Friday, September 25, 2009

NYTVF '09: Durham County

Canadians have a reputation for being peaceful and polite, yet hockey is their national game. That hidden aggression lurking beneath the seemingly placid surface of our northern neighbors is what Ion Television’s Durham County (trailer here) is all about. Following in the tradition of Twin Peaks (but without the giants and dwarves), things are not as peaceful as they seem in that suburban community, as quickly discover in the first episode, “What Lies Beneath,” which had a special screening last night at the New York Television Festival.

Previously known as the Pax, Ion’s name change was part of a rebranding effort to make the network more attractive to younger, hipper audiences. Already a hit in Canada, the noirish Durham is certainly part of that effort. After the death of his partner and his wife’s bout with cancer, Toronto cop Mike Sweeney moves his family back to his boyhood hometown. Unbeknownst to him, he buys a house right across the street from his high school nemesis Ray Prager.

Though the two rivals initially agree to bury the hatchet Prager still seems a little off, in an unsettling way. Rather than offering support and encouragement, he has nothing but contempt for his literarily inclined teenaged son. As it turns out, he might also be implicated in a ritualistic murder, but it is hard to judge the extent of his involvement due to the shrewdly fragmented editing and camera work. Still, by the end of the first episode, it is safe to say Prager is definitely bad news.

Based on “Beneath,” it seems the series will be quite moody and perhaps even a bit graphic—not at all Pax-like. As Sweeney, Hugh Dillon already shows an intense screen presence, completely looking and sounding the part of a decidedly imperfect police officer. It is hard to adequately judge the rest of the cast from the initial episode, but there no glaring miscues in “Beneath.” Ultimately, episode one does its job, raising several intriguing questions.

In addition to premieres and showcases, the NYTVF continues its pilot competition screenings. Of the programming blocks, the animation showcase is quite strong. God & Co. (trailer here) features some recognizable voice talent (Bob Balaban and Jonathan Katz) and some legitimately funny dialogue, much of it improvised. Stylistically, Elliot Cowan’s The Stressful Adventures of Boxhead and Roundhead (trailer here) was far and away the most striking pilot, but considering its somewhat surreal nature, it is difficult to imagine it on any commercial network. Still, it is a richly inventive piece (actually consisting of two short shorts) that ought to help establish Cowan as an emerging talent to watch.

Durham County airs Monday nights on Ion. The animation block screens again tonight at NYTVF, with the festival concluding tomorrow night (9/26) with the awards presentation.