SLINGS & ARROWS (2003-2006)

(Acorn/AMC+/Sundance Now/VOD) SLINGS & ARROWS is the story of a Shakespeare theatre troupe in a small Canadian town that’s a barely disguised facsimile of the Stratford Festival theatre troupe and — wait, no! Come back!

Yes, on paper it sounds like something you’d fall asleep to watching PBS on a Sunday afternoon, but the show is far more intriguing than that. Created by Mark McKinney (KIDS IN THE HALL — oh, do I have your attention now?), Susan Coyne (MOZART IN THE JUNGLE), and Bob Martin (MICHAEL: EVERY DAY), it’s really about actor-turned-theatre director Geoffrey Tennant (Paul Gross, best known for DUE SOUTH, but was also in the core seasons of TALES OF THE CITY), prone to mental breakdowns, finds himself haunted by the death of his mentor Oliver (Stephen Ouimette, who did voices on the previously mentioned DOG CITY!), who was hit and killed by a car after a very lackluster opening night of the festival’s latest production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Given that Geoffrey’s ramshackle arthouse theatre had just been closed and he was out of a job, he’s approached about taking over where Oliver left off: to helm the upcoming production of Hamlet. Geoffrey reluctantly agrees, mulling over radical changes to the production when Oliver appears in front of him, chiming in regarding his significant changes, driving Geoffrey closer to the brink of madness than he felt he already was.

(Yes, this mostly occurs in the first episode. It’s an intense show.)

Given that it was a TV show that often consisted of watching actors rehearse, or prep for rehearsal, you might think that the cinematography would be dull or perfunctory, but it’s always engrossing, and the camera rarely stays in place (except when it knows best to do so).

From the actors to the writers and directors, the entire show is a love letter to the messiness of theatre, both on the stage and off. It’s one of the most heartfelt and earnest dramas I’ve ever seen, and is chock full of complicated characters, and even features a litany of swans.

If you needed any more convincing, despite the fact that the show has barbs out for Stratford, my wife and I did trek up there some years ago — mostly because we were very enamored with SLINGS & ARROWS, but also the concept of the company — and we caught a brilliant production of MOTHER COURAGE, as well as a spectacle-laden KING LEAR with Colm Feore as Lear (who also appeared in SLINGS & ARROWS!) If Stratford still exists after the pandemic, I can’t recommend it enough, as it’s a perfectly relaxed vacation if you’re into theatre. I’m sure the swans will be waiting for you.

Season One Trailer:

If you’ve already watched SLINGS & ARROWS, the cast & crew just had a COVID reunion that ACORN has made available for free, which will almost assuredly make you want to re-watch the show: