New wrinkle

Canadian comedy's second season finds nuance in mid-life struggles


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As we age, change becomes difficult to contemplate and even harder to achieve.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/05/2016 (2399 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

As we age, change becomes difficult to contemplate and even harder to achieve.

Sometimes, the only kind of change we can entertain is that which is forced upon us.

HBO Kim Cattrall as Davina in Sensitive Skin; the city of Toronto is like a secondary character in the series.

For Davina Jackson, the central character in the HBO series Sensitive Skin (played by Kim Cattrall), change is as uncomfortable as it is unavoidable. And as this clever Canadian comedy returns for a second season (Sunday, May 15, HBO Canada; check listings for time), change is also the most necessary element of her life.

In the first season of Sensitive Skin — a Toronto-based reimagining of a BBC series (2005-07) that starred Joanna Lumley — Davina and husband Al (Don McKellar, who also directs every episode) were seen struggling to remain vital and relevant as they trudged uneasily together through the later years of middle age.

Having sold their comfortable home and moved into a trendy but decidedly sterile downtown Toronto condo in search of a new start, the couple quickly found that reinventing yourself isn’t so easy when you’re well past life’s halfway post.

Season 1 was all about tensions and temptations that threatened to destroy an already wounded marriage, but as the sophomore set of episodes begins, the focus is very much on Davina and the emotional burden she carries as a result of past decisions.

It’s difficult to delve deeply into Davina’s mindset without teetering into spoiler territory (the first-season cliffhanger left some major issues dangling), but it’s safe to say Cattrall’s character has been forced to look even harder and more frequently into the mirror than she did in Sensitive Skin’s first year.

And the result of this intensified self-examination is a Davina who is a bit more open to the possibilities that surround her, even as part of her tries hard to keep things just as they are.

Cattrall, whose first-season effort left no doubt she has fully moved on from her deeply imprinted Sex and the City character, Samantha Jones, continues to deliver a performance that is beautifully nuanced and is able to find flashes of wry comedy within Davina’s painful personal struggles.

It’s necessary, of course, for a successful central figure to be surrounded by a strong supporting cast, and Cattrall is aided by a stellar ensemble. McKellar is powerful on both sides of the camera, and Joanna Gleason (the daughter, it bears occasional reminding, of Winnipeg-born showbiz institution Monty Hall) is a more-than-worthy adversary as Davina’s tightly wound older sister, Veronica.

HBO Kim Cattrall as Davina in Sensitive Skin.

Also worthy of note early in season 2 are the contributions of Colm Feore as Veronica’s husband, Roger, whose stubborn desire to reinvent himself creates problems for everyone in the extended family, and Clé Bennett as neighbourhood drug dealer and real-estate dabbler Theodore, whose involvement in Davina’s life takes a very interesting turn.

It isn’t named in the cast list, but downtown Toronto is also a key character in Sensitive Skin’s storyline; since the beginning, the characters’ behaviour has been deeply influenced by their shared sense of place, and it’s clear in the second-season première the city’s role in Davina’s life is also in for a bit of a shakeup.

Even if you count yourself among one of those outland-dwelling Canadians who view T.O. with a mixture of contempt and conflicted envy, there’s a lot worth embracing in the version of Toronto presented in Sensitive Skin. And regardless of whether you dwell in the Big Smoke or the great beyond that stretches across the rest of the country, it’s easy to feel good about a show this charming and smart being part of TV’s CanCon component.

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @BradOswald

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Brad Oswald

Brad Oswald
Perspectives editor

After three decades spent writing stories, columns and opinion pieces about television, comedy and other pop-culture topics in the paper’s entertainment section, Brad Oswald shifted his focus to the deep-thoughts portion of the Free Press’s daily operation.

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