It is the season when TV series fly south from Canada to roost on American television, and come Monday, the CW has got two for you. Both are comedies. One, developed from a Web series, is aimed squarely at the young; the other is for the rest of you.
In "Backpackers," which began as a Web series and whose summer scheduling mirrors its summer setting, two young men from north of the 49th parallel travel to Europe. One is Ryan (Noah Reid), who is about to marry Beth (Meghan Heffern), his first and only love, who has convinced him that, to avoid a "time bomb of regret," they should temporarily part, to go crazy and have, you know, experiences: "dancing high in a field in a foreign country or partying for three days straight," but basically sleeping with strangers.
The other is Brandon (Dillon Casey), Ryan's childhood friend and prenuptial wingman, who in the usual way these character are dispensed is the hotter, more confident and more morally flexible of the two. Indeed, once they get to Paris, all Ryan can think about is finding his fiancée, also on the Continent but running radio silent. And a quest is born.
There's something to be said for a show about other places that actually films in them, but the location footage is cut quick, as in a cheap cable travel show; Europe starts to seem like just a changing landscape of electronic dance music and beer, peopled by good-looking women ready to go off with a couple of wild and crazy Canadians. The Canadians, for their part, evince only a passing, practical interest in their surroundings. This may be how it is among the backpacking young nowadays; surely, we are meant to see them as passionate, in their individual ways. Yet the whole business feels a little shallow.
"You come to France and use it like your personal bidet, non?" says the gendarme who, in the series' opening scene, discovers Ryan and Brandon drunk in an empty fountain before the Eiffel Tower, playing soccer with their pants around their ankles. Of course, they win him to their side. It is their show.
More substantial, surprisingly, is "Seed," in which Adam Korson plays a scruffy bartender, failed musician and collector of one-night stands who, through some irrelevant mechanics, becomes suddenly acquainted with kids he didn't know he had, born to two families from his anonymously donated frozen sperm. Additionally, and a little too coincidentally, a woman he later meets on a bus may also be pregnant, by the same means, with his child.
It is the merest twist on a premise as common as houseflies in which a childish adult is transformed by the joys and responsibilities of parenthood, or surrogate parenthood. (The kid benefits too — often getting the childhood he or she has until then been denied.). NBC has been mining that vein with "About a Boy," but I give you "Little Miss Marker" and "Paper Moon" and "Three Men and a Baby" and "Meatballs," and I could stand here all day doing this.
Little happens in the two episodes I've seen that could not be mathematically extrapolated from the premise — not even that one couple, parents of a 9-year-old boy, are lesbians. (The other set, who have a 15-year-old girl, are upper crust and uptight.) The jokes also have a kind of inevitability.
And yet it works pretty well. The actors are generally charming. The characters, though the grown-ups spend a lot of time insulting one another for laugh lines, also seem genuinely, if cautiously, bonded in their not-quite-blended sort of family. It is modern in tone — i.e., sex jokes — but old-fashioned in attitude. As I say, you've seen it all before. But there's a reason it keeps coming around again.
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