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CBC shoots...

...and will definitely score with some viewers, but completely miss the net with others

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Chances are, viewers' reaction to the two-part miniseries Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story will be a lot like Canadians' very mixed feelings about the fellow whose name appears in the title.

Love it, or hate it.


Keep Your Head Up, Kid: The Don Cherry Story

Starring Jared Keeso and Sarah Manninen

Sunday and Monday at 8 p.m.


It's a safe bet that puck-proud Canucks who are inclined to give a big thumbs-up to Cherry's every Coach's Corner utterance will call Keep Your Head Up a big winner; adherents to the old-fashioned, rock-'em-sock-em school of hockey thought and folks who believe the success or failure of a sports movie depends on the authenticity and detail of its game-action sequences will also like what they see.

But viewers in search of a deeply detailed biography or a sentimental love story might find The Don Cherry Story to be something of a shorthanded effort.

Keep Your Head Up: The Don Cherry Story, which airs Sunday and Monday at 8 p.m. on CBC, is sure to attract a capacity crowd of local interest since it was filmed here -- in Winnipeg, Selkirk and Brandon -- last year and is filled with opportunities for viewers to shout out the names of familiar places and faces.

Beyond that, The Don Cherry Story is a well-appointed and reasonably engaging period piece that takes a pleasantly pugnacious trip through time to examine the events that shaped the personality of Canada's most cantankerous sports-TV commentator.

The miniseries, which stars Jared Keeso in the title role and Sarah Manninen as Cherry's beloved wife, Rose, was written and produced by the former coach's son, Tim. The familial connection might lead one to expect a praise-puffed tribute to a father by his son, but to his credit, the younger Cherry has created a more grounded drama in which the hero exhibits quite a bit of less-than-heroic behaviour.

Keep Your Head Up, Kid finds Cherry as a young hockey prospect whose boyhood prayers are about to be answered -- he's a highly touted prospect in the Boston Bruins organization, and his rookie-camp performance has the big team's coaches interested in him as part of their defence corps.

But Cherry, ever the do-it-my-own-way kind of guy, ignores a warning to stay away from summer baseball and suffers an injury on the diamond that ruins his tryout for the following NHL season and places him firmly in the Bruins' brass's bad books.

And so begins Cherry's existence as a career minor-leaguer, bouncing from Hershey to Springfield to Trois Rivieres to Rochester, with several other stops in between. Along the way, he meets and eventually marries the love of his life, Rose, who keeps house and raises kids while doting on Don as he evolves from often-surly hockey player to always-surly construction worker/car salesman to often-surly hockey coach.

Part 1 of Keep Your Head Up, Kid focuses mainly on Cherry's playing career; Monday's conclusion deals with his transition to coaching, his success with the minor-league Rochester Americans (where he's named AHL coach of the year), and his ascension to his dream job as the NHL Bruins' head coach.

The rest -- including dapper Don's behind-the-bench antics, the career-defining Game 7 loss to Montreal in the 1979 Stanley Cup semifinal, and Cherry's unexpected transition from coach to broadcaster -- is history; the series ends just as his second career as a TV personality is about to begin.

Keeso does a creditable job of portraying Cherry through roughly three tumultuous decades, from fresh-faced rookie to flashy-dressing, comb-over-inclined coach. There isn't a whole lot of variety in his character's moods and behaviour, but Keeso makes Grapes quite palatable, even if his voiced-over imitation of Cherry's clipped diction does begin to grate after a while.

Manninen has even less to do, in terms of Rose's emotional arc within the series, but she's a luminous presence and a fitting counterpoint to Keeso's cranky version of Cherry.

The supporting cast is able, but it should be said that much of the credit for the success of The Don Cherry Story belongs to the scores of local non-actors who filled background roles -- particularly the dozens of hockey types who populate the game sequences, which are effectively executed and set a foundation of credibility that carries the rest of the narrative.

As Grapes himself might say, they're good Canadian kids. Gotta love 'em.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 27, 2010 C11

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