"This is a story that could take place in Toronto, it could take place in New Orleans. All you have to do is shut the water off for a month and see what happens," says writer Malcolm MacRury about ZOS: Zone of Separation, his new eight-part series from The Movie Network/Movie Central debuting Monday.
The show centres around United Nations military observers trying to protect a ceasefire in the fictional, Sarajevo-like town of Jadac. Set in the present day, ZOS is a fable for modern times.
"This is in the heart of Europe. It's supposed to be civilization. And it broke down into tribal religious violence, same way Belfast did," he continues. "That's why it's important to tell the story now. We simplified it, too: it's Christians and Muslims. Well, open the newspapers. That's the debate all around the world right now."
For this interview, I'm on speakerphone with MacRury and actors Enrico Colantoni, who plays Speedo Boy, the spandex/ammo belt/leather coat-clad head of the Christian paramilitary group, and Rick Roberts, whose Major Gavin Hart is commander of the Canadian troops in Jadac. They're part of an ensemble that includes Michelle Nolden as Captain Sean Kovacs, the leader of the unarmed military observers who is approaching burnout, Colm Meaney as George Titac, the brutal but charming force behind the Islamic paramilitary, and Lolita Davidovich as Mila Michailov, his Christian counterpart.
"I describe it as a mix of Deadwood, M*A*S*H and Monty Python," says the writer. "That kind of black humour is crucial to it. It's the only way you can try to tell something close to the reality of the situation."
MacRury's credits include Deadwood, which is why he was approached by ZOS executive producer Paul Gross. "It was a show about a community, not just about one character, but how a community evolves towards something," MacRury says of the David Milch Western. "That's what we were trying to get at with our town Jadic."
Roberts adds that thinking in terms of a Western helped him wrap his head around the show and his character. "You can almost pick out the archetypes," agrees MacRury. "The gunslinger up in the hills is Speedo Boy. The new sheriff coming to town is Rick's character. Michelle Nolden plays the Jimmy Stewart character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.