Journal: News & Comment

Tuesday, October 12, 2004
# 11:26:00 PM:

Real grit

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Da Vinci's Inquest is the best drama Canadian television has produced, and one of the best such shows on television, period. What makes it great (rather than just very good) is not the plotlines, or the excellent cinematography, or even the characters, exactly. It's the way people behave on the show.

The program began in 1998 as a fairly routine police-coroner drama, with Nicholas Campbell standing out as excellent right from that first season, as the irascible Dominic Da Vinci. Already it was a cut above most Canadian fiction TV (which, on average, continues to have a patina of wooden cheapness to it, even when it's not cheaply done). Over the years, Da Vinci has become darker and more equivocal. Lots of things happen around the edges—there's a sense of the whole world extending beyond the frame, and what the characters do is part of that.

Da Vinci is almost the only TV program I can think of where people speak as they do in real life: they stammer, trail off, repeat themselves, go on unrelated tangents, and loop back into continuing conversations. Cops talk about the current case, and food, and their families, all in a row, but not to show how sensitive they are—rather, because that's what folks do when we're at work.

Or someone will start walking in one direction, then realize they should turn around because they forgot something, then think it's not so important and walk back the way they started. The incident goes by and vanishes, because it's not foreshadowing anything; it's just there. On today's episode, for a minute Da Vinci was distracted while talking to someone else, and we discovered it was because couldn't remember where he'd parked his car. Does that mean something? Probably not, but maybe—and we didn't find out tonight either way. The show doesn't have a title sequence anymore. Nor does it use its theme music until the end credits. Scenes are sometimes noisy, so you miss a chunk of dialogue because of a passing bus or train.

In letting its characters and its settings be real, Da Vinci goes far beyond its cop-show structure into something else. It feels like a long-running documentary with almost too much access to its subjects. It reinforces what you know: Some things don't get resolved, but with hard work some do. Bad people often suffer for their badness, but not always, and sometimes good people suffer too. A crappy day can be funny and sad at the same time. So can a good day.

The program is set in my hometown of Vancouver, showing the un-pretty side of this city. It's honest in that. It feels real, because there's reality in it. If you haven't watched it and you can find a broadcast, please take the time.


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