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Beach grabbed right boarding pass

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For Adam Beach, this was all about having the chance to soar.

The last time he took a TV-series role -- a brief stint as Law & Order: SVU's Det. Chester Lake -- he quickly grew disillusioned with the strictly procedural nature of the NBC cop show's storytelling, and opted out after just one season. But the Manitoban-born actor decided to take another shot at an ongoing drama after reading the pilot script for CBC's Arctic Air.

"SVU is a show about the show; it's about the solving of the crime," Beach said in a recent telephone interview. "So you're constantly doing the A-B-C of storylines that the cops are involved in. Here (in Arctic Air), each episode reveals each character's personal traits as the show evolves through the 10 episodes. It's a character-driven story.

"The pilot episode really spoke volumes, with regard to (the importance of) family and friends and the integrity of an individual trying to make changes in his life. It contains a lot of answers to a lot of questions, and when you see it, you'll say, 'OK, I understand why Adam did this.'"

In Arctic Air, which premieres Tuesday at 9 p.m. on CBC, Beach portrays Bobby Martin, the prodigal son of a legendary Yellowknife bush pilot (founder of the titular far-North airline); Bobby, however, was never that impressed by his dad's daring deeds, and even less interested in the family business, so he headed south in search of an education and a fortune earned in the venture-capital field.

Think of it this way: if he'd been a reality-TV watcher, Bobby would have been much more inspired by Dragons' Den than Ice Pilots NWT (which is a bit ironic, actually, because this new scripted drama is from the same production company that makes the frosted-fliers reality series).

Bobby does hold part ownership of Arctic Air, and has irritated its principal owner and pilot, Mel (Kevin McNulty), by turning up occasionally and offering unwelcome suggestions on how the enterprise should be run.

Now he's back in Yellowknife, partly to check in once again but mostly to help a powerful but ruthless business partner figure out a way to extract mineral riches from the northern landscape. Once he's home, however, Bobby gets drawn back into the business wranglings and interpersonal dramas that he worked so hard to escape. And this time, he feels like it's important that he stick around for a while.

The airline is faltering. Mel's health is declining. Bobby's family is struggling with various issues that could be helped by his calming influence and worldly perspective. By the end of the series premiere, Bobby's urge to fly away has been replaced by a need to stay grounded for at least a little while.

Arctic Air suffers more than its share of narrative-logic lapses during its maiden flight, but there's enough potential in its rich cast of characters and captivatingly cool setting to have many observers rightly making the suggestion that this series could become CBC's next North-of-60-sized drama hit.

It might be a bit of a bumpy takeoff, and it won't reach cruising altitude unless the show's producers and writers tighten up the storylines, but Beach is right -- one look is enough to make you understand why he decided to grab this boarding pass.

"Ú "Ú "Ú

D is for darned funny: CBC's busy schedule of mid-season launches also includes Canadian comic Gerry Dee's first foray into sitcom stardom -- in the form of Mr. D, which debuts Monday at 8 p.m. on CBC -- and the early indication is that Dee is about to complete his smooth career transition from teacher to standup to TV star.

Dee, a former high-school educator who built a very successful comedy career by mining humour out of his experiences in education, has for the past half-decade been one of Canada's rising standup stars, touring relentlessly, earning a third-place finish on NBC's Last Comic Standing and slowly building a TV presence with Just For Laughs appearances and the popular Gerry Dee: Sports Reporter segments on The Score.

His strength, as fully demonstrated in Mr. D, is finding the funny in the ineptitude of characters filled with unearned confidence. Just like his sports-reporter alter ego, Mr. D's Gerry Duncan (who prefers that his students address him as the much cooler-sounding Mr. D) is a guy who has no idea how far out of his depth he really is.

A self-styled jock and wanna-be gym teacher who has landed a job teaching more academic subjects at an upscale private girls' school, Mr. D is clearly faking his way through the "teaching" part of his new position. He's much more jazzed about having been appointed coach of the Grade 5/6 girls' basketball team.

As it turns out, he's as much of an idiot on the hardwood as he is in front of a blackboard -- and that's where the fun in Mr. D lies, because the series' creator and star is so skilled at walking the thin line between self-parody and flat-out humiliation.

If you're a fan of Dee's standup act, you'll love Mr. D. And even if you haven't seen his work as a comedian, you really should drop into Dee's classroom for a look. You won't learn anything, but you'll probably laugh out loud.



Arctic Air

Starring Adam Beach and Kevin McNulty

Tuesday at 9 p.m.


3 stars out of 5


Mr. D

Starring Gerry Dee

Monday at 8 p.m.


4 stars out of 5

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 7, 2012 G3

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