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Entertainment

'Whistler': One Toke Over the Line?

Show shreds, but zones out on the resort's reality.

By Elaine Corden 11 Aug 2006 | TheTyee.ca

Elaine Corden writes about pop culture for the Tyee. Her work has appeared on CBC Radio, and in The Georgia Straight, The Vancouver Sun, The Globe and Mail, Vancouver Magazine, Time Out, Victoria Times-Colonist, Monday Magazine, FFWD, The Hour, North Shore News, Shared Vision and some papers in Florida, Texas and Oregon she forgets the names of. Until recently, she authored the music column "Band Geek" for WestEnder, where she also acted as Arts Editor. She maintains the pop-culture obsessed blog Trifective, and is currently working on her first novel.

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Hey, isn't that Ross Rebagliati?

Sick news, bro: the new CTV series Whistler just renewed for its second shreddin' season, like, totally doesn't blow.

Even better news: the writers of this all-Canadian drama surrounding the world-renowned B.C. resort take the high road, and avoid writing the show in hacky snowboarder speak, demonstrating a hitherfore unseen restraint of proportions we couldn't possibly have imagined. Gnarly. The temptation, we imagine, must have been overwhelming.

With that, our worst fear, allayed, we get down to the actual show, which to translate those first two, ill-appropriated sentences, is actually a pleasant surprise.

Starring a host of "weren't-they-in…?" Canadian talents, Whistler is a juicy drama surrounding the residents and monied guests of its namesake resort town. The series begins with the seemingly accidental death of Olympic champion snowboarder and hometown hero, Beck McKaye (David Paetkau, looking very much like...well, more on that later), and unravels as a sort of Dallas-style murder-mystery soap opera.

Slippery secrets

Beck's younger brother, Quinn (Jesse Moss) is the lead here, unravelling the hidden secrets of his brother's past with the help of his Uncle Ryan (Adam J. Harrington, in a role a million times better than the overplucked "sexologist" he plays on Showtime's execrable Show Me Yours). Also along for the ride are Beck and Quinn's grieving parents (ex-X-Filer Nick Lea and Street Legal's Ingrid Kavelaars); Beck's much-put-upon girlfriend, Carrie; her older sister Nicole; and most importantly, the series villain, Adrien Varland, the Richie Rich who owns much of the resort and comes with a requisite trophy wife.

The plot unfolds in a manner that is neither Lost-style complicated nor Naked Josh–style predictable. In fact, as far as soaps go, it's a gooder. There's enough intrigue and surprise to keep tuning in every week, but enough sex, drugs and action to keep it fluffy as fresh powder.

As young Quinn emerges from his dead brother's shadow, he becomes increasingly entwined in the hedonistic and decadent world of Whistler's notorious party scene. He grows closer to Beck's world, falling for his bereaved girlfriend and getting to know Beck's rich-kid best friend (who happens to be the son of baddie villain Adrien Varland). Following the smart move of the O.C., the parents have their own twisting storyline, meaning the show works as a teen drama that the oldsters won't mind watching.

Following a spate of embarrassingly bad, made-in-Canada, desperate-to-be-hip flops, (Falcon Beach, This Space For Rent, Show Me Yours, any one of the intolerable "sex" shows on Showcase), Whistler is refreshing. It's certainly not going to win any awards for clever writing or innovative ideas, but at least it doesn't make us cringe.

Powder junkie reality

Whistler, the actual city, is represented well, given a dreamy sheen and plenty of pre-Olympics airtime to show off its beautiful slopes. As anyone who's ever known a local can attest to, there are two worlds in that town: the glamorous resort life and the life of the locals. Characters in Whistler effortlessly stride both worlds, from Creekside to the Penthouse at the Fairmont.

But the writers stay clear of depicting the less glamorous social scene in Whistler (read: eight dudes with unkempt hair sitting around their filthy rental drinking warm Pils and watching snowboarding videos). And somewhat surprisingly ignore the Australians and Kiwis that basically run the town's service industry come winter. If the soap was anything like the Whistler I've been to, you'd see more of them and their vile vegemite sarnies, more crutches, more frightfully unkempt washrooms at rented Creekside condos, and teams of sixteen powder junkies splitting a one-bedroom "condo" and $18 drinks at the clubs. (In fact I would like to see a Whistler $18 drink featured in the show somewhere. For that much money, it should be, like, you know, a famous drink.) Like all good soap operas, Whistler realizes the only reality we want to see is the one we've dreamed up in our heads, where poor girls still dress in Prada and the geekiest "losers" on the scene are still knockouts.

Music plays heavily here, a bit too much so, as if co-producer Sam Feldman (CEO of the S.L. Feldman talent barn) only got involved so he could saturate the show with Canadian acts he's either signed or is courting. Posters for Canuck bands spatter the walls of lead characters (and the characters' "blog" After the Drop, which lists all their favourite tunes) and, whenever there's a dialogue-free moment, we're hit with Feldman's roster of up-to-the-minute indie rock. That's a plus though: the bands he picks are top-notch and not so on-the-nose as to be annoying. From Immaculate Machine to The DirtMitts (who offer the show's theme) to Vancouver heroes Pink Mountaintops, chances are you probably know someone who appears on the soundtrack (to be released for your consuming pleasure on CD soon, natch).

Rebagliati, anyone?

Finally, much has been made of the lawsuit launched by Ross Rebagliati, gold-medal winner for snowboarding in the 1998 Nagano Olympic games and star of an ensuing controversy over marijuana found in his bloodstream after the race (Rebagliati was allowed to keep his medal when it was found the THC in his blood was second hand smoke from a Whistler party). Rebagliati announced last week that he's suing CTV and the show's producers, saying that the character of Beck McKaye is based on him, and that the depiction, (Beck is a drunk-driving, blackmailing, womanizer) is hardly flattering to his reputation. He's got a point -- actor David Paetkau bears an uncanny resemblance to Rebagliati, from the hairstyling right down to the shit-eating grin. As Rebagliati rightly points out, he is the only blond, blue-eyed snowboarding medallist from that B.C. city, and that the show's negative characterization may hurt his ability to line up sponsorship deals.

What's more, the producers claims that Rebagliati's name never came up in meetings, and their refusal to consult with the famous boarder, are, as the saying goes, one toke over the line, and frankly, a little laughable. Those who saw the clips for the CTV show before it aired and didn't think of Rebagliati are either kidding themselves or living in a pop-culture cave. Curious -- the show's producers were smart enough to assemble a capable cast, good writers, a CanContastic soundtrack and permission to film on the lofty resort, yet they couldn't consult with the medallist who helped put Whistler on the map?

That, dude, is, like, totally bogus.

Elaine Corden is a Vancouver-based writer. She writes the Trifective blog.

Related Tyee stories: Elaine Corden mourns the fact that George Strombolopolous no longer "The One" for her, declares So You Think You Can Dance is the best reality TV of the summer, and says Canada's Next Top Model is the worst (well, next to The One).  [Tyee]

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