Appellate Judge Mac McEntire promises not to make any stale, overused jokes about Canada during this review, eh?
"Some things I know: One, never sit around in a wet bathing suit. Two, always have your keys ready. Three, there comes a time when you gotta get some control over your life. And four, as soon as you decide something like that out loud, the whole world conspires to wreck it."
According to our hero, "A zine is a handmade publication made purely out of passion." More specifically, a zine is a small, four to eight page black and white booklet, hand copied and stapled, containing Xeroxed cutouts from books and magazines, various doodles, and the creator's own writings about…anything and everything. Our Hero is about a girl with a zine, in which she lays out all the details of her life, both the embarrassing moments and the inspiring ones. This hit Canadian TV series is now out on DVD—all 26 episodes of it, in a four-disc set. Here's what it looked like.
Facts of the Case
High school senior Kale Stiglic (Cara Pifko, The Unfolding) has had enough. Her father Joey (Robert Bockstael) is a popular humor columnist who often uses his daughter's misadventures as fodder for his writing. To retaliate, Kale creates her own zine, detailing the ups and downs of her life for the entire world to see.
And what busy a life it is. Kale's friends at school include Mary E. (Jeanie Calleja), who is both a devout Catholic and a party girl; Ross (Justin Peroff), a jokester who may or may not be gay; and Dalal (Vic Sahay), the cool-headed voice of wisdom. At home, Kale's dad and mom (Mimi Kuzyk) try to give their daughter what guidance they can, and Kale's adult brother Ethan (Michael George) moves back in after a messy divorce, with hopes of pursuing a new career as a stand up comedian.
Question of the day:
What is this show really about? "Funny high school girl with a zine" makes for a nice log line, but this is actually a busy show, with a lot going on in each episode. Prepare to have a long list of characters and side characters to keep track of, and story arcs that go on for several episodes at a time. As this set contains both the first and second seasons, viewers will also be able to follow narrative threads that last throughout each season, making for some nicely structured storytelling. There are laughs galore, but there's also romance, sadness, and the struggles of daily life. The titular zine is merely the framework with which to tell the story of one girl's life.
Watching this show is kind of like watching a tennis game, with a constant "back and forth" between comedy and drama. At one second, it's clever, surprising, and gut-bustingly funny. Then, a second later, suddenly it's saccharine and preachy. Then, sometimes within the same scene, it's back to being flat-out hilarious. I'm sure some viewers will get wrapped up in the big tear-jerky emotional moments, but for me, the show is at its best when it's making with the laughs. Kale is a fun character, and some of the witticisms she makes during her various misadventures are good ones. Her friends and family, likewise, are similarly witty, making for a lot of great, quotable lines in each episode. When the show then starts to turn serious, it occasionally pulls at the heartstrings genuinely, but more often than not, it takes the easy way out, relying on trite sentimentalism. But, to continue the tennis game metaphor, whenever this happens, we're very quickly hit back over the other side of the net for more comedy. Each episode moves along at such a brisk pace that neither the humor nor the dramatics overstay their welcome.
In the bonus features, the creators state that one of their goals for the series was to find humor in even the saddest of situations. In one very funny scene, Kale and Mary E. commiserate over the many problems in their lives, after which one of them, in search of a silver lining, says, "At least we're cutely self-aware." This bit made me laugh, but it also sums up what's enjoyable about this series and these characters.
Some things I know:
Chief among these are the animated scenes, created in a rough-looking zine style. Using some low-rent paper cut animation—not unlike the classic Monty Python toons—almost every animated bit is a winner. Not only does it give the storytellers a chance to show what happens when the characters are away from the standing sets, but they can do it with abandon, getting as creative and silly as they want, and the audience still buys it.
The now gal's guide to everything:
If sex isn't enough for you, then how about some drugs? One entire episode is devoted to marijuana use, which of course leads to both stoner jokes and serious "gateway drug" worries. Also, alcohol use is frequent among the high school-age characters, to the point where they head off to drink every weekend like it's no big deal. Again, this is done in a straightforward manner, so it's up to you whether you're shocked by this.
Following drugs and sex, the list is rounded out by the big one: death. A recurring character dies halfway through the series (I'm not saying who) and this has a lasting impact on Kale and the others. Of all the big, important topics here, this is actually the one covered with the most sensitivity and honest emotion. It's one of the few times the creators actually manage to get the dramatic half of the series right, without it feeling forced, making it the high point of Our Hero. And don't worry; there are some unexpected but welcome laughs during all this as well.
At home, Michael George is maybe a little too good at playing an unfunny stand up comedian. He and Pifko have some great chemistry, though. It's when the dealing with Kale's parents that the show's writers most often turn to tired sitcom clichés, so we never really get to see Robert Bockstael and Mimi Kuzyk at their best. Overall, though, the cast is a good one, handling the serious and hilarious halves of each story with equal skill.
My interview with me:
Here's what it looked like:
No jury would convict me:
Our Hero is easily one of the better teen series you'll come across. If you can forgive the occasional slip into standard TV sitcom formulas, you'll walk away with a riotously funny and sometimes touching story about a girl and her zine. Recommended.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Heroic Film Company
• Cast and Crew Commentaries
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