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Opinion

Ken Finkleman's neurotic George Findlay character (with Lauren Lee Smith, right)  tries to learn to sit and stay in Good Dog.

HBO CANADA

Ken Finkleman's neurotic George Findlay character (with Lauren Lee Smith, right) tries to learn to sit and stay in Good Dog.

With age, they say, comes wisdom.

Try telling that to George Findlay.

George -- or, at least, various versions and mutations of him -- is the semi-autobiographical character written and performed by Winnipeg-born Ken Finkleman through a half-dozen TV series (including Married Life, The Newsroom, More Tears, Foolish Heart and Foreign Objects) spread over the past decade and a half.

He's neurotic, self-obsessed, a bit sneaky, devoid of social skills and ambitiously inept in his relationships with women -- qualities he has maintained throughout his various incarnations and continues in Finkleman's latest TV project, Good Dog.

"He hasn't evolved; he's just gotten older," says Finkleman, himself now a sagely 65. "He's slightly more rigid... and maybe there's a certain amount of acceptance of his circumstances."

In Good Dog, which premières Sunday on HBO Canada (check listings for times), George is hard at work pitching a new reality-TV concept that would focus on his home life with his much younger girlfriend, a drop-dead-gorgeous model named Claire (The Listener's Lauren Lee Smith).

Network execs tell George they'd only be interested in the show if he and Claire were, in fact, living together, a notion that forces the commitment-phobic producer to invite her, along with two young children and a health-and-safety-obsessed nanny, to move in.

Of course, this does not go smoothly.

"It's just this notion I had, about this equation that exists in our society involving an older guy with money and a young woman with a body," Finkleman offers. "They're both aware of this calculus and have something to gain from it. I just thought it was a curious place to start.

"That's where the title comes from -- he's got to be a 'good dog' now, because he's been through a lot, he's acquired a certain amount... and now he's trying to protect it."

One thing that differentiates Good Dog from Finkleman's earlier TV efforts is the manner in which this series actively embraces the Toronto cityscapes that George (and, in real life, Finkleman) inhabits.

"This is a different kind of comedy for me," he says. "It's still a comedy in the classical sense -- it's not tragedy -- but it's closer to reality. One of the things I thought about was that I wanted to shoot the city, Toronto, and I wanted to shoot all the places I inhabit during my days. I shot in the video store, with the same video guy I visit; I shot in the hardware store I go to....

"When you do that, you see real people and real signs and cars going by, and your brain registers the real world. And if you try to write broader comedy -- a much more 'jokey' premise and dialogue -- the characters in the foreground will disconnect from the scenery they inhabit...."

In what can only seen as a pre-emptive strike to head off criticism that he's matching the style of another semi-autobiographical neurotic urbanite, Finkeman includes a riff in the series opener in which George plans to fly to Los Angeles to get Curb Your Enthusiasm creator Larry David's blessing for his new reality show.

"I think it's just something that the George character would do," he explains. "He would think of this and would make it way too planned, because he's so neurotic about how he, George, might be perceived in this (reality) show."

While he's quick to point out that he enjoyed a luxurious amount of creative freedom while producing his earlier shows for CBC, Finkleman says he believes HBO Canada is the perfect home for Good Dog.

"I think this is a nice show for HBO, because it's kind of part of that HBO agenda, which is to do the sorts of programming you might not find anywhere else," he says. "It might not be a show that gets a huge audience, but it's a show that might be good for the brand. You know, the hood ornament on the Jaguar doesn't drive the car, but it adds quite a bit to the look."

In fact, HBO Canada has already committed to a second season of Good Dog -- Finkleman, aided by a team of writers, is already at work on scripts that will explore George's misadventures as the head of a startup right-wing news network on Canadian TV (obviously inspired by the looming launch of Fox News-inspired Sun TV).

It's a nice closing of the circle for a character who once headed a fictional CBC-TV newsroom.

"He doesn't have a reputation for being an ideologue, so in order to get their CRTC licence, he's the perfect person to put at the very head of the network," says Finkleman.

"It's a nice ending to George's journey, and I'm having unbelievable fun with it."

brad.oswald@freepress.mb.ca

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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