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"The Last of a Breed"

Fraser learns of his father's deathThe Pilot movie tells the story of how, when legendary Mountie, Sergeant Robert Fraser, is shot, his son Benton vows to track down his killers. His investigations lead him to Chicago, where he meets up with the streetwise Detective Ray Vecchio, who, accompanied by Diefenbaker, Fraser's deaf, lip-reading half-wolf, helps him negotiate the trickier aspects of city life during his hunt for the killers. Having solved the murder and turned in "one of his own", a senior RCMP officer involved in a controversial dam project, Fraser is exiled back to Chicago, where he resumes his role as Deputy Liaison Officer at the Canadian consulate.

Paul Haggis's pilot for due South is a master class of scriptwriting and characterisation. In one line, the audience is told everything they need to know about Bob Fraser as he stands defiantly to address his killer:

"You're going to shoot a Mountie? They'll hunt you to the ends of the earth."

And in one short scene, Benton is established as resolute, determined and ruthlessly wedded to the rule of law, when he captures and brings in a felon, to the amazement and amusement of his colleagues, who regard Fraser as certifiable for attempting to cross the pass in a blizzard:

"That's the last time he'll fish over the limit!" Fraser says as he dumps the criminal unceremoniously into a holding cell.

This is your job?So, with a few deft strokes, Paul Haggis set the scene and established the characters as well as creating the unique fusion of drama and comedy with a delightful touch of the surreal that confounded the traditional expectations of action-adventure shows. It also introduced the other aspect of due South's premise - the clash of stereotypes and cultures between the USA and Canada, emphasised by the continuing in-joke of using the names of famous Canadians for some of the characters. As a hero who uses tracking skills honed in the Yukon, defuses dangerous situations by way of an Inuit story rather than a gun and has a penchant for leaping out of windows, Fraser shows an abiding belief in the basic good in all people. Ray is his sarcastic, well-armed American antithesis. Give these characters a beautifully written script full of wit and quirkiness, add a dash of action and a well-structured plot, and the stage was set for due South to become an award-winning success.

"Appearances can be deceiving."

The Blue Linedue South's premise may sound like "just another buddy-buddy cop show", but it proved to be far more than that. And the first season set the show off to a great start. With character-based stories and witty, intelligent dialogue, the writers never shirked from addressing difficult topics - themes from which most shows would shy away faster than you can say "Bindlestitch!". Subjects as diverse as depression and mental illness (Hawk and a Handsaw), father-son relationships (Gift of the Wheelman), the problems of the elderly (Eye for an Eye), or corruption in sport (The Blue Line), were all grasped with compassion but with a lack of overt sentimentality and without seeking to offer simple answers to life's problems. At the conclusion of The Blue Line, for example, Mark's hockey career is over but his future remains uncertain. Even plots demanding a darker tone, such as The Deal, in which Ray and Fraser try to help a shoemaker who falls foul of local Mafia boss Frank Zuko, manage to temper the violence of the theme with a good deal of humour. The scene where Civilian Aid Elaine Besbriss tends Fraser's injuries after he has been beaten by Zuko's henchmen is a complex and heady mixture of sensuality and comic by-play that somehow fits perfectly into an otherwise serious episode.

Gift of the WheelmanGift of the Wheelman is a stunning example of the best of due South and is the episode that Paul Gross frequently cites as his favourite. With the sudden return of Fraser Senior (Deceased) to harry and advise Benton, interwoven with a main plot-line about a getaway driver seeking to provide for his son, together with a first glimpse of Ray Vecchio's father (also deceased), the episode has all the ingredients that made due South unique. One of those ingredients was the interaction between Benton and his father (played by Gordon Pinsent) which added a further surrealism to the already Pythonesque elements of the show.

Paul Gross summed it up:

"I think the episode sort of served as a model for the show . . It has this crazy swirl of whimsical fantastic stuff and yet has some very real characters in the centre of it along with some great humour and real heartfelt human stuff It's a wonderful mix of everything." - Cult Times Christmas Special 1996

That "mix" includes bank-robbing Santas, Elvis impersonators and a reindeer that only Fraser appears able to see. But at its core, there remains the human story:

Fraser: "I think there's only one thing that a father needs to leave his son, and that's a good example of how a man should live his life. Anything else, the son can learn for himself. The greatest gift my father ever gave me was the courage to trust my own abilities, and I learned that through his example."

"It was as though I had known her forever - across a thousand lifetimes."

Victoria's Secret part oneWhile each of the seasons has its stand-out episodes, the one most often quoted as a favourite by fans, or even as "the best two hours of television ever", is the two-part Victoria's Secret. Taking up the theme of the woman Fraser speaks of in You Must Remember This (an episode which cleverly, but only in hindsight, mirrors the events of Victoria's Secret), the story unfolds of how Fraser arrested Victoria after having tracked her to Fortitude Pass, how each saves the other's life - and how Fraser then arrests her. With its dark themes of revenge, the episode is a departure from the preceding stories. For the first time, the upright, incorruptible Mountie is shown to be deeply complex and flawed, as capable of being "blind-sided" by life as anyone, and just as capable of making catastrophic judgements. Through it all, Ray stands loyally by his friend, prepared even to destroy his own family by putting up bail for Fraser, risking his career and his liberty in the process.

Not surprisingly, the show won a total of 10 Geminis (Canada's equivalent of the Emmy) for its first season episodes in the 1995 and 1996 Gemini awards, including Best Dramatic TV Series and the Best Performance by an Actor in a Continuing Leading Dramatic Role award for Paul Gross in both years.

And yet, in spite of enormous popularity in Canada, Europe and Australia, and having initially received rave reviews in the USA (even at one time reportedly exceeding ratings for The X-Files), due South failed to maintain sufficient audience share on the CBS network, in no small part due to erratic scheduling. CBS pulled the financial plug; due South was cancelled.

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