Watching a screening, eating free popcorn, winning a CBC T-Shirt, and getting kindly mocked by Adam Beach. That’s how I spent last night, after having won tickets for my roommate and I to attend the Vancouver premiere screening of the new CBC show Arctic Air. The event at the Vogue Theatre was hosted by The National’s Claire Martin and featured a Q&A with Beach and co-stars Pascale Hutton and Kevin McNulty.
Before I review episode 1 I’ll say I really enjoyed the overall event, especially the part when I went up to ask a question and the microphone didn’t work, which prompted Adam Beach to try to mimic what he thought I was going to say: “You guys are so great. I love your show…etc.”. It was funny, if a tiny bit dick-ish. The only downside I thought was that the panel for the Q&A was only actors, even though others involved with the show, like the writer, were in attendance. I think it would’ve provided more interesting insight to have both actors and people from behind-the-scenes.
But on to Arctic Air itself. You can watch the episode yourself online here, and if I were you I’d definitely take the opportunity (or catch it on CBC Tuesdays at 9 PM).
Arctic Air is set in and around Yellowknife, NWT. Adam Beach plays Bobby, a part-owner of the local little airline that could. In the premiere he returns to Yellowknife after years away, looking to broker a deal between a resource exploration investment firm and his friend, who’s discovered a diamond vein. Bobby is a strong-willed playboy type, who seems to have slept with all the women in Yellowknife. The exception (except for one time while drunk in high school, we’re reminded) is Krista, the daughter of the other Arctic Air owner, Mel.
The show introduces us to Krista (Hutton) early on as she pilots a a plane and lands it in Yellowknife despite serious engine trouble. Through the episode Krista shows herself to be tough, skilled, funny, and warm.
Other key characters are Krista’s dad, Mel (McNulty); Dev, a starry-eyed flight school graduate from India; and a range of other people who work at Arctic Air or are characters from Bobby’s family and past.
What I liked best about the premiere episode was its lightning-fast pacing. It kept my attention even in the quieter moments with its energy and strong dialogue. The writing was snappy and often funny, but still heartfelt, leaving me looking forward to a season of interesting character and story development. And although some of the flight imagery wasn’t as convincing as a mega-budget movie’s might have been, I found the episode to have overall solid production values.
From a feminist perspective I had a couple of minor red flags. The first was caused by the character of Candi, who sleeps with Bobby the night he returns to Yellowknife. After Krista finds out, Bobby says, “I bumped into her.” Krista replies something along the lines that Candi’s “bumped into” every guy in Yellowknife. Given the fact that Krista seems to be one of the few who refuses Bobby’s advances, I’m hoping the dynamic doesn’t further into a virgin-whore dichotomy between Krista and Candi.
The second minor issue I had was with a part in the episode where Bobby’s niece’s wedding plans get derailed by her fiance quitting his job and threatening to leave town because he feels trapped. Hayley, the niece, and her mother demand Bobby fix things and get the guy back. When Bobby does track him down, he exhorts him to “man up” or leave town. The assumption seems to be that it’s the mens’ responsibility to fix things in the family.
CBC’s Arctic Air site tells us: “Over the season this character-based drama will deliver hard-hitting emotional stories – from the romantic entanglement of Bobby and Krista, to the conflicts that spark between Bobby and his competitors, his business partners and even his extended family. There’s a new gold rush heating up under the permafrost, and there are new fortunes of diamonds and oil to claim.”
My main hope for the season is that the “romantic entanglement” doesn’t mean compromising Krista’s independence or principles. The idea of a playboy type who eventually wins over the only girl who wouldn’t date him has been done before, and usually not in ways that are particularly feminist. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the stellar writing from the first episode carries through and creates a scenario that is unique and manages to allow a strong woman character to have a complicated relationship without it weakening her.