Canadian television has brought few imports to American over the years, though those that have made it across the border have developed surprising rabid followings, i.e. SCTV, The Kids in the Hall, and Degrassi. Though these few successes have not done much to whet the American appetite for Canadian shows, cable channel SoapNet has begun to add the occasional Canadian soap/drama to its lineup of American daytime soaps and reruns of Beverly Hills, 90210, One Tree Hill, and The O.C. They began by broadcasting 2008’s elaborately trashy MVP (basically Footballers’ Wives with hockey), and last year ran the first season of Being Erica, a dramedy which plays more like a combination of Ally McBeal and The X Files than SoapNet’s typical programming.
The premise is this: Erica Strange (Erin Karpluk), a single Jewish Torontonian in her early thirties, is not happy with her life. She gets fired from her job, has strained relations with her family, and carries a torch for her married best friend. This all leads her to Dr. Tom (Michael Riley), a mysterious therapist who sends her back in time to work through her regrets. Each episode finds Erica hitting another on her list, from her parents’ divorce to her sister’s wedding to, ultimately, her brother’s death. These trips to the past usually feature some 90’s related fashion faux pas and cringingly misplaced references to Chumbawumba and Britney Spears. But the surprise is that it’s still good. Somehow this ridiculous premise becomes not only extremely watchable, but emotionally resonant.
Part of this success is due to the carefully drawn characters and their relationships. Erica is not, as one might initially think, a dizzy-neurotic stereotype in the mold of Friends. Her relationships with her parents, sister, and friend Katie are complicated, and their realism makes the show so genuine that the audience isn’t as concerned with the logistics of time travel. It’s also worth noting that Erica is a practicing Jew (her father’s a Rabbi), a fact that blends seamlessly into the show (one episode revolves around Erica’s Bat Mitzvah), and something we rarely see represented fully on American television. The only character that’s not quite up to snuff is Ethan, Erica’s milquetoast love interest who generates about as much heat on-screen as the icy Canadian tundra. But it’s inspiring, in a way, that the strongest characters on the show (and the strongest actors, led by the endearing Karpluk) are female.
The most affecting episode thus far was Being Erica‘s season one finale, in which Erica dealt with the death of her brother Leo. It’s these types of plotlines that give the show its weight. Leo’s death was there the whole season, rearing its ugly head just when we thought we could float away on a cloud of Ethan and Erica romance plots. Played by the expressive young (and might I say, dreamy, but ahem, young) actor Devon Bostick, Leo is a confused young man screwed up by his parents’ divorce. His death, though an accident, is the culmination of a year of discontent in the Strange household. So as not to ruin the dramatic heft of the episode for new viewers, I’ll just say that it’s a complicated plot that is somewhat resolved, but not as neatly as one might hope. Erica’s time travel is not supposed to change the events of her life; it’s supposed to change her perspective. It is, after all, therapy. It’s painful.
Which brings us to season two. Disappointingly, due to CBC budget cuts, this season will only feature twelve episodes. The first, “Being Dr. Tom” premiered last Wednesday and focused on the therapist’s mysterious past. It seems as though this season will go with a bit of a different angle (as many of Erica’s regrets have already been revisited), but hopefully it will keep showing the same warmth and commitment to character week after week. Not too shabby for a SoapNet show.
Being Erica season 2 airs Wednesdays at 10 p.m. on SoapNet.