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Due South: Season 1 Review

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Canadian Mountie in 'nice guy' shocker.

★★★★

In 1993 the Oscar baiting screenplays for Million Dollar Baby and Crash weren’t even a twinkle in Paul Haggis’ eye; the Bond “dialogue polishing” a mere pipedream. Haggis was just an Ontarian import to Hollywood, a man who’d built
up a certain reputation as a writer on thirtysomething and LA Law but who had yet to hit the big time. But when he returned to his Canadian roots as the main writer of Due South, he finally proved that he was destined for bigger things.

On the face of it, the show’s set-up was breathtakingly simple. Yukon Mountie Benton Fraser (Paul Gross) travels to Chicago on the trail of his father’s murderer, staying on in a job at the Canadian embassy there. Cue a partnership with streetwise local cop Ray Vecchio (David Marciano) and a swag of suspicious cases to solve by dint of Fraser’s wilderness tracking skills and ability to jump through windows without sustaining injury.

So far, so buddy-cop cliché. But the show rose above those roots to become something more — mostly thanks to the character of Fraser himself. That RCMP uniform may call to mind cartoon character Dudley Do-Right, but the truth is that he’s closer to Superman — replace the tights with jodphurs and the superpowers with quaint and courtly manners and it’s almost uncanny. Like the Big Blue Boy Scout, his old-fashioned values and decency are at odds with
the world around him, but provide countless opportunities for heroism and humour. Haggis is perhaps polishing the wrong franchise...

Due South simultaneously plays up US stereotypes of their northern cousins (polite, outdoorsy, the tiniest bit dull) and subverts them. It’s the same tactic Haggis employs on the big screen — twisting the beats of the sports movie in Million Dollar Baby and undermining familiar images of race and class in Crash. But while Fraser is indeed polite and fond of fresh air, the series of satisfying mysteries, as well as recurring arguments with the ghost of his late father (a surreal touch that long predates Ally McBeal or Six Feet Under), ensure that he’s never dull.

But it’s when the heroes’ values are put to the test that the show really comes into its own — notably in two-parter Victoria’s Secret. Written and directed by Haggis, it’s the series’ standout episode, a combination of thriller and romance that’s rarely been matched on the small screen since — although the Rear Window-esque series finale that follows it comes close.

At its worst, Due South is a witty and well-written genre hit; at its best, it’s one
of the most original and quietly influential shows of the mid-’90s. It may lack the polish of Haggis’ more recent efforts, but his fingerprints are clearly all over it — and you won’t need a Mountie’s tracking skills to see them.

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