piece of characterisation. Benton Fraser is awesome because he spends time in libraries. How can you not love this show?