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Ghost Canyon

'Slings & Arrows - The Complete Collection'
(Paul Gross, Martha Burns, Mark McKinney, Don McKellar, et al / 7-Disc DVD / NR / 2008 / Acorn Media)

Overview: Paul Gross (Due South) stars as Geoffrey Tennant, the passionate but unstable artistic director of the New Burbage Theatre Festival. Haunted by the ghost of his predecessor (Stephen Ouimette), he struggles to realize his creative vision while handling touchy actors, a jittery general manager (Mark McKinney), a pretentious guest director (Don McKellar) and his own tempestuous romance with the festival's leading lady (Martha Burns).

DVD Verdict: If anyone had told me several years ago that one of my favorite programs on television would turn out to be a Canadian import about a Shakespearean theater troupe, I would have had my doubts! But Season 1 of "Slings and Arrows" beguiled me. So droll and sophisticated, but with moments of sheer slapstick, I was absolutely enchanted.

Airing weekly in Canada on The Movie Network, this darkly comic Canadian drama series had the critics piling on the superlatives from the very first episode. On the theory that "the real show is backstage," it follows the fortunes of a dysfunctional Shakespearean theatre troupe, making fun of the excesses of the actors for whom art (and ego) is everything, as well as the "suits" who want to turn the theatre into a Shakespearean theme park.

Indeed, detailing the struggles of a failing company amidst the changing artistic climate, "Slings" presented a colorful band of misfits that formed the unlikeliest of families. The writing was so smart, so funny, and the performances spot on--including Paul Gross and Rachel McAdams (two of the more familiar actors for American audiences). It ended in six episodes and I wistfully said good-bye to a near brilliant show. I had no idea there was more to come.

So I was delighted when I heard Season 2 and even Season 3 were on the way. But I was also doubtful. Could they really mine the same material and come up a winner? To my mind, they did that and even more.

Season 2 contained less back story, so it dealt more specifically with the inner struggle of producing theatrical shows. The comic misadventures involved in staging a cursed production of "Macbeth" was definitely the highpoint. It might have been the funniest thing on TV that season, seriously. One subplot about an experimental advertising campaign to lure new traffic to the theater festival is perfection.

As someone who has been a season subscriber to the theater scene for over ten years, this was particularly hysterical to me--how much truth there was. Season 3 (which added the always appreciated Sarah Polley to the cast) details how the theater adjusts to success. Its humor is dosed with many moments of melancholy. There is such sadness, yet hope, as the characters begin to make some life altering decisions--it's a fitting emotional tribute to a sublimely funny show.

But, trust me, you don't have to be a theater-goer or a Shakespeare enthusiast to enjoy this program. But you do have to enjoy smart, sophisticated entertainment with top notch performances. I have shown this series to a couple of friends who would NEVER have sampled it on their own. They were surprised how identifiable it was and how funny!!! A great change of pace from much of TV, check this one out! This is a Widescreen Presentation (1.85:1) enhanced for 16x9 TVs and comes with the Special Features of:

Cast Interviews
Deleted and Extended Scenes
Photo Galleries
Production Notes
Song Lyrics
Exclusive Bonus Disc: "A Look Behind the scenes" Featurette, more Cast and Crew Interviews, and On-Set Footage