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A Review by Carole Gordon
"Extraordinary how potent cheap drama is" - to misquote Noel Coward; not that Chasing Rainbows was cheap in monetary terms, but it feels cheap in its execution. With stereotypical characters, clichéd plot lines, intrusive background music and clumsy editing, the series has a distinct feeling of melodrama about it.
Yet it is still totally riveting. This is almost entirely due to the superbly engaging portrayals of the two leads: lovable-rogue-with-heart-of-gold Jake Kincaid (Paul Gross) and wimpish-toff-from-up-the-hill Chris Blaine (Michael Riley) who create a wholly convincing relationship against a background of post-WW1 Montreal as they struggle to rebuild their lives. The plot is driven by the relationship between the two, after Jake saves Chris's life at Vimy Ridge. As the Prince of Wales (a too-obvious caricature of the present PoW) remarks, "They say that if you save a man's life, he becomes your responsibility forever."
Of course, they both love the same woman, Chris's childhood sweetheart. Sadly, Julia A Stewart is miscast as Paula, being far too knowing for the part, and adopting an irritating air of haughty superiority which makes it difficult to like the character, who supposedly loves both men but is unconvincing with either.
The supporting characters - tarts-with-hearts, corrupt cops, menacing gangland figures, an eccentric scientist - are mostly well-played (except the corrupt cop who is embarrassingly bad). Little Gabrielle, a 15-year-old who turns up at Jake's brothel looking for a friend, is especially good, Sophie Leger portraying her with just the right amount of innocent vulnerability.
Every so often there is a glimpse of what a truly fine series this could have been if the director had only injected rather more subtlety into the production. For example, in the first episode there is a scene in a French bar when a young girl sings "There's a long, long trail a-winding" to a bar full of spellbound soldiers. Trite, possibly; but also a very moving movement. As would have been the scene between Jake and the parents of Private Wheeler, a young soldier shot for desertion, if this had not been accompanied by music which would not have gone amiss in a Victorian melodrama.
And, like Victorian melodrama, the plot belts along at a terrific pace, keeping the audience anxiously awaiting the next instalment. So, Chasing Rainbows may not be a great dramatic masterpiece. But potent and gripping entertainment? Absolutely.
TV series, like life, are full of "if onlys". Here they abound.
If only the director had shown from Episode 1 the finesse he had mastered by Episode 14.
If only they had made better use of music right from the beginning. In the second half of the series there is often a more deft touch, with music connecting the scenes rather than stomping all over them.
If only some of the theatricality had been toned down. In Episode 12, Jake, having seen Paula kiss Irving Eckleberg, gets drunk. This scene might have played well viewed from the back row of the stalls, but it was altogether too large, too effusive for the small screen.
If only the plots had been consistently developed. The continuing "presence" of the executed Private Wheeler is a poignant and intriguing thread throughout the series, serving to connect the finale with the first episode. But parts of the story are thrown away. The publication of Wheeler's poems in Jake's name builds to a dramatic climax, when Jake is threatened with exposure as a fraud. Then the story fizzles out, the anticipated consequences left frustratingly unexplored. Drama needs consequences; action generating reaction. Sadly, an opportunity to delve deeper into Jake's character through this plot line is discarded.
If only the writing had been tighter, allowing more development of the supporting characters. There are glimpses, but often these are not effectively pursued. One of the few exceptions is Eckleberg, made totally believable by Peter Boretski's superb portrayal.
And, if only Wendy Crewson had played Paula . . .
What cannot be faulted in these last episodes is the interaction between Jake and Chris. They fight, they fall out, they are complete opposites; but you never doubt for a moment that they are friends. Paul Gross and Michael Riley bring an intriguing depth to the characters, developing shades of grey which steer Jake and Chris away from the initial stereotypes, both performances perfectly judged.
The second half of the series undoubtedly moves up a gear and, while Chasing Rainbows never rises too far above "cheap drama", it still leaves its audience with a satisfied smile. What more can anyone ask?