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TV Quickshots #7

TV Quickshots

Bomb Girls (Global; 2012)

Canadian television is in a tough spot. With neither the funding capital or the related industry base of our southern neighbours, who continue to siphon much of the creative energy and onscreen and behind-the-scenes talent away from homegrown productions, Canadian original programming works very hard to finish a distant second, if not third or fourth, to American shows airing in the same slots.

Bomb Girls... and Stud

It can be frustrating as a viewer in this country, because we ought to able to tell our own stories with something approximating the creative verve and sheen that the United States tells its own. Unfortunately, often the core concept of a show is extremely strong and compelling, but the execution lags heartbreakingly behind. Witness Global’s six-part mini-series Bomb Girls, airing since the start of the year. The kernel of inspiration is, well, inspired: following Canadian Rosie the Riveters working in a Toronto-area munitions factory during the Second World War, there is ample potential for a keen examination of wartime social norms as well as critiques of the gender roles which were being inverted by women’s involvement in the war effort. Bundle these themes up in a sly revisionist period drama with the attendant nostalgic styles of speech and fashion, and you may well have a Canuck Mad Men in miniature.

But where Mad Men, like most successful television efforts, marries strength of concept and technical precision with intelligent writing and solid performances, Bomb Girls can’t get past its central points of interest into specific strengths. Both in thematic terms and in nuts-and-bolts dialogue terms, the writing is laughable, full of high-flown hagiography about “our boys” bravely fighting Hitler and saddled with clumsy and occasionally confusing slang (one business grandee made a comment about canaries in pews whose meaning and significance I missed entirely). The gender relations stuff is constantly sidelined into questions of blatant physical sexuality, steadfastly refusing to engage with any depth in the thornier negotiation of roles that occurs outside the bedroom (or, in one case in the premiere episode, a brick wall).

There’s a firm awareness of the class divide, too, but it reeks of lazy liberal moralizing, as the spoiled rich girl (Jodi Balfour) identifies with and yearns to be as “authentic” as the working-class factory floor girls. It’s enough to make one nauseous, as is her similar triangle with an earnest soldier and her upper-crust fiancé. Her desire to the “real” approximates the similar modern trust-fund yupster dilemma, but without an ounce of self-awareness.

But Bomb Girls‘ failure is not on the level of content but in the translation of that content, as mentioned. The dialogue is awkward and declamatory, straining to be zippy but falling short, and the acting can’t make up the gap. There is some interest in the relationship between factory supervisor Lorna (Meg Tilly) and her bitter war-wounded husband (Peter Outerbridge), but it’s shunted aside for the frantic travails of the young, all of whom are portrayed by actors of considerably lesser calibre than the careworn married couple. The resulting complete picture is painfully insufficient and undeniably second-rate. I want to believe that Canadian television can do better than Bomb Girls, if only marginally. But this time at least, it just doesn’t come together.

Categories: Reviews, Television
  1. January 21, 2012 at 2:30 pm

    Showcase’s Lost Girl is really coming into its own in its second season. I love the idea of Bomb Girls, but I want it to be more than what it is.

  2. January 21, 2012 at 5:27 pm

    Any thoughts on CBC’s Republic of Doyle? It is, at the very least, competent, and had a sneaky way of pulling me in last season.

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