Pop Culture Gadabout
Friday, September 05, 2008
      ( 9/05/2008 08:50:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I LIKE HER – DON'T TRUST HER, BUT I LIKE HER." With Intelligence, writer/director Chris Haddock takes a theme that was always a part of his early Canadian procedural Da Vinci's Inquest - the political use and misuse of information - and makes it the central concern of his story. Divided between two struggling leaders, Vancouver crime boss Jimmy Reardon (Inquest's Ian Tracey) and police inspector Mary Spalding (Klea Scott), the show involves an uneasy alliance that is formed between the two after Jimmy temporarily gets a hold of files identifying all the snitches currently on the payroll of the city's Organized Crime Unit. This info could blow Mary's shot at moving up from head of the OCU into a larger law enforcement allied with American interests ("Globalization has been a boon for local organized crime," we're told), so, naturally, she's eager to contain it.

Unfortunately for both our protagonists, there are others determined to undermine the duo's tenuous relationship. Foremost among these is Mary's tightly clenched OCU underling Ted Altman (a surprisingly subdued Matt Frewer), who's eyeing Mary's job and sees pinching Reardon as his big ticket. Jimmy, whose primary source of illegal dollars is marijuana, is facing a rival gang of bikers looking to seize his territory. At the same time, Jimmy's doofus brother Mike (Bernie Coulson), a guy so inept he can't even drive point on a drug shipment without getting stopped by the cops for speeding, has plans to create his own small dynasty - even if it gums up Jimmy's business in the process. At the same time, our hero's histrionic drugee ex-wife Francine (Camille Sullivan) is nattering on the sidelines, looking to get her piece of the action.

Though Intelligence has its small share of crime family drama, the series isn't meant to be Haddock's answer to The Sopranos. If anything, it's closer to The Wire in its examination of the behind-the-scenes machinations which serve as ongoing distractions from the job. When a mole, for example, is found within the OCU, the first thought on everyone's mind is finding ways to spin it to their political advantage. When that mole turns out to have been connected to a double agent with ties to the American intelligence community, the double- and triple-crosswork grows even more pronounced.

Jimmy, meanwhile, dreams of ultimately growing legit. His primary source of illegal money is pot, a drug he sees as inevitably becoming legal in his country. In one of the show's typically well-constructed ironies, we see Reardon resist two different attempts to get him to start shipping something stronger than grass - cocaine and guns - by police agents with different agendas. One way or another, everybody wants to tell Jimmy how to run his business. His second-in-command Ronnie (John Cassini) keeps prodding his reluctant boss to hit back at the aggressive bikers, though Jimmy keeps holding out for more facts. Much like his police counterpart, he'd rather build an airtight case, even as his cohorts are all reacting with more limited information.

Where Da Vinci's Inquest provided a fairly clear demarcation between the law upholders and its breakers, Intelligence works a much murkier territory - which may be one of the reason the series only lasted two seasons to Inquest's eight. For most American viewers, curious about the show after growing familiar with Haddock's writing and Tracey's low-key intensity, Acorn Media's new four-disc box of the first season may the first chance they have to view this engrossing teledrama. Unlike Inquest, which still shows up on WGN late nights, Intelligence has been more difficult to catch. Acorn's 14-episode set also includes a series of "behind-the-scenes" shorts: brief interviews with cast members and a few musical collages depicting the process of filming the show - nothing too revelatory but still fun. If I have any plaints about the collection, it's with the shows' absence of closed captioning. Par for this type of drama, a lot of the characters deliver their lines whispering and muttering to each other (soft-voiced Tracey is particularly prone to this), which had me pumping up the volume so much that when the story shifted to Reardon's noisy dance club, I was practically knocked off my chair. Hey, guys, give a half-deaf geezer a break!

Unlike Inquest, creator Haddock has sole writing for all of the first season's episodes - it's clearly a personal project for him - while the directors' list includes Steven Surjik, Inquest lead Nicholas Campbell, Tracey and the inimitable Stuart Margolin. The series even casts the last (best known as the weaselly snitch Angel on the old Rockford Files) as a former American agent turned free-lance bounty hunter: an amusing casting choice. As a scriptwriter, Haddock can occasionally toss an overly didactic speech to one of his characters (Cassini's Ronnie is especially prone to theme-bearing philosophizing), but he's deft at catching duplicitous backroom dealmaking. Perhaps it's from all those years dealing with Canadian and American teevee execs.

Intelligence's first season ends on a cliffhanger, so hopefully the set will do well enough for Acorn to put out the second season. I also read that Haddock has been in negotiations with Fox to bring a re-shot version of the show to American television. I'd like to think that could be a positive step for those wanting to know what happens next, but given Fox's propensity for screwing up so many beloved series in the past, I'm not all that optimistic.
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Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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