Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Trickster, on the CW

In the Southwest, the mythological trickster figure is usually a coyote or the flute-playing Kokopelli. Up in the Pacific Northwest, the trickster is a raven spirit. Not coincidentally, Jared Martin will be seeing a lot of those foreboding birds (amongst other visions). In fact, he might even be related to one, as the confused hero of Eden Robinson’s teen novel, Son of a Trickster, which gets the small-screen treatment in Michelle Latimer & Tony Elliott’s six-episode Canadian series [just plain] Trickster, beginning tonight on the CW (following its premiere at last year’s TIFF and subsequent run on the CBC).

Martin is a smart Haisla teen in Kitimat, BC, but he spends more time hustling for money at a legit fast-food job and selling his home-brewed pills. Even though he is still in high school, Martin is the primary support of his divorced parents: hard-partying mom Maggie and hard-luck dad Phil. Rather inconveniently, his mom owes three grand to her sleazy dealer and Martin just got cold-cocked for his stash and his cash. He only saw his attacker out of the corner of his eye, but it could have been his doppelganger.

Whoever it was, it also looks a lot like Wade, a former friend of his father, who has just blown back into town. There is something different about Wade—really different. He also claims to be Martin’s real father, which is hard to dismiss, given their resemblance. Martin is unsure how he feels about him, but his mother is decidedly upset. Her history with Wade is not just complicated. It is also violent and supernatural.

teen roots are easy to see, but the way it incorporates indigenous tradition and lore is both respectful and intriguing. There is a good deal of spell-casting and a fair amount of shape-shifting in Trickster, but the series always feels grounded in the difficult realities of high school life and the economically depressed Kitimat community.

As Martin, Joel Oulette broods hard, which makes him a convincing teenager. However, he is also terrific playing with and off Crystle Lightning, Kalani Queypo, and Craig Lauzon, as his mom, Wade, and his presumed father, respectively. All three of these relationships are smartly and compellingly developed. Lightning is a particular standout, taking absolutely no prisoners as the self-destructive and somewhat spooky Mother Maggie. The contrast between her mercurial mood swings and Queypo’s coolly calculating and ambiguously sinister Wade is quite effective.

It is also rather agreeable to see the friendship between Martin and his childhood friend, “Crashpad,” nicely played by Nathan Alexis. In the opening episode, we get the idea they had drifted apart for a few years, but Martin starts to renew their friendship, even before all heck breaks loose. On the other hand, his teen angst for Sarah, the hip indigenous activist placed with foster parents across the street is the kind of eye-rolling stuff genre fans over thirty would probably just as soon skip.

is interesting fit for the CW, but it notches a lot of their boxes: teens, paranormal themes, and a Canadian import. The young ensemble does some very strong work and the dark fantastical elements manifest in ways that maintain an atmosphere of mystery and uncertainty. Despite some teen excesses, it is very watchable. Co-showrunner Latimer generated some embarrassing Elizabeth Warren-style headlines for her disputed First Nations heritage claims, but viewers should not hold that against the show. Recommend
ed for fans of youthful-skewing supernatural television, Trickster premieres tonight (1/12) on the CW.