Sunday, December 01, 2013

Battleground's comical look at elections


Super Channel 1 - Mondays

Trail Rides

"Battleground" Offers A Comical Look
At The Roller Coaster Of Election Campaigns 

By Eric Kohanik

Election campaigns can be funny things. Just ask J.D. Walsh.

Although Walsh has a solid list of acting credits, including guest stints on TV shows ranging from Two and a Half Men to The Crazy Ones, it was his real-life stint as a campaign worker during John Kerry's 2004 presidential bid that led him to a role as creator/executive producer.

Walsh's brainchild is Battleground, a clever, documentary-style comedy series that made its Canadian debut Nov. 18.

“It was soul-crushing,” Walsh says of his ride on the campaign trail. “There was a guy there who kind of took me under his wing and kind of showed me the ropes of, like, 'This is how the campaign works.' And he knew all this kind of, like, secret stuff. This guy was kind of my window into the world, and what that life is like.”

Battleground spins its fictional yarn around a group of misfits working on an election campaign in Wisconsin. Jay Hayden stars as Chris “Tak” Davis, the campaign manager toiling to get Deirdre Samuels (Meighan Gerachis) elected to the U.S. Senate. The show's ensemble cast includes Jack De Sena as speechwriter Cole Graner, Teri Reeves as media strategist Kara “K.J.” Jamison, Alison Haislip as tech whiz Ali Laurents and Ben Samuel as campaign newbie Ben Werner.

The show's documentary style is reminiscent of such other TV comedies as The Office or Modern Family. But there's a twist to Battleground. It's a series originally made strictly for the Internet.
Battleground was actually the first foray into scripted programming by Hulu, a video-streaming site based in the U.S. The series premiered there last year and was recently picked up by Super Channel for TV viewers across Canada.

A tight, web-oriented budget meant things had to be done quickly. “We wrote all 13 episodes and then shot them as a movie,” reveals Walsh, who puts in cameo appearances as the filmmaker within the show. “Essentially, we shot three movies in a period of eight weeks.”

The tight budget and shooting schedule don't detract from Battleground. It has production values similar to big network TV shows, but its roots as a web series allowed for a freer creative environment.

“It felt very comfortable immediately,” Hayden recalls. “We were able to stretch as actors and really tell the story that J.D. wanted us to tell.”

Haislip echoes the sentiment. “There was an ease and a flow on set that allowed for a lot of creativity,” the actress says. “J.D. actually came up with this brilliant thing. After every single shot set-up, when he got what he wanted, he gave us an 'unusable' take, and that was, 'Do whatever the hell you want. Just go for it.'

“We were able to get these moments of gold because we weren't thinking about the script anymore. We weren't thinking about what we were told to do. We were thinking about how can we make this even more ridiculous and more hilarious. It's amazing how many of those unusable takes actually made it into the show.”

Other distinct features include the show's on-camera interviews with characters, which appear to take place well after the campaign has ended.

“The idea behind it is we wanted to give it time and distance and space,” Walsh explains. “Because that would allow the people who are being interviewed to, occasionally, not remember exactly how it worked, or possibly still be 'spinning it.' And then we would actually see what happens.”

Not everything is played for laughs. Walsh's campaign experience inspired him to tell stories from varied perspectives.

“All of those people just go from campaign to campaign,” he says. “You can't live a life that way. You can't live a real life. So, that's the struggle that you see in this show, with Tak and his wife at home. She wants a real life.

“What we're trying to do on this show is as real as possible … to find out what the day-to-day struggle is like, what the roller coaster is like.”

Battleground – Super Channel 1 – Mondays

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - December 2013.)

Deck The Halls with Holiday Specials

'Tis The Season 

December Brings Its Usual Plethora
Of Holiday Specials. Here Are
Some Gotta-See Attractions
To Mark On The Calendar

By Eric Kohanik 

Deck the halls! The yuletide season is approaching and, of course, that means December's TV schedules are filled with the usual torrent of holiday programming.

We've sifted through most of the merry mix to come up with some shining lights and gotta-see attractions to help make your season bright ...

A Pitchin' In Christmas 
Chef Lynn Crawford is inviting her extended family of Pitchin' In friends over for Christmas, and they're bringing some of her favourite ingredients, including heritage turkey, roast rack of Canadian lamb, and figs for her famous figgy pudding (Food Network Canada, Dec. 2) 

A Charlie Brown Christmas
The holiday season just wouldn't feel right without certain classics. Leading the pack: Charlie Brown's timeless quest to find the true meaning of Christmas and the help of his pal, Linus. (ABC, dec. 2 and YTV, Dec. 11)

CMA Country Christmas
Trace Adkins, Sheryl Crow, Kellie Pickler and a gaggle of other country stars gather in Nashville to share traditions, memories and songs in a two-hour concert showcase. (ABC, Dec. 2 and City, Dec. 7)

Gordon Ramsay's Christmas Cookalong Special 
When you think Gordon Ramsay, you might not think Christmas cheer, but the Hell's Kitchen chef is in the proper spirit for this special where he invites families to cook together to create a three-course festive feast. (Food Network Canada, Dec. 5) 

The Santa Claus Parade
If you missed the same-day telecast on Nov. 17, here's a couple of chances to catch Santa and the other attractions making their way down the streets of Toronto. (CTV, Dec. 7 and CTV Two, Dec. 8)

A Very Merry Mix-Up
Alicia Witt tops the cast of this fluffy new movie. She plays a young bride-to-be whose Christmas trip to meet her future in-laws becomes a comedy of errors. (CTV, Dec. 7)

The Great Christmas Light Fight
OK, why not have Christmas cheer duke things out with reality TV? This three-episode competition series has 20 families pimping out their homes to win big money. Fa-la-la-la-la. (ABC, Dec. 9, 16, 23)  

Dragons' Den Holiday Episode
How much more of a Scrooge could curmudgeonly money-bagman Kevin O'Leary possibly be? Wait and see. (CBC, Dec. 11)

Kelly Clarkson Christmas Special 
Pop star Kelly Clarkson will loosely base her yet-to-be-titled holiday special around Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol and its underlying message of learning the true meaning of Christmas. (NBC, Dec. 11) 

Miracle on 34th Street
Take your pick of the 1994 remake starring Richard Attenborough (Dec. 12) or the original 1947 version featuring Edmund Gwenn (Dec. 25). Either way, Kris Kringle wins everyone over in the end. (CBC)

It's A Wonderful Life
Jimmy Stewart's performance as downtrodden George Bailey is worth seeing again. And again. (NBC and CTV, Dec. 14, 24)

How The Grinch Stole Christmas
Get out the Roast Beast. The original animated rendition of the Dr. Seuss tale is a treat for young and old. (CBC, Dec. 16)

I Love Lucy Christmas Special
Everything old is new again. Really. CBS has taken a newly colourized version of the seldom-seen 1956 Christmas episode of I Love Lucy and merged it with a colourized rendition of the “Lucy's Italian Movie” episode. The colours are a nice visual bonus; the laughs are still as classic as ever. (CBS, Dec. 20)

Rita MacNeil's Christmas
The late Rita MacNeil's charm lives on in this feel-good special from 2000. John McDermott, Patti LaBelle, Natalie MacMaster and the Barra MacNeils round out the musical celebration. (CTV Two, Dec. 22)

National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation
Sometimes you just need some silly laughs. And there are plenty in the yuletide missteps of Clark Griswold (Chevy Chase) and his family. (CBC, Dec. 22)

The famed 1951 film adaptation of A Christmas Carol showcases Alastair Sim in what is still the definitive portrayal of Ebenezer Scrooge. (CBC; Dec. 24)

Air Farce New Year's Eve Special
A longtime New Year's Eve tradition, this year-in-review romp by the Air Farce crew should have plenty of timely targets. (CBC, Dec. 31)

Gerry Dee New Year's Eve Special
Fans of CBC's Mr. D can catch comedian Gerry Dee yukking things up in preparation for the New Year. (CBC, Dec. 31)

New Year's Eve At Niagara Falls
Entertainment Tonight Canada hosts Cheryl Hickey and Rick Campanelli round up some of the music industry's hottest acts to ring in 2014 in this fifth annual coast-to-coast countdown from Niagara Falls, Ont. (Global, Dec. 31)

(First published in Channel Guide Magazine - December 2013.)