Wednesday, December 30, 2009

NYE on TV: Hey, you! I’m talking to you, 2010! Yes, you! Bring It On!

So, it’s almost 2010 and that means the holidays are coming to a close and it’s back to the grind next week, unless you’re a federal Member of Parliament, in which case the party’s just getting started (you indolent so-and-sos).

For the rest of us, New Year’s Eve is a chance to say good riddance to 2009 and to welcome the new year. Out like a lion, in a like a lamb? If you’re planning on watching a bit of TV before the clock strikes midnight, CBC has a fun offering of holiday-themed NYE programming.

The venerable Royal Canadian Air Farce is back with an hour-long special at 8 pm. The ensemble’s usual suspects are in action, and the special’s guests include Mike Holmes, the Dragons from CBC's hit series Dragons' Den (pictured above), and skaters Jamie Sale and Craig Simpson ( first-ever winners of Battle of the Blades ). The Air Farce troupe can be counted on to offer a satirical and piquant look at ‘the year that was’ in 2009. This one’s a must for current affairs-and-news junkies.

Unfortunately, it was taped in advance of today’s announcement that the sailors (MPs) who run Canada are abandoning ship (the House of Commons) until March, robbing us all of a chance to see the Air Farcers skewer and hold our elected leaders accountable.

And for the first time, East Coast comedian Ron James brings viewers a New Years’ Eve Edition of his eponymous The Ron James Show, an hour that highlights the best of James’s comic skill.

Like the series itself, the special offers a nice mix of James doing stand-up and sketch comedy, a very difficult balance to manage. Some regulars, such as the animated Little Ronnie and the Mayor of the Politically Incorrect are on hand and in fine form. A reasonable amount of fun is had at the expense of everyone from the Virgin Mary to Boxing Day shoppers.

James’s series has gotten progressively stronger, smarter and entertaining through its debut season. It routinely earned about 700,000 viewers per episode.

The New Year’s edition “is a continuation of what we’ve been doing all season,” said James during a phone interview from Halifax, where he’s visiting family and enjoying his mother’s chowder. Apropos of that, he mentioned how proud he is that audiences seem to be embracing his animated, autobiographical “Little Ronnie” sketches.

Little Ronnie is featured in the New Year’s edition cracking-wise with a priest, no less. It’s a great example of how James’s comedy reflects Canadian culture and how it’s evolving. “It’s about a rapidly changing planet and how people (or how I) deal with it,” he says.

Unlike many comedians, James doesn’t shy away from exploring how societal changes manifest themselves and impact families. You can’t help but feel you’re sitting in James’s living room as you watch his sketches play out, especially those that touch on how family dynamics can heat to boiling during the holidays.

“You have to draw from your own well of experiences,” he says of the themes he explores. “I write from the heart, not the head,” he says.

Whoa...honesty and sincerity, what a concept! See, that’s how you ring in a new year. If we can’t find it in our politicians, at least we can find it on our airwaves.

Happy New Year!

Here's a peak at a Little Ronnie sketch that aired earlier this season.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Dragons Den: Gift of the Magi

Nothing says happy holidays like a group of wanna-be entrepreneurs shamelessly promoting themselves and their products to an already established group of entrepreneurs.

You’d be crazy to miss tonight’s Dragon’s Den, which features a pile of holiday-themed pitches and more-hilarity-than usual mixed in with the business of making money. If lovin’ Dragons is wrong, I don’t wanna be right.

As always, tonight’s episode features a little something for everyone. For those already feeling festive, there’s a cool Christmas tree stand with a built in watering element. For comedy fans, there’s a pair of sock-hat entrepreneurs who invite the dragons to invest in their Pook toques, a trendy winter hat (think sock monkey for the head).

For fans of after-school specials, tonight’s epi features a family with an innovative therapeutic slipper business called Cozy Soles. And for fans of sci-fi and adventure, there’s a theme-park developer who brings the dragons a stylized-marketing approach that’s a little bit Gene Rodenberry mixed with a whole lot of L. Ron Hubbard.

There’s no nativity scene to speak of, though you won’t soon forget the impressive and adorable 11-year-old kids who bring the dragons their invention, an impressive board game called Let’s Dance. If you watch the show regularly, you won’t be surprised which one of the dragons offers the girls a ‘gift of the magi.'

Dragons’ Den has proven to be the gift that keeps giving to CBC, thanks to high ratings and its charismatic entrepreneurs: Robert Herjavec, Kevin O'Leary, W. Brett Wilson, Arlene Dickinson and Jim Treliving. More episodes are in the wings for the new year. Until then, tonight’s episode manages to be both naughty and nice, just like the dragons themselves.

And look for O'Leary and Herjavec on ABC's Shark Tank when it returns in January.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Carry the torch, Class of 1989

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Massacre, the murder of 14 women at Ecole Polytechnique, an affiliate of l’Université de Montréal in Montreal on December 6, 1989.

The women were killed by a 25-year old man who left behind a suicide note blaming "feminists" for “ruining his life.” The killer shot 27 people, 23 females and four males, in what remains the deadliest mass shooting in Canada’s history. He targeted women, and young men who had helped their female friends, before turning his gun on himself.

The killer’s name was Marc Lepine, a handle he took as a teenager. His name at birth was Gamil Gharbi, but he changed it legally to distance himself from an abusive father. His upbringing was violent. He had failed at most everything he had tried, including gaining acceptance to study at Polytechnique. He left behind a “hit list” of prominent women he wanted to kill, including TV journalist Francine Pelletier.

He began his rampage by entering a classroom and ordering the male Engineering students, about 50 of them, to leave while he focused on the women, nine female students. He shot them, then moved on, firing at more women. One of the dead, Maryse Leclair, was found by her police officer dad. She’d been stabbed as well as shot.

It’s impossible to understate the horror of Lepine's actions. I was working nights at the Ottawa Citizen as the tragedy unfolded. I recall being shocked by the photos that came across the wire and news desk. One such image, taken by a Montreal Gazette photographer, showed a murdered girl slumped in a cafeteria chair. The photo became a symbol of the events and their stark horror.

In the days that followed, I recall thinking that the dead girls had much in common with my peers. They were young, most in their early 20s, studious, ambitious and hoping to make a go of it in a profession that didn’t always welcome women.

Coverage of the story became full of rancour and often divided along gender lines. Journalists argued - and still do - about whether or not Lepine’s actions reflected sexism in Canadian society. I still recall conversations with friends, other ambitious women in their early 20s, where we expressed our astonishment that so many were denying what was patently obvious to us: Lepine’s rampage was a gender-based hate crime.

I didn’t then and still don’t understand the irrational vitriol of those who argued otherwise – especially those who deny altogether the existence of male violence.

The point was underscored, to me anyway, just six months later when a female worker for the Ottawa Rape Crisis reported that she’d received death threats after organizing a protest outside the Ottawa courthouse against a controversial rape sentence. She received threats at work and at her home, including phone calls from a man who identified himself as Marc Lepine. I reported on the story at the time for the Ottawa Citizen.

In the 20 years since the massacre, I’ve reported on other cases of violence against women, including horrific domestic murders. The media never lacks source material for such stories - whether it’s a local domestic homicide or a national story of a serial killer or international examples of war crimes (like the use of systemic rape as a military tactic) against girls and women.

And every time I write – or read - about such a case, I think of that great line by Jane Galvin Lewis: “You don’t have to be anti-man, to be pro-woman.”

And I wonder why so many good men remain silent and don’t speak out against the reality of violence committed by men against women.

And I wonder why our legal system remains particularly unsophisticated in its approach to family violence, by failing to distinguish between non-lethal violence, which is committed in equal numbers by women and men, and lethal violence, which is more rare, but mostly committed by males.

On a global scale, why aren’t there more leaders like Stephen Lewis, who said, 'After 50 years of passivity and paralysis, it’s time to have an agency through which women can assert their rights?'

Of course, there are many men working to make the world safer, and thank heavens, because nothing will change without them. They are men like Pierre Leclair, who dedicated his life to serving the citizens of Montreal, and discovered his murdered daughter Maryse (while he was on the job). My heart goes out to him and all the loved ones of those injured and killed 20 years ago.

The women who died won’t be forgotten.

And women like me – Class of 1989 – shoulder a particular responsibility to ensure that they are remembered. We’ve enjoyed the freedom to chase our dreams, and to live every minute to the fullest while doing so. I wonder what each of those 14 women who died that day would have achieved had they lived to enjoy the same opportunities that so many of us take for granted.

Canada suffered an unspeakable loss on December 6, 1989. We must never let that be in vain and keep working to create a society that understands the true cost of prejudice and won't tolerate its existence.

In memory of : Genevieve Bergeron, Helene Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz, Maryse Laganiere, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michele Richard, Annie St-Arneault and Annie Turcotte who died Dec. 6, 1989, at the École Polytechnique in Montreal.