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TV Review: So Far, The Guard Treads Water

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The rescue specialists in Global's The Guard continue to flounder personally and professionally in the series' fourth episode, "When I'm Sixty-Four," airing Tuesday. With these people as Coast Guards, I'm glad I'm on dry land.

There's some welcome levity to this episode, which centres around the efforts of First Mate Laura (Claudette Mink) to bond with her coworkers – or at least make the appearance of bonding – after being passed over for promotion to irresponsible Duty Captain Miro (Steve Bacic).

The gang, including pretty, alcoholic Carly (Zoie Palmer) and her new-age nutbar of a boyfriend Wendell (Ryan Robbins), and pretty, post-traumatic-stressed Andrew (Jeremy Guilbaut) and his put-upon wife Amy (Julie Patzwald), react with varying mixtures of horror and dread to the social invitation. The event turns out about as well as you might expect from that kind of enthusiastic start.

When Miro's inappropriately young and vapid date exclaims "I hope there's going to be dancing later!" Carly answers, "Why, did she bring her pole?" Laughter is a welcome relief from the relentless misery of most of these lives we're following.

Besides the laughs and angst, the episode has an obligatory rescue at sea as well as the introduction of a new rivalry between our heroes and the SAR Techs from the Department of Defense, who seem to be to the Coast Guard what the FBI are to local police in every cop drama ever made for TV – that is, the arrogant bullies who encroach on their territory.

Though The Guard started with the strongest ratings among the slew of new Canadian-made offerings, it hasn't managed to capitalize on the gift of having top-rated House as a lead-in. This fourth episode – which the producers sent out for review in a wise and rare-in-Canadian-TV bid to keep the show from sinking further – is fortunately stronger than the last couple of outings, though it continues to suffer from storytelling torpor.

The Guard on GlobalBefore it launched, I was eager to embrace this show about pretty people doing adventurous and amorous things in pretty scenery — the kind of scenery that led me to move to Vancouver. However, my eagerness faded with the realization that not enough happens to justify the soap genre or the action genre.

My major disappointment in The Guard so far is the lack of drama in plot and character development oddly combined with too much backstory drama spelled out in the dialogue. None of these characters have developed into people I would care about, and yet they demand at every turn that I do.

You know how sometimes you meet someone, and you ask them how they are, and they tell you? They spill about their recent depression, and how their cat just died, and their father never loved them, and they're sure their headaches are a sign of a brain tumour. You know that guy? The Guard is that guy.

Four episodes in, and there's not much more to each character than their one overriding issue that the show can't stop telling us about. What passes for characterization is a catalogue of woes.

So far, there's not much more to Andrew than post-traumatic stress. The pilot episode dealt with the aftermath of a failed rescue attempt, so he was too soon, for too long, sucked into angry, sulky mode before we even got a chance to know him as anything else.

Traumatized by the failed rescue, he can't move past that one event. Unfortunately, that means neither can we. His story doesn't move forward in "When I'm Sixty-Four," either, despite the fact that he half-heartedly attempts therapy. While I hope I'd be more sympathetic in real life, in TV life I think his wife should drop-kick him into the ocean the next time he's sullen or cruel.

There are an awful lot of scenes in The Guard of Carly sitting on the couch whining to her ex-soldier, ex-addict, current annoying boyfriend about her trailer-trash childhood and the scenes from episode four are virtually identical to the scenes in episode one.

Laura is bitter at being passed over for the promotion given to Miro, but that conflict isn't as dramatic as the show thinks it is — not enough to sustain the drama over four (and counting) episodes. She's also coping with boyfriend David's deteriorating multiple sclerosis and his terribly teenaged daughter, which thankfully makes her more sympathetic than the focus on her jealousy would otherwise allow.

David James Elliot as that boyfriend is criminally underused, even considering he's a recurring supporting character rather than a regular member of the ensemble. So far, there's not much more to him than the MS, though in this episode David finally shows flashes of charm and chemistry with Laura.

Barry (Gordon Woolvett) seems like the only character who has any spark of fun in him. Of course that means he has barely any screen time except to answer the radio at the base or be a sounding board to others. So far, then, there's not much more to him than the wheelchair.

I'm not ready to give up on the escapism of The Guard, since it still has those pretty people in pretty scenery proving their bravery at work and their vulnerability at home. But so far, I'm only sticking with it in the hopes that it won't keep relying on the pretty, and will move on from circling the same waters of these early episodes and get into soapy, action-filled stories we can sink our teeth into.

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About Diane Kristine Wild