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"DUE SOUTH"

What’s it about?

We’ve seen New York cops, navy cops, bush cops, cops on motor cycles and cops on foot. Let’s face it, we’ve seen them all - at least we thought we had, until we met Constable Benton Fraser of the Canadian Mounted Police. No, this is not a throwback to Nelson Eddie and Jeanette MacDonald ("when I’m calling youoooooooooooo…"), in fact the most appealing co-star in this show is a real bitch (that’s not strictly true, but we’ll come to that later). The story is set in Chicago, where Fraser helps out local detective Ray Vecchio in his quest for justice.

This show has more than a few interesting features, apart from the obvious attempt to find a new twist to the formularised cop format - a Canadian Mountie on the American streets (sounds like an episode of "Get Smart"). But there’s more to it than a gimmicky premise. Like most of the better shows, it’s character driven, and like its not too distant second cousin "Northern Exposure", it relies on a certain out-of-left-field quirkiness. The connections with "Northern Exposure" abound. The native Indians (the Inuit) of Fraser’s youth taught him respect for the land and some amazing tracking skills, and sometimes in surreal moments he discusses life with his dead father - as in "Northern Exposure", everything is possible and credible (remember when Ed searched for his father in "Northern Exposure"?).

Constable Fraser is straight down the line, determinedly moralistic to an annoying degree, and by the book in the way that we romantically imagine a Canadian Mountie would be. Fraser cannot abide by any transgression of police rules, even a minor traffic infringement. There is a nice trade-off with his American counterpart, though this is a plot technique we could have picked a mile off, sort of East Meets West (except it’s North Meets South). Like sending a boy from rural Tasmania to work the vice squad in King’s Cross. What they have in common is a tenacious commitment to getting the job done.

Then there’s the wolf - well, more about him later. Fraser grew up in the Northwest Territories - this is like saying you grew up in Tenant Creek, except it’s a lot colder. So, how did Fraser end up in the windy city? His father was murdered, and a lead sent him to search for the killer in Chicago, where he hooked up with Vecchio of the Chicago Police Department. But this did not endear him to the powers that be in the R.C.M.P., and they got him transferred to consular duty in Chicago.

Who's it about?

Constable Benton Fraser is in his mid-thirties and has been in the Mounties for about 15 years. His mother died when he was young, he trudged through the snow and ice to get to school, and his mountie father was hardly ever home. Fraser knows a thing or two about doing it hard, which will stand him well in the frozen wastes of Chicago. This is an interesting sub-plot, because Fraser clearly has his problems adjusting to the most basic kinds of city life, let alone a city the size of Chicago. His father may be dead, but he’s still the guiding force in his life. Fraser seems to be evolving in the Windy City, perhaps he's a little less remote, but like his father he always gets his man and he never gets his uniform dirty. He was a voracious reader as a child.

Detective Ray Vecchio is of course chalk to Fraser’s cheese. For one thing, he was not a lonely child in the tundras - he comes from a large Italian family, and he still lives with most of them. He’s about the same age as Fraser, but his working habits could hardly be more different. He’s not the spit and polish type, that’s for sure. Where Fraser loves dog sleds and huskies, Vecchio is devoted to his 1971 Buick Riviera.

Okay, this is where things begin to get confusing - can you hear the theme music to "The Twilight Zone", because Ray is no longer Ray, although he pretends to be Ray. Is this making sense? No? Good, you passed the sanity test. Stanley Raymond Kowalski (get it? Have you read/seen "A Streetcar Named Desire"? Would you believe his ex-wife is named Stella?) enters in the third season, pretending to be Ray Vecchio while that Ray is allegedly undercover as Armando "the Bookman" Langoustini - so the new Ray has to pretend to be the old Ray to maintain the illusion. Whew! By the way, Stan is an accomplished ballroom dancer. And he's very brave, is capable of bending the rules, and often puts his heart before his head.

Lt. Harding Welsh manages the detective division at 27 District, is in charge of the Violent Crimes section, but he sometimes wonders what the hell he's "managing", given the unorthodox methods of some of the detective crew. And more than anything, he wonders why Fraser is always putting his Canadian nose in the affairs of his Chicago District, although he's sort of gotten used to the big guy.

Inspector Margaret Thatcher is not a retired British politician. She's a strong willed Liaison Officer with the Canadian Consulate, and she wasn't thrilled to find Fraser at her doorstep (in fact sometimes guarding her doorstep). On the other hand, he's handy when the dry cleaning has to be collected or she needs that special bottle of wine. But is she really attracted to him? She certainly seems to have realised he's quite a guy.

Francesca Vecchio is a Civilian Aid at District 27 and the younger sister of Ray Vecchio. She's a whirlwind and a bit of an entrepreneur, and gets attention with her provocative dresses. In other words, your typical member of the Vecchio clan. Sometimes known as Frannie. She is divorced but definitely has her eye on Fraser.

Robert Fraser is Benton's father, a first class legendary officer in the RCMP. The death of his wife caused him to be quite isolated form his son, and Benton went to live with his grandparents. He was murdered whilst investigating the alleged corruption in the energy industry, and this led Benton to search relentlessly for the killer. That's how he came to be in Chicago, where he believed the killer might be found.

Detective Jack Huey was Louis Gadino's partner before taking up with Detective Thomas Dewey, and wondered whether Benton was some kind of kook. A competent detective.

Detective Thomas E Dewey is also at PD 27, and partners Huey. Is he happy as a detective? Sure, but he'd also like to be a stand-up comic! An excellent detective who knows what he wants and isn't afraid to say so.

Stella Kowalski is the ex-wife of Stan, and an Assistant States Attorney in Cook County. She split with Ray due to differences in their ambitions. She's also very good at her job.

If it's at all possible, Constable Renfield Turnbull is even more upright than his fellow Mountie Fraser. In fact he's modeled himself on his Mountie mate, but he's hardly in the same league (and he's not very smart).

Diefenbaker is in truth a sort of a dog, in an evolutionary sense. Okay, he's a wolf. And if that’s not enough, the wolf is deaf. And he loves junk food. Now, before you go running for the stop button, let’s make one thing clear - Diefenbaker is the real star of this show. He knows how to compensate for his disability - he’s learned how to lip read (DON"T HIT THAT BUTTON). Fair dinkum, this dog (sorry - wolf) belongs in the Canine Disability Hall of Fame. Not only can he lip read, but he refuses any special treatment because of his disability. He’s so independent it sometimes drives Fraser crazy. There is a "Mother and Son" sub-plot here, too, because occasionally we’re not quite sure if Diefenbaker is really as deaf as he makes out. And his lip reading seems selective as well.If you want to get on his good side, offer a donut (or a Mars Bar - Fraser put him on a diet). And never attempt to harm Fraser whilst his wolf is on the job, unless you want to see your arm severed at the elbow. Dief was born in the Yukon and abandoned until Fraser rescued him from a mine shaft.

Who's who?

Paul Gross plays Constable Benton Fraser. Gross was born in Canada, but moved around America and Europe with his army father. He studies drama at the University of Alberta in Edmonton. Like most small screen stars, he got his training in the theatre, though perhaps more successfully as a playwright than an actor. He has appeared in numerous television dramas and series, and he has written for "Due South". If that’s not enough, he is a singer/songwriter, and intends to release a country album in 1997. And if that’s not enough, he is the Executive-Producer of the third series.

David Marciano plays Detective Ray Vecchio. Marciano (any relation to Rocky?) went to university in Boston (Northeastern, not Harvard) before he answered the call of the muse. He was out of luck until he scored a guest spot in the television series "Wiseguy", followed by "China Beach" and the movie "Lethal Weapon II". "Due South" is his big break so far. He should be seen soon in Australia in the mini-series "the Last Don", based on the fabulous Mario Puzo novel (not that this has anything to do with "Due South", but this book is perfect for summer beach reading).

Callum Keith Rennie plays Detective Stanley Raymond Kowalski. Born in England, Callum was raised in Canada and took advantage of the propensity of American producers to shoot TV shows in the cheaper northern landscape. He appeared in "X Files", "Lonesome Dove", and "Highlander"; following "Due South" he appeared in "Mastermind" (a decent film, by the way, starring "Star Trek's" Patrick Stewart).

Camilla Scott plays Inspector Thatcher. She's got her own talk show in Canada, "The Camilla Scott Show", where she plies her ample and disparate talents. She played Polly in the stage production of "Crazy For You" for a solid two years, and she was in the megasoap "Days Of Our Lives" for two years as well.

Tony Craig plays Jack Huey. Tony has the distinction of having played drums with the likes of Dan Hill (who will be remembered by some of our seventies boomers) and the amazing Etta James.

Anne Marie Loder plays Stella Kowalski. She made her mark opposite Anjelica Huston in the American ABC's excellent miniseries "Family Pictures", and after a number of guest spots in Canadian filmed series, she joined "Due South". She has a Bachelor of Commerce.

Detective Louis Gardino was the partner of Jack Huey. He was the victim of a bomb that was meant to kill Ray, and was buried with full honours.

Dean McDermott plays Constable Renfield Turnbull. He did various TV commercials and movies before going to "Due South" (where he initially played a baddie).

Lincoln plays Diefenbaker. (Don’t read this if you want to preserve the illusion!!!).
Sorry to reveal the truth, but in the tradition of "Lassie" and "Rin Tin Tin", Diefenbaker is in fact three huskies. But the star of the troupe is Lincoln - he just has a stand-in for the stunts, like any professional keen to protect his snout. According to those in the know, Lincoln is not really deaf - he’s just acting.

Where did it come from?

This is a joint Canadian-American production (CBS and CTV). The second season had some financing problems, as did the third, though this seems to be a way of life for all but the most mega-successful shows on the small screen. "Due South" is not filmed in Chicago - if you were Canadian you could probably guess that it is filmed in Toronto.

The gossip

Fraser and Vecchio
It’s no wonder Vecchio found it hard to bond with this Mr Efficiency. But like all good screen partners, they have come around, as partners often do when they scratch the surface. The commonalities are clear to us as well - they both desperately want to get the bad guys, and who’s to say which of them is the more eccentric, anyway?

Fraser and Women
We’re a little confused here. He certainly doesn’t seem to have any trouble attracting the opposite sex - if you like that hunky-outdoorsy- he-man-courageous-moral type. He apparently doesn’t quite know what to do with the come-ons that come-on his way, though there was that bank robber….

Stan and Women
First there was Stella, and that ended in divorce court; he still loves her, she still loves him, but they want different things. He seemed to be keen on Elaine and Francesca, but they weren't interested. He may have had a (short) relationship with a white collar criminal, and then he showed interest in Luanne Russell, who may also have committed a crime or two.

Fraser and Diefenbaker
Fraser rescued Diefenbaker when he was a puppy (wolffy?) - Diefenbaker returned the favour when Fraser was about to be drowned in freezing water (where he lost his hearing). This wolf is this man’s best friend, although we get the feeling the relationship may be less requited than Fraser would like. But what a team when it comes to chasing the bad guys.

Diefenbaker and Maggie
Fraser could take a few lessons from his wolf in the romance department. Those Chicago dogs are a pushover for a wolf who knows his way around an ice floe. We hope the New Right doesn’t get hold of this show, because Diefenbaker has a mate, Maggie, and three puppies (wuppies?) out of doglock (or maybe because of doglock). He rescued Maggie from a dog snatcher.

Behind the scenes

"Due South" met its fate at the hands of the CBS Network in America last year. But the story now has a happier ending. The show has been refinanced and will get a guernsey for at least another season.

"Due South’s creator and executive producer Paul Haggis has left the show, though he’s still credited as "Creative Consultant". He is now the exec of "EZ Streets", which stars Jason Gedrick, "Murder One’s" Neil Avedon.

Paul Gross also acts as Executive Producer.

Okay, we’ve left the worst till last. Be prepared for a shock - the latest is that Lincoln, the actor who plays Diefenbaker, may not have his contract renewed this season. Here at Law in the Lounge we are outraged. What goes on here? It’s not the dog’s (wolf’s) fault if the show wasn’t a mega-hit. Typical, blame the animal. So what’s the truth? Did Lincoln demand another increase in his meaty-bites allowance? More editorial control? Did he put his paw down about shopping centre promotions? Have there been better offers – a split-level kennel with a video and episodes of "Lassie"?

The facts

Fraser wears a holster but no gun. Why? (tick, tick, tick…) He doesn’t have a licence to use his .38 revolver in the U.S.

The show won four major television awards in Canada in its first season, including Geminis (Canadian type Logies or Emmys) for best drama and best actor (Paul Gross). It won even more of these awards in its second season.

And it continues to garner these awards: in 1988 it snagged best writing (for Paul Gross).

What do we know about the Royal Canadian Mounted Police? They’re mounted, right? They tend to sing in baritones in black & white movies? They always get their man (lucky for the female criminals)? On the evidence of "Due South", that motto is entirely deserved. They began getting their man in 1873. Here at Law in the Lounge we thought they were only found in the northern-most backwoods, like a wintry Foreign Legion. In fact they’re a police force like any other. We like to think they’re different - more honest, less worldly. Or maybe it’s the way Fraser says "thank you kindly" to all and sundry.

They just love the literary allusions in this show. Not just Stan's name, but check out these titles: "Call of the Wild"; "Mountie on the Bounty"; "I Coulda Been  Defendant" etc.

Callum Keith Rennie accepted a Genie Award for best supporting actor for his work on the movie "Last Night". He will also be seen in cult director David Cronenberg's sci fi movie "eXistenZ" (we think that's the way it's spelt).

Look for Beau Starr in the Oliver Stone production "The Corruptor".

Nice to see they have Smarties in Canada - Stan puts them in his coffee.

Dief's three illegitimate children are named Buster, Sunshine and .... what was the name of the third puppy?

Lt. Welsh was named Captain Walsh in the first series.

The legal point

In the episode "We Are The Eggmen" (hello out there you beatles fans), Fraser saves the driver of a truck in a rescue that requires a fair amount of guts – he saves the man but his stock of eggs are destroyed. And what is his reward? The driver sues Fraser, the Mounties and the Government of Canada for $100,000 to cover the loss of the eggs. Could this really happen? The simple answer is yes, allowing a little leeway for dramatic licence.

This is to do with the law of negligence, which is civil law (not criminal law). How is negligence established?

First, there has to be a "duty of care" on the part of the person who is allegedly negligent, which means there is a legal obligation to avoid the harm that is caused, and that harm had to be predictable. Second, that duty has to be breached. Lastly, there has to be damage suffered as a result of that breach.

So what’s the situation for Fraser? Well, he had to try and rescue the eggman, but in doing this he also had to exercise some care. Now here’s the rub - who or what is that care owed to? In the opinion of the reviewer, his first duty is to save the eggman, not his eggs!

But what, you may ask, if he was really negligent with the eggs and he could have easily save them as well as the eggman? Well, the law has anticipated your question! This is embodied in the legal notion of the "reasonable person" (it used to be called the "reasonable man", but even the law has to change sometimes!). Under negligence law, liability depends on what the "reasonable person" would have done in the same situation. This fictitious "person" is assumed to be in the actual shoes of the person, so if the allegedly negligent person is a lawyer, you have to ask what the "reasonable lawyer" would have done. In Fraser’s case it would be in terms of how the "reasonable police officer" would have reacted in the situation. Did our boy Fraser act reasonably? Of course he did - not guilty!

Our verdict

Here at Law in the Lounge we were big fans of "Northern Exposure", so it goes without saying we will give this show another serious look in the next season. It’s got a quirky way of looking at life that skirts the edge of sentimentality but never quite loses it. The odd couple cops routine is tried and true ("Lethal Weapon" amongst hundreds), and there’s nothing wrong with that. After all, we’re not always looking to be enlightened by our viewing. Sometimes we just want to relax after a hard day - go on, let’s put our feet up, we’ve earned it. This show is definitely in the "quirky" category, full of whimsy ( a lip-reading wolf?) and surreal humour. But we never doubt Fraser's basic integrity, his adherence to the principles of the Mounties and dedication to the truth. Sometimes he's apparently naive, but more often that is mistaken for his inherent moral rectitude. This is good versus evil in the best traditions of television.

People love a uniform (well, maybe not prison guards or parking officers). And parents can point to Fraser’s unfailing politeness as a positive role model, if their children can suspend their disbelief long enough to buy that one! And we’re betting this show gets renewed again at the end of its current season - as long as the producers can reach a deal with Diefenbaker’s manager. We hear he’s tough, a real mongrel!


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