[Last month, I won a writing competition held by the producers of Flashpoint, a successful Canadian-produced television series (they do exist!) about an elite team of police officers. It was an intimate contest and only required writing what amounted to a story blurb. However, I am no less proud of the achievement. I’ve never entered a writing competition before so it was a nice way to get my feet wet. But I digress (a lot!). Part of my prize was the opportunity to have a letter read and responded to by a member of the cast. Well, if I’m going to make a go of this writing thing, I might as well gather my bravery and keep writing in public (as opposed to hiding it all away in the dark recesses of my computer). So, without further ado…]
To Mister Enrico Colantoni and cohorts:
Let me start by commending your team of ambassadors running the Flashpoint Team One Facebook group. They have consistently fostered a reciprocal relationship between the fans of the show and the show itself. Though I work for a design firm which is as small as its dreams are big, I consider myself a marketing professional. More than that, I am a longtime consumer of media and technology. In that regard, and as a professional (in the strictest sense), I would like for the FPTO cabal to receive their proper acclaim. While the networks do a fair job of promoting the show, networks are strange beings mindful of things like lead-ins, advertising indices, and bottom lines, and are enslaved to a broader public opinion. The FPTO folks, on the other hand, speak directly to the Flashpoint audience and are not so encumbered. As Joss Whedon or J. Michael Straczynski can tell you, if you want to build and keep a die-hard fanbase then all you have to do is talk to them — directly. In that regard, the show’s producers and their FPTO crew have gone above and beyond. If y’all didn’t know about them before, I hope you take note of them now.
Like anyone else, they like to have their good work acknowledged.
As you may have noticed by now, I can be quite verbose. I like to articulate my thoughts with pretty words because it makes me feel smart and stuff. My ego gets petulant if I don’t feed it. So forgive me if I ramble. Like all self-involved fans, there is a part of me which considers my tastes to be supremely accurate. In my time, however, I have tried to balance that with the understanding that, in all things artistic, appreciation of art is purely subjective. But allow me this willful lapse in humility:
I was a latchkey kid. My divorced mother worked hard to sustain her three children and I was often left to my own devices. My favourite device was, for a good long while, the television. Since then, I have likely amassed more television (and movie) watching time than the accumulated flight time of a retired airline pilot. And, what with my self-pronounced Big Brain, that makes me an expert on good television. Well, it doesn’t, really, but let’s just pretend for the purposes of this letter.
Flashpoint is good television.
It may not be for everybody. And good television shouldn’t be for everybody. Quite often, the pablum of populist programing (see? pretty words all alliterated and stuff) becomes extraordinarily successful. Flashpoint, while mindful that a certain level of popularity is needed in order to stay on the air, does not ascribe to the well-trodden path of police procedurals. In fact, Flashpoint forges its own distinct path of storytelling. In my storyteller hubris, I believe a good story (in all its myriad forms) is second to none.
A teacher once told me, “The reader can smell fake like a…” Well, let’s just leave it at “The reader can smell fake.” Flashpoint’s approach to policing seems founded in a simple premise: People are human. It seems like a rather cyclical and obvious argument but the problem with a great deal of entertainment and fiction is that this is not as obvious to the authors as one might think. They are often obsessed with what’s cool and what would be neat or, in television, what will get ratings.
That’s what I love about Flashpoint. The premise of the show was established and it has not wavered. Telling a crime story from all sides is a task which has been undertaken before and will be again. However, rooting it from the viewpoint of a crack team of elite cops is a refreshing angle in today’s televisionland. The showrunners and writers create wonderful material and tell mature, believable stories which are neither bloodthirsty nor gun-happy. But, no matter how wonderful they may be, those stories are just words on a page. The stories must be driven home by actors. Here’s where you folks of the thespian-variety come in:
Writing stories designed to be as far from archetypal as possible and yet no less familiar and believable is one thing. Performing it onscreen is quite another. It’s easy to be the stoic cop or the grimy detective. You can hit all the usual suspects of performance in those roles. That’s easy peasy. Being fully-realized individuals in the throes of a very stressful, life-and-death profession ain’t a cakewalk. It ain’t even easy for the real folks who do it. Portraying such individuals on a weekly show with any kind of honesty and consistency while still making it engaging and accessible to viewers? Well, that’s the trick, see.
You and ‘your team’ pull that trick off. With demonstrable aplomb.
(big shiny words, again)
I have never felt, in watching Flashpoint, that any regular character has acted out-of-said-character. Occasionally, something does seem awry (Sam freezes up during the museum shootings) but there’s always a reason, and sometimes one which reaches out and grabs you. In the aforementioned instance, the reasoning was explored and that explanatory scene cut right to my core — both because of the context and the performance.
I’ve selected my favourite performances for each actor. In truth, however, there is no ‘finest’ or ‘best’ performance. Had I written this on a different day, I’m sure the list would be different. However, here is today’s list.
- ‘Sam’ / David Paetkau: The aforementioned scenes in Acceptable Risk are really indelible in my mind. The delivery of the line, “[Because] some people are helpless and need to be protected,” exhibited more pathos than some entire episodes of other shows.
- ‘Wordy’ / Michael Cram: Wordy takes a ribbing for watching a ‘chick flick’ with his family. But he never backs down because his love for his girls is more important than his ego. It is that staunch sense of principle which gleams in Michael’s understated performance. He’s also a character (and actor) who can convey so much with 2-second look. I have a fine appreciation for that.
- ‘Jules’ / Amy Jo Johnson: Easily the character I dismissed from the start as the token woman. And then she pretty much kicked me in the jewels and proved me wrong when she went one-on-one with the potential jumper in Attention Shoppers. I’m also partial to any moment when the normally friendly Jules gets to flex her righteous anger muscle. By geez dere eh, is she ever good at that!
- ‘Spike’ / Sergio Di Zio: It probably gets mentioned often but it is deserving — his barely contained desperation in One Wrong Move lends so much to the tension of the episode. It is a sustained and singular performance that is capped by his reaction in a certain fateful moment. Kudos all round for the entire cast but Sergio ran away with it that day…
- ‘Lew’ / Mark Taylor: …except perhaps against Mark. I always loved his ‘city bwoy’ roots (as a fellow Jamaidian, I recognized all kinds of subtle authenticity I imagine was lost on 90% of the audience) but that phone call was a veritable home run. Again, as it is with many of the show’s moments, it is what wasn’t said that got to you. (Mark, get a profile pic up on IMDb, nuh?)
- ‘Ed’ / Hugh Dillon: The entire last few minutes of Element of Surprise. The concept of ‘living with it’ as a police officer was better conveyed in that performance than the entirety of NYPD Blue. And I liked that show but … Mr. D was solid. If I could have added anything to those scenes it would have been Ed, in mid-anguish, uttering, “This job sucks!” to himself before putting back on his steely armor. But the performance was so good, I imagined it happened anyway, just offscreen. (*Stick a pin in that thought)
- ‘Greg’ / Enrico Colantoni: Well, geez, where to start? At the beginning of course, in Scorpio. That entire negotiation sold me on the show. Every single thing about the performance there made me believe. And the belief that there’s a real Gregory Parker out there has never wavered. ‘A cop who cares,’ how cliché, I said. But as cliché as that basest of descriptions is, the realisation of this character is not. Sure, there have been individual stellar moments — I’m a sucker for father-son drama — but the through-line of Sgt. Parker has been authentic and well-rounded. Balancing the requirements of leadership against the idea of the team as a family is a tightrope over which Enrico has traversed with the greatest of ease. Yeah, that sounded gushy but I stand by the statement.
And back to that pin I stuck in Hugh Dillon’s Ed.
As a wannabe writer, it is my belief that when a character starts writing their own lines in my head — especially when they argue against whatever I had, in my incompetence, previously plotted for them — then I’ve done my job. They have taken on a life of their own and I, the measly writer, really have little say in the matter.
That’s what the characters from Flashpoint have done. They have taken on a life of their own and it is easy to imagine how any of them would react in situations outside the show. That, to me, is the mark of successful fiction. From the leadership of Mark Ellis and Stephanie Morgenstern, to the crafting of the stories, to the refining of the scripts, and the performance of the actors, the whole merry band of Team One resides firmly in my mind — in that nebulous zone of suspended disbelief — as real people.
And that’s good television.
Thank you all for entertaining us with your dedication and talent.
With Continued Appreciation,
PS: Mad love for “Winnie” too.