Cardinal

Misunderstand me if you choose.

The cop procedural is a well-worn and perennial path to success. Malevolence and violence are as much a part of good people as bad. Exploring the line between those of us who choose not to indulge in those menu items and those who do is the ultimate hook; our dark side is mysterious, and all the more so for being a readily harvested forbidden fruit.

Writers and their subsidiary backers know the universal appeal of easily digestible television death. Fascination with dark motives and the worst side of our nature will never subside. An animal capable of species destruction and introspection about such an event will survive only if constantly faced with the horror of which we’re all capable.

Canadian television shows follow the predictable path of most nationally-based productions. They are held hostage to a political context – in the border-defined sense – with story falling to secondary rank. They’re Canadian detectives, investigating a Canadian murder, in Canada.

Fair enough. If you’re a state-run place like Ontario or Quebec, or Australia or the UK, government power speaks. Promoting statist values comes as a condition of access to the money.

Contrast that old-style tv-making philosophy with the first season of Cardinal on Hulu. Different from other Canuck cop dramas from the off, there’s no little magic running as a thread through this show. Who cares about the plot? Watching Billy Campbell whisper his way around ever more horrific violence he cannot control could be a simple case of excellent acting. But it’s not. Something special is at work here.

Also at play are the peripheral elements of quality tv. Introductory scenes, introductory and incidental music, lighting, photography, direction; every little thing adds up to something. Oh, and the story.

Horror emanates from the association we viewers can make with the psychopath murderer and his betwixt cipher. The awfulness is portrayed as being far too close to reasonableness.

Let’s not bypass the power of Karine Vanasse. A stillness in the malestrom of horror, she has lines from the gritty god of realism, but delivers them with silky ethereality.

Cardinal, on Hulu.

GameFace

Hulu is the distant-third online video drug dealer, and deserving of that spot.

The big dogs are Amazon Prime and Netflix. Although a dispassionate observer would only separate them slightly by quality, consumers aren’t so discriminating. Which explains the recent publishing – on Hulu – of GameFace.

Presumably, the Brits chose Hulu because they were turned away by the first two: either that or Fox or a Fox friend had some part in the production. In any case, here’s an astonishingly recent UK production on American devices, a turn of events worthy of applause under any circumstances.

For those with an edge blunted by US bland-oh, anything that salts-up our viewing is welcome. Think of it as a vindaloo secreted in a menu of burgers; sometimes the change is enough.

Which is a very long way around to thanking Roisin Conaty for her show. Without hesitation, and with some surprise, the charm of her show is worthy of more approbation. The American version of this conceit is Difficult People, an almost unwatchable homo-correct and yet borderline brilliant show. GameFace channels the Pommy self-effacement part of our nature, an altogether more warm quality. For a first-timer, the imagination and inherent polish of the production is a treat.

Conaty’s unfiltered writing from the POV of a vulnerable ladette lost in red wine and lack of goals is a heartfelt antidote to overly-smooth scriptedness.

A warning for Roisin: less politics. Resisting the temptation to criticize current US politics might be difficult, but will lead only to good places.

GameFace, on Hulu.

Difficulties

Imagine a picture puzzle. It’s on a table, complete, but as you walk towards it, you note that the pieces don’t all fit together snugly. The end result is clear but the constituent parts look a bit doggy.

Difficult People on Hulu has an obvious conceit: New York Jewish woman pals around with gay best friend floating on a bed of pop-culture snark. Julie Klausner, the writer and lead actor, connects a loose federation of jokes and set-ups that create a cohesive whole until you notice the detail. Enter the dogginess.

After we understand the outline, too many gay set pieces begin to overwhelm everything else. Billy Eichner’s whining monotone drowns out his lines. Snappy zingers could (and I imagine the writers feel should) balance his lovelorn self-pity, but one ends up tuning out both to focus on…well, anything else.

Klausner gives herself some funny moments – one in particular being an adventure into questionable taste in Hoboken – but in general she’s more amusing acquaintance than rapier wit.

Because of that, the show’s overarching feel is that of gently entertaining pastime rather than destination viewing. Perhaps that’s what they’re aiming for; a docu-snicker at big city single/gay life with a few sheathed barbs for interest.

Performances of note include that of James Urbaniak and Andrea Martin, as Klausner’s shack-up stud and mother, respectively. Urbaniak has only two-dimensional lines with which to work, but manages to be both comic and sympathetic. Martin is blessed with some of the best material and the ability to work with it.

People’s singular failure is an inability to create laugh-out-loud moments. That’s a shame.