If you're looking to build a TV drama that is intimate, emotionally intense and has the ability to strip its characters' humanity down to its most starkly honest elements, setting it inside a Catholic church confessional would be an interesting starting point.
It certainly is an effective choice for Forgive Me, a raw and insightful new Canadian series that premi®res tonight (check listings for time) on Super Channel. Written and directed by Thom Fitzgerald (The Hanging Garden, The Event, Cloudburst), Forgive Me is a simply structured drama that focuses mostly on a young Catholic priest (played by Nova Scotian actor Mike McLeod) and the various and anonymous people he encounters while hearing confessions in the church.
The priest, whom Fitzgerald has chosen to leave as nameless as the absolution-seeking sinners on the other side of the confessional screen, quickly establishes himself as a bit of a non-traditional thinker who's inclined to ask more than a simple shopping-list recitation of sins before offering the forgiveness his visitors want and need.
Inside the confessional, the priest is sharp, slightly irreverent, occasionally flat-out funny and yet consistently probing in a way that forces each individual to consider his or her motivations for committing the sins they've come to confess.
His persistence is not necessarily appreciated.
"You're not my therapist, Father," says one woman, who'd clearly prefer he cease with the questions and get on with the absolution. "I don't need you to deconstruct my relationship with my daughter or fix it."
Forgive Me employs an impressive roster of actors, both domestic and international, in the role of guest "sinners." In the series premi®re, Oscar nominee and Emmy/Tony winner Jane Alexander stops in as a woman who begins by stating it's been 51 years since her last confession ("I'm rounding up," she says. "I want to err on the side of caution.").
At first, she's a bit glib in detailing her obscure transgressions -- planting rows of mismatched crops too close to one another; touching the skin of a dead swine (her sons love football); having sex during her period -- but as the priest pushes her to discuss why she's been away from the church for so long and why she has decided to return, the confession becomes a conversation that reveals much more about her, and about the human condition in general.
Future episodes will see the likes of Olympia Dukakis, Brenda Fricker and familiar Canadian face Hugh Thompson in the roles of visitors looking to unburden their souls.
It goes without saying there's little action in Forgive Me; the static nature of these moving pictures does not, however, diminish the drama's effectiveness. The confessional-confined dialogue is smart, and the stripped-down performances are seamlessly delivered and punctuated with moments of pure, stark, painful honesty.
The priest does spend time outside the confessional, of course, and in those moments, we learn that he, too, is a person struggling under the weight of accumulated sin and guilt. In the series opener, the priest has an encounter with someone from his past who brings news that forces him to reconsider his relationships with both the church and the world beyond its walls.
John Dunsworth -- a.k.a. Trailer Park Boys' ever-impaired Mr. Lahey -- delivers an understated performance as the parish prelate who offers support and mentoring advice to the young newcomer as he struggles with personal demons that threaten to distract from his priestly duties.
You might not be overly tempted by the storyline description, but the betting here is if you dare to sample this unusual TV offering, you'll be forced to confess that you liked it quite a bit.
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