For about a week after I watched the pilot episode for the new Canadian TV series, PURPLE SQUIRRELS, I had the theme stuck in my head. It is an unshakable riff that evokes both the emptiness of the big city and the intimate setting of the characters’ personal lives, both warm and cold, much like the show itself. The theme sets the tone for this exciting series, developed by Michael Lippert, about three new graduates who begin working as recruiters at a staffing agency and the mess that their lives inevitably become as they clash against and learn to work with the eclectic staff that already calls this office home.
Alex (Alex Lee), Natalie (Olivia Clarke) and Simon (Jacob Hogan) are three young up-and-comers, fresh meat in the fast-paced, highly demanding workplace they have entered. Broke, entitled and full of hope for the future and despair at the present, they offer us a mirror to our own lives as we struggle to secure our identities while the world tries to rip us apart. These are characters most of us can relate to and recognize and the few that can’t can probably find someone else in the office they can side with. The greatest asset of the show is that it doesn’t make clear who is the obvious audience stand-in. There is no Leonard Hofstadter or Ross Geller but rather a mix and match of good and bad traits to be found in each character that immerses us in the drama developing on screen without sacrificing uniqueness in favor of marketability.
An obvious comparison is Lena Dunham’s HBO series, GIRLS, but PURPLE SQUIRRELS is aiming for something different. Rather than defy prior conceptions about 20-somethings trying to make it big, the show engages with the mundanity of entering the “real world” for the first time — or, from the older characters’ persepctive, dealing with the smug entitledness of new generations — and transposes these ordinary events into big drama. It is a refreshing change of pace from the highly driven and cynical television that has dominated the airwaves recently, but it is also a diversion from Canadian stereotypes that shows like CORNER GAS have capitalized on.
No one would expect a no-budget pilot episode produced by local talent from Toronto to be a defining move in Canadian television but PURPLE SQUIRRELS shows the range that the Great White North is capable of. These characters are not nice, they are no Bob and Doug Mckenzie, but they are real. Real in the sense that we have all known roommates, friends, coworkers, love interests and so on exactly like these people. Real relationships don’t fit into the nice family niche that multi-camera sitcoms try so earnestly to cement. Our friends are strangers to us at times just as much and perhaps even more than actual strangers; a moment of connection between two people just meeting can be just as intimate as a romantic dinner. As we follow these new characters into their first day at their new job, complete with meetings, schemes and the development of relationship conflicts, we are thrown headfirst into the confusing rush of trying to find commonalities with people we think we like before we find reasons to hate each other.
Undoubtably Lippert and company have something planned exactly along those lines. The show comes with conflict already built in and ready to be unleashed. We don’t have to sift through a series of stock meetings where characters exchange details about themselves in boring exposition to get to what makes them tick, they are already ticking and ready to be set off at a moment’s notice.
It is exciting to see Canadian television do something this bold. PURPLE SQUIRRELS doesn’t seem to be playing it safe by trying to soften us up and I hope it never does. A Canadian myself, I often find myself disappointed with the lack of quality in local entertainment. I find myself yearning for Manhattan drama or Boston legal disputes but instead end up with another hacked out prairie fight over who stole what tractor part from whom. I mean nothing against my fellow farmers but too much of a local appeal can kill interest. Perhaps it is true that home will always pale in comparison to the unknown, and so PURPLE SQUIRRELS captures familiarity and strangeness in a delicate balance and then stomps on them until they bleed. How refreshing.
You can watch the pilot for PURPLE SQUIRRELS below:
PURPLE SQUIRRELS is seeking funding for their next episode at Indigogo: