Decoys, an original series created for CBC Gem, was made before the spread of COVID-19, but it has a definite pandemic vibe to it… in a good way.

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Decoys, an original series created for CBC Gem, was made before the spread of COVID-19, but it has a definite pandemic vibe to it… in a good way.

It focuses on six duck carvers, specifically hobbyists who carve wooden duck decoys at a competitive level. The show also follows the event organizers and experts in the competitors’ orbit.

CBC Gem</p><p>Alice Moran plays Mary Jane in the CBC Gem original series, Decoys.</p>

CBC Gem

Alice Moran plays Mary Jane in the CBC Gem original series, Decoys.

Somehow, the subject of obsessive duck carvers makes for a tight dovetail joint with the lockdown zeitgeist in which we find ourselves.

If the series has any specific inspirational precedent, it is surely Christopher Guest’s 2000 comedy Best in Show, which likewise followed a diverse group of competitors in pursuit of a coveted prize, which in that instance was the top dog of the Mayfair Kennel Club Dog Show.

This is a scaled-down proposition, but very much cut from the same mockumentary pattern. Since the six episodes total about 80 minutes, it might as well be a movie, although the serialized format works in its favour.

Writer-creator David Pelech also stars as Donald Sinclair, a guy who channels his mourning for his late father into a foolhardy mission to enter the Northern Alberta Carving Cup. It’s a bid to live up to his dad’s prize-winning legacy, despite a lack of enthusiasm on the part of his girlfriend Margaret (Kelly Van der Burg), an ER doctor.

Also competing is Amandeep Singh (Rup Magon), a recent immigrant who sees duck carving as a way to integrate himself into Canadian society, though his wife, Simran (Nelu Handa), is wary of excessive assimilation, especially given her husband’s disturbing culinary embrace of mac-and-cheese.

Competitor Mary Jane Olinyuk (Alice Moran, memorable for her work in the Winnipeg-lensed comedy Sunnyside) is a young single woman who sublimates her frustrated sexual energy into her ducks. She even invents soap opera-like back stories for her wooden creations.

Projecting the tormented artist persona, the pretentiously mononymous carver Zeke (Keram Malicki-Sánchez) frets over his block of wood with the thunderous torment one might expect of Michelangelo confronted by an unpainted Sistine Chapel.

Finally, there is curmudgeonly coot Frank (Brian Paul), a senior carver frustrated by his inability to score a first-place prize, who now sees an opening after the death of Donald’s dad. His unwillingness to join the 21st century puts him at odds with the two competition organizers, Barb (Tracey Hoyt) and Dennis (Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll), who negotiate for a $200-a-day convention hall with deluded high-roller fervour.

Also on the periphery of the main action is Rhett Peltier (a quietly droll Brandon Oakes), essentially the Obi-Wan of Alberta carving.

The series is set in Lloydminster and Edmonton, but was shot in Toronto, and that dynamic is an issue for the comedy, which tends to portray Albertans as near-yokels. This is especially tiresome in the characters of Barb and Dennis: the actors push a little too hard on the Prairie rube characterizations.

Faring better is Magon, whose Amandeep is an outsider among outsiders, compelling him to go that extra mile to fit in. Magon is aided immeasurably by his acting partner Handa, one of the few cast members who could be described as effortlessly funny.

As the writer and creator of the show, Pelech has given himself the plum part of Donald Junior, a naif seeking a connection with his late father. He does pretty well with it too.

The Winnipeg-born Pelech has the necessary look of milk-fed wholesomeness, and he acquits himself well. Since his own father and uncle were carvers themselves, he presumably knows — better than some of his fellow cast members — how to keep it real.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
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In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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