Saturday, March 3, 2007


Here in the United States, we're two weeks into the third season of 'Slings & Arrows', which tells the behind-the-scenes story of a Canadian Shakespeare festival and the madmen, lovers, fools, and ghosts who work there. (The third episode airs tomorrow night on the Sundance Channel at 8 o'clock EST.)

Obviously the Canadians have seen it already, as have the TV critics with their advance screeners. So if you folks are reading this - which will be my thoughts on what may come - PLEASE don't write in to tell me what actually does happen.

(I'm sure Brent would never do that, but then again, maybe it's a good thing he's using a crappy computer right now.....)

Like I said, I'm only two weeks into this season, but I can already sense that this may be its last. Events both on the screen and off are giving me indications of that.

Let's deal with the boring stuff off-screen in the Trueniverse first....

At least two of the show's writers are involved in other projects that should have kept them too busy to work on a fourth season of 'Slings & Arrows'. Bob Martin (with Don McKellar, who plays Darren Nichols in the show) has written the hit Broadway musical "The Drowsy Chaperone" and he's playing the lead role of Man In Chair. (I just saw it last week finally and loved it. I probably should go see it again while Georgia Engel is still in the cast!)

Mark McKinney, who also played Richard Smith-Jones in the series, is working in Hollywood as a writer and actor on 'Studio 60'. Granted, that show seems doomed at the moment, but McKinney didn't know that going in. He might have expected a run as long as Aaron Sorkin's previous series, 'The West Wing'.

As for Susan Coyne, who created 'Slings & Arrows', I don't know what lies in store for her in the Trueniverse, but she's certainly setting up an exit strategy for the character she plays on the show. Anna is caught up in the fate of a troupe of Bolivian musicians stuck in Canada without Visas while their homeland is besieged with a coup.

I think I can see where that's going - Anna will fall in love with the main musician and throw in her lot with them, no matter what happens in Bolivia.

So now that I've broached the subject of the characters, let me throw out my ideas on what lies ahead for the others, at least as far as the major characters are concerned.

'Slings & Arrows' has always reflected aspects of the Shakespeare plays the company is performing, as well as some from the other plays as well. There have been deaths, betrayals, young love, madness, and men transformed into asses in love. So I think the three stages that "King Lear" goes through - betrayal and loss, madness, and death - are being played out with three of the main characters.

ELLEN FANSHAW - Her major sub-plot from last season was re-introduced in Week Two - she still owes the $27,000 in back taxes. In this aspect, I think she'll be the one most likely to be stripped of everything she owns and left with nothing, forced out of her home.

I also think it's through Ellen that we'll see Betrayal. We've been introduced to her friend Barbara, who's moved in with Ellen and Geoffrey while she plays one of Lear's daughters at the festival.

Barbara is going through "The Change" and she seems to have embraced the idea that this means she's entitled to sex with no strings attached.

I think she's going to make a play for Geoffrey, which just might make Geoffrey's "faulty unit" rise to its former glory. (Barbara certainly seemed keen on the idea that Ellen gets to sleep with her director.)

Such a betrayal could be considered "Shakespearean", and would fit in with the motifs and character types from the plays that have been throughout the series - the young lovers, the ambitious schemers, the pair of clowns, even a door porter, and of course, the ghost.

So if Geoffrey cheated on Ellen with Barbara, first off you've got a gender switch on 'Othello' regarding race. And a gender switch when it comes to who feels like they've been wronged as well.

The betrayal doesn't have to actually happen, either; it could all be in Ellen's mind, just as it was for Othello. Stripped of everything else, if Ellen thought she lost Geoffrey as well she could snap and perhaps even kill him in revenge.

It would certainly be in keeping with the world in which they've immersed themselves.

GEOFFREY TENNANT - That brings me to this fear I'm having with the third season - that Geoffrey may die.

The series has always wrapped the characters' "real" lives into the great Shakespearean themes of the plays they are doing, and we're already seeing that with Geoffrey. He feels his "madness" returning; he's showing signs of age what with his "faulty unit"... all steps along the way for a Lear-like finale.

We're being prepped as an audience for Charles Kingman (the actor hired to play Lear) to die - perhaps even right on stage as he conclued the opening night of "King Lear".

But I keep thinking we're being set-up for a bait and switch. Remember that scene from "Jaws" (another great Shakespearean drama - LOL!) when Richard Dreyfuss is approaching the boat with the hole in its side? As the audience, we're being prepped for the shark to show up through the use of music and allegedly through subliminal images.

So we're sitting there thinking "Shark... shark... shark..." and then WHAM! Head in the boat!

I think that could happen here.

"Kingman dies..."
"Kingman dies..."
"Kingman dies..."

And POW! Geoffrey!

It certainly would be Shakespearean as a finale.

At the same time, it would be a depressing way to end what has been such a light and magical series, despite the milieu surrounding the characters. Not every play by Shakespeare ended with everybody dying on stage; we may yet get one of those happy endings with lots of weddings. After all, that sub-plot of the younger members of the company, with its rivalry between the classically trained and the singers and dancers from the musical, must be leading somewhere - perhaps a third variation on the "Romeo And Juliet" theme?

(And I say "we may yet get" knowing full well that officially in Toobworld, these events have already played out one way or the other.)

OLIVER WELLES - Whether he's a real ghost or just a figment of Geoffrey's madness, I think Oliver is approaching the end of his time on Earth as a spiritual manifestation. He's already losing control over his abilities to haunt and he fades away at inopportune moments. And then there's the fact that he just wants to move on to whatever the next stage may be.

Oliver has taken an interest in Charles Kingman, who's only got two months to live due to cancer. It could be that as Kingman gets closer to that moment, he will actually be able to see Oliver. Of course, if those types of scenes only occur when Geoffrey is around, we'll never have an answer as to whether or not Oliver was real.

(As for me, I exhult in what Toobworld has to offer. For me, 'The Prisoner' actually took place; it's not an allegory. 'St. Elsewhere' was not the daydream of an autistic boy. And Oliver Welles is really a ghost. 'Newhart' was just a Japanese food-inspired dream, however. The final scene left no wiggle room for interpretation on that score, as was the case with those other two series' finales.)

RICHARD SMITH-JONES - Richard doesn't fit in with that progression of Lear's character as the other three do. If anything, he may be the Fool, even though he started out in the series as a pale copy of Maccers in his role as a plotter.

I don't know if Shakespeare ever dealt with the Peter Principle, but Richard has reached his level of incompetence. God loves an idiot, they say, and no matter what happens - even if the New Burbage Shakespeare Festival burns to the ground - Richard will float above it all.

I suppose if they must find something of "Lear" to unload on Richard, it could be blindness - more symbolic than physical, of course. Blind to the chaos bringing the company down while he's immersed in the musical production of "East Hastings".

Then again, it could manifest physically. Something's bound to go wrong with that new car of his, I'm thinking....

There's one more reason why I think 'Slings & Arrows' has run its course - what big Shakespearean play could they possibly do next as a central theme for the season? "A Midsummer Night's Dream" was just ending its run when we were introduced to New Burbage. And "Romeo And Juliet" followed The Scottish Play at the end of Season Two.

(They may also have mounted a production of "Antony And Cleopatra" already without us seeing it. Geoffrey did promise Ellen the chance to perform the role at the end of the first season.)

"The Tempest"? "The Merchant Of Venice"? "Henry V"? Personally, in my Toobworld fantasy of what happens when we can't see the characters in action (mental fanfic, I know), Geoffrey and Brian, whom we met in Season Two, reconciled their differences and Brian came back to work at the Festival. I like to think we could have seen him on the Second Stage, performing the role of Sir John Falstaff in "The Merry Wives Of Windsor". Sadly, the actor who played Brian, Leon Pownall, passed away last year. Hopefully, Brian lives on in New Burbage.....)

But with each season of 'Slings & Arrows', the central Shakespeare play has been a steady progression for the ages of Man - the indecision of Youth, the ambitions of Middle Age, and now the conclusion of Life in "King Lear". Honestly, where could they go from there?

So anyways.....
I doubt I'll hit the mark on most of those musings. In fact, I hope I'm wrong on some of them.

It must seem strange that I'm so obsessed with 'Slings & Arrows', to the point one would expect from a fan of 'Star Trek' or 'Doctor Who'. But when I first saw the show back in 2005, it turned out to be one of only three series that year in which I eagerly anticipated the next episode as soon as the current one ended. (The other two shows were 'Doctor Who' and 'Lost'.)

I guess when all is said and done, I may even be glad that this season could be the last one. Let it go out on a high note and not just fade away.

One month more and it'll all be over. Then again, it already is in Toobworld, as I mentioned. This is just a Caretaker catching up......



Brent McKee said...

No need to fear spoilers from me my friend - I haven't actually seen an episode of the show and certainly not a third season episode. The show appears on the Canadian equivalent of HBO (but more expensive), and only the first two seasons are available on a channel that is actually available to me.

Toby said...

Hi Ryan!

Glad to see you're still among us!

I don't know if you have anything like Netflix or the Blockbuster mail order rental service up there, but try to find the first two seasons of 'Slings & Arrows' on DVD. (I bought them because I knew that for me they'd be keepers.)

It's rare when a TV show makes me laugh out loud; rarer still when it can have me on the edge of my seat and then pumping the air with my fist with a cry of "YES!" as I jump up.

The final episode of 'Slings & Arrows' in its first season did that.

I hope you'll check it out.

Belinda said...

Am I allowed to say that some of your predictions are correct, and some are incorrect? Hopefully that will not give away too much.

Slings & Arrows is just a brilliant brilliant show. I'm in awe of the writing and, in particular, the actors.

Toby said...

I'm actually thankful I'm wrong on some of those predictions. Thanks for checking in, Brenda.

I'm in awe of the actors as well - and I also want to salute the casting directors for finding the perfect matches to the characters dreamed up by Coyne, Martin, and McKinney, right down to the smallest role!

Belinda said...

The casting is excellent I agree. I heard some interesting things about how they got the main people though:

- Martha Burns was the first person to be cast in the show, as she is good friends with Susan Coyne and Ellen was written for her, in effect.
- Paul Gross was only mean to have an advisory role initially. They gave him the script to read as he has worked at Stratford in many capacities and they wanted to make sure it rang true, from his experience. From his own words, he read the script and immediately begged Susan and Mark McKinney for a role in it.