Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Durham County Season 1 & 2 (DVD Review)

Season 1 (6 Episodes)
Dir: Adrienne Mitchell & Holly Dale
Cast: Hugh Dillon, Justin Louis, Helene Joy, Sonya Salomaa, Laurence Leboeuf, Greyston Holt, Cicely Austin, Kathleen Munroe, Patrick Labbé, Jean-Nicolas Verreault
Canada, 2007

Reason to see: Chilling Canadian crime drama series with a fantastic cast

Durham County Season 1 follows the Sweeney family as they move from the big city of Toronto to the suburb of Durham County after several tragedies in the family. It may seem that the new setting is a new and peaceful start, however nothing could be farther from the truth as move begins shortly after brutal killings and also brings up past contentious relationships.

The gray colour story and imposing landscape of towering power lines set the tone of the series set in desolation and suburbia where everything and everyone feels so ominous and distanced. Everyone has secrets and moral centres are not where you'd expect, giving an overall sense of unease on who to even root for. Conversely, it's uncomfortably easy to empathize with almost everyone in the series. What makes that uncomfortable is grayness of the characters, although there are a few out and out baddies, almost everyone has moments of questionable integrity. Add to that that one of the strong, recurring elements of the show is violence against women, which is pretty shocking to see in a series that centres strongly on two families living in suburbia.

As harsh as the content is, the series has lots to offer. The characters are complex and the story is compelling, complicated but most of all beautifully precise. It's a puzzle that builds and grows and unravels as the series goes on in a way that I've rarely seen before. And the performances, oh my goodness the performances are second to none here. Everyone does a great job, but Justin Louis for one is a huge stand out as the charismatic, abusive and all-around creepy Ray Prager. I was also very impressed by Greyston Holt who plays the caught in the middle son Ray Prager, Jr.

Overall what I loved most about Season 1 is the fiercely strong father/daughter relationship between Mike (Hugh Dillon) and Sadie (Laurence Leboeuf) Sweeney. It actually made me realize how infrequently we see strong father/daughter bonds at all, let alone one that's on not only on an emotional but also intellectual level, showcased by how Sadie is determined to be a detective just like her father, and has the smarts & guts to do and you can see the pride her Dad takes in seeing her use those strengths. Very powerful.

It's a chilling and gripping series that will easily haunt you long after viewing.

Warnings:
violence, disturbing images & ideas

DVD Extras:

  • Behind the Scenes (25 minutes) combination of clips, behind the scenes footage and interviews focusing on The Story, The Cast and The Secret of the season. It's a fascinating look at the idea behind the series, the focus of the season and includes interesting interviews with co-creators & executive producers Adrienne Mitchell, Janis Lundman & Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik, director Holly Dale (ep 1-4), executive producer Michael Prupas and actors Hugh Dillon, Justin Louis, Helene Joy, Sonya Salomaa, Laurence Leboeuf, Greyston Holt, Kathleen Munroe and Patrick Labbé.
  • Audio tracks by Hugh Dillon and Redemption Choir (2 tracks, 3 minutes each) tracks Sorrytown and Puzzle I Am and are set to stills, images and character portraits from the series
  • Character Bios (text & images)
  • Season 2 Synopsis (text)
  • French Language Tracks
Season 2 (6 Episodes)
Dir: Adrienne Mitchell, Alain Desrochers & Rachel Talalay
Cast: Hugh Dillon, Michelle Forbes, Laurence Leboeuf, Greyston Holt, Patrick Labbé, Helene Joy, Romano Orzari, Cicely Austin
Canada, 2009

Season 2 of Durham County picks up a year after Season 1 and centres on not only dealing with the residual aftermath of the ordeals in Season 1, but also themes of retention of pain and suffering. I didn't think it was possible to top the haunting and uncomfortable nature of Season 1, but they actually did. Season 2 is brutal in a lot of ways, as you'd hope to see the Sweeney's on the road to recovery but they actual go through a completely different kind of hell this time around.

In Season 2 we are introduced to forensic psychiatrist Dr. Pen Verrity played by the formidable Michelle Forbes, whom is a very complex character with a darkened past and carefully masked present. She seeps into all facets of the community including the Sweeney family on several levels, including seeing Sadie as a patient and treating and preparing her on a therapist level.

There are so many levels of gray in Season to, from complicated motivations and sticky relationships and how everything blends together to a point where it's difficult to separate out what to think and feel about the different characters and situations. It also is hard to watch because you feel like the characters should be granted some peace from their journeys, but instead stumble over more heartbreak, drama and pain. You keep hoping for the healing process to begin but the scabs just keep getting ripped off over and over again.

Season 2 does have some huge highlights though including the addition of Michelle Forbes to the cast who gives a striking performance. I also enjoyed the growing relationship between Ray Jr & Sadie, and again kudos to the fantastic performances by Laurence Leboeuf & Greyston Holt. I also loved the stronger presence of Mike's partner Tom Bykovski played by Patrick Labbé, whom serves as the strongest moral centre of the series.

Although there were just a few moments in the season that I found a hard to believe, which made me not enjoy it as much as Season 1 which retrospectively feels perfect. I do have to give it props on the fact that it pulled off an even stronger and more complicated emotion reaction over Season 1, which I didn't think was possible. Another great season in a compelling series.

Warnings: violence, disturbing images & ideas

DVD Extras:
  • The Making of Durham County (37 minutes) combination of behind the scenes footage clips and interviews focusing on The Story, The Characters and The Production of the season. It touches on differences & connections between the first two seasons, the changes and development of the characters, and a nice look at the production design. Includes interviews with co-creators & executive producers Adrienne Mitchell, Janis Lundman & Laurie Finstad-Knizhnik, executive producer Michael Prupas, line producer Claude Paiement, production designer Donna Noonan and actors Hugh Dillon, Michelle Forbes, Helene Joy, Laurence Leboeuf, Patrick Labbé, Romano Orzari, Mike Dopud and Claudia Ferri
  • French Language Tracks
Durham County Season 1 & 2 is available on combo-pack DVD as of October 5, 2010 at Amazon.ca.
See also Amazon.com where the series are available individually as Season One and Season Two.

Shannon's Overall View:
I was captivated by it
I'll watch it again
I'd easily recommend it to crime drama fans

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© Shannon Ridler, 2010

1 comment:

Anh Khoi Do said...

I personally liked the second season more than the first one (which was magic) because of the way it dealt with violence. With the shades of grey in the second season, I liked the maturity the show has when it depicts its characters. Instead of just depicting its leading characters (esp. Mike, Peneloppe and Ray) just as monsters, the show brings us human beings - with their basest weaknesses - doing monstrous things. Moreover, it's one of the few shows that doesn't look dark just for the sake of it.

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