How much does the CBC love its new hit drama series Arctic Air? Heaps. At the CBC upfronts earlier this month in Toronto, Vancouver and Calgary to unveil next season’s schedule to advertisers and media, host George Stroumboulopoulos introduced the Arctic Air actors first in the opening Prime Time segment, ahead of the Dragon’s Den Dragons.
And for good reason — Arctic Air was the most-watched debut season for a CBC drama series in fifteen years, averaging just under a million viewers (965,000) for its first ten episodes. I watched all ten and even live-tweeted the finale in mid-March, along with so many other Canadians. Arctic Air is a classic adventure series — filmed mainly on permanent sets in Aldergrove with most exterior scenes filmed in Yellowknife — where the main trio are often in peril. It started with Bobby Martin (Adam Beach)’s return to Yellowknife to help keep alive the maverick airline co-founded by his dead father and the notorious curmudgeon Mel Ivarson (Kevin McNulty). There he reunites with Mel’s daughter Krista (Pascale Hutton), a former flame and hot-shot pilot. In the season finale cliffhanger, much of it filmed near Clinton in B.C.’s Cariboo country, Mel has internal bleeding after helping the other survivors of a plane crash. What? “Mr. Crankypants better be with us next season,” I tweeted.
Two months later, I got a chance to ask three of the Arctic Air cast, in an interview ahead of the Vancouver season preview. if Kevin McNulty’s absence meant Mel didn’t survive the season finale. “This is the Adam Beach Show” quipped Beach, intimating McNulty had gotten too big for his boots. But Beach is joking. Only the writers know what will happen in season two’s thirteen episodes next year. I did volunteer how much I’d enjoyed Beach punching Brian Markinson’s sleezy mogul Ronnie Deardon in the bar after one-too-many a-hole remarks by Deardon. And later when Aleks Paunovic’s prospector Jim McAlister single-handedly took on a group of thugs. Beach says Paunovic’s nickname on set is the “Griz”. A question about who’s left for Leah Gibson’s hotel receptionist Candi to sleep with in season two got some laughs, too. Pascale Hutton opined that Candi might have run out of options in Yellowknife.
When asked what they enjoyed most about the first season, though, the answer was quick — CBC’s support. It really was an unprecedented rollout for a Canadian drama series, like nothing we’ve ever seen before in this country, and the backing continues. Unfortunately Adam Beach and setmance girlfriend Leah Gibson had a previous engagement so they couldn’t stick around for the presentation, to George Stroumboulopoulos’s surprise. He’d expected both Beach and Hutton to be on stage against that beautiful backdrop of the far north, as they were in Toronto.
It’s unlikely Adam Beach or Kevin McNulty will show at the Leo Awards this Saturday night at the Fairmont Hotel Vancouver either. Arctic Air has nine nominations, including one for Best Dramatic Series, but none for the performances of the main trio (Pascale Hutton got a separate performance nomination for The-Exorcist-meets-Glee musical episode of Sanctuary). I am happy that screenwriter Susin Nielsen is nominated for the only episode actually set in our city, the wonderfully-titled “Vancouver is Such a Screwed-Up City”, about Bobby going south with Mel and Krista to buy a new plane in Vancouver and finding his old life here coming back to haunt him. Among supporting cast, Stephen Lobo and Emilie Ullerup are both nominated for their back-in-Yellowknife roommate hookup in this episode, as they should be. Lobo’s giddy face as Dev-after-sex is a wonder. Carmen Moore and Timothy Webber are nominated for a different episode, CTVAC, about Bobby putting lives at risk to find out how his father died. And two guest actors, Bradley Stryker and Luke Camilleri, are nominated for their work hijacking an Arctic Air flight. Add a well-deserved picture editing nomination for Lara Mazur for the season finale and that makes nine.
UPDATE: Susin Nielsen won the Leo Award for best screenwriting for the set-in-our-city episode, Vancouver is Such a Screwed-up City. And that was it for Arctic Air at this year’s Leos (Pascale Hutton did win a Leo for her guest appearance on Sanctuary).