by Archibald Ballantine
One part of exploring a virtual Toronto means seeing Toronto at its best without ever having to leave your seat. This is a challenge, I might add! One of the most interesting ways to experience Toronto and gain insights about our diverse city is through television. Toronto is a city that has served as a back-drop for many popular Canadian and American shows, and has slowly become an integral yet ever-developing character on several shows. The three shows below are just some of the few Canadian shows that feature Toronto at its best.
Flashpoint is a currently-airing, riveting Canadian series about a fictional tactical unit (Strategic Response Unit, or SRU) that responds to volatile situations such as hostage situations, bomb threats, and heavily-armed or extremely dangerous criminals. Each episode focuses on one specific threat in different areas around downtown Toronto, and the series tracks how the personal lives of the main characters are influenced by their challenging work lives.
Although Flashpoint has become a TV show that heavily features and celebrates Toronto, it didn’t initially start out that way. In fact, in the early episodes, Toronto wasn’t mentioned at all. At the start of the serious, Bill Mustos (the founder of the co-production company Avamar Entertainment) said in an interview with The New York Times: “You’re not going to see a show that is screaming ‘Canada.’ It’s a show in a big sophisticated urban city where crises take place. The stories we’re trying to tell are universal stories.” Eventually, CTV released an announcement stating that the series was set in Toronto, and that the SRU was based on Toronto’s Emergency Task force.
Currently heading into its fourth season and already renewed for a fifth, Flashpoint has embraced its Torontonian identity. Several of its set locations are set in some of Toronto’s major landmark areas, including The CN Tower, the University of Toronto, York University, Yonge-Dundas Square by the Hard Rock Café, Cabbagetown, and more. An episode at the Royal Ontario Museum helped to better showcase the world’s largest collection of fossils. Weaving through the corridors of the ROM allowed the viewer to really get a sense of the magnitude of this magnificent museum.
What is really noteworthy is the way in which Flashpoint portrays Toronto. It is not only a celebration of the city we love, but also a critical glance into downtown’s dirty alleyways and stressful subway stations. Most importantly, it encourages the viewer to recognize that Toronto’s beauty lies not only in its landscape, but also in its people.
Being Erica is a show that revolves around a 30-something year old woman who’s ready to take charge and reinvent her life. With a specially ability to travel back in time, Erica is coached into going back through a list of regrets with the mentality that only by facing the past can we conquer the future.
Unlike Flashpoint, Being Erica has always rejoiced in its Torontonian roots. In the DVD commentary of Episode 1, the producers mention that they wanted Toronto to appear as itself (as opposed to an American city, which often happens in American television shows), and they wanted to showcase the highlights of the city in a way that had not been seen before.
According to its Wikipedia page, all 38 episodes have featured some aspect of Toronto. Notable locations include the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Distillery District, the Royal York Hotel, the Canadian Broadcasting Centre, the University of Toronto, Nathan Phillips Square, the Hockey Hall of Fame, Canada’s Wonderland, Roy Thompson Hall, Casa Loma, Nicholas Hoare Book, the Princess of Wales Theatre, the St. Lawrence Market, Bloor Cinema, and much, much more. To see a complete list of Toronto locations used in each episode, please check out the Being Erica Wikipedia page.
In many ways, Toronto acts as a character on Being Erica. As a nurturing figure, the city provides a safe area for Erica to confront her fears and reservations about the future, and hosts a number of locations where Erica can go back in time to wrestle with her past regrets. Outside of the television world, many people notice that Toronto harbours a well-developed yet deeply personal history — whether in its gothic architecture or historical monuments, or even in the opportunity to walk down memory lane as Erica does through a visit to a university in which you studied twenty-five years ago. Viewers have the opportunity to remember the sights and sounds of Toronto in both a current and historical perspective by watching Being Erica.
This is Wonderland
If you’re looking for a gritty legal show that explores the underbelly of the Canadian judicial system, This is Wonderland is the show for you. Created by prolific Canadian playwright George F. Walker (a Toronto native), his writing partner Dani Romain (also Canadian), and Osgoode Hall Law School graduate and longtime Canadian TV producer Bernard Zukerman, this is a show that combines some of Canada’s greatest talents.
Although the series is no longer in production, the currently-airing episodes capture the diversity of Toronto. This legal (but comedic!) drama is about a young Osgoode Hall Law School graduate, Alice de Raey, who is thrown into the chaotic criminal justice system. The show is set right in downtown Toronto, with many scenes shot right in Toronto’s Old City Hall courtrooms.
The show has two ambitions: to demonstrate the challenges of mental health concerns that affect both defendants and authority figures (lawyers and judges), and to highlight the multicultural nature of Toronto’s society. The show emphasizes the contradictions in the Canadian criminal justice system and how lawyers must grapple with the blunt reign of the law while negotiating through an ever-developing Toronto. Language and cultural barriers — a prominent aspect of Toronto — are important aspects of This is Wonderland, particularly when exploring how culture is affected by or affects the judicial system. The show questions the ability of the judicial system to respond to the changing needs of society — an issue that Toronto constantly faces.
Of course, viewers can explore Toronto in many different shows.
• The popular Degrassi series and spin-offs are set in Toronto, and explore the lives of urban youth as they grapple with the challenges of growing up in a fast-paced city.
• The new 2011 series King has become a huge hit with viewers. It has been translated into French and is even being picked up in France. Critic Cassandra Szklarski points out that, while there has been an explosion in Toronto-based TV Shows, this “urban whodunit” is unique in its focus on a strong female lead.
• The Listener is a Canadian supernatural drama that began in 2009. Set in Toronto, it revolves around protagonist Toby Logan, a young paramedic with the ability to listen to people’s most intimate thoughts.
The diversity of these shows is representative of the diversity of Toronto itself, and of its people. Simply by engaging in Canadian drama, viewers can explore all that Toronto has to offer. With many of the shows featuring prominent Toronto landmarks, viewers can connect to Toronto’s attractions and features without ever having to leave their seats!