Starring: Jerry O’Connell, Sydney Tamiia Poitier, Kristian Bruun, John Bourgeois, Brenda Kamino, Denis Akiyama, Joanne Boland, Varun Saranga, Chris Farquhar, Matt Baram
Director: Scott Smith (Eps. 1, 3, 4, 6), James Dunnison (Eps. 2, 5), Gail Harvey (Eps. 7, 9), Rich Newey (Eps. 8, 10)
Writers: Garry Campbell (Eps. 1, 6, 10), Ken Cuperus (Ep. 2), Jenn Engels (Eps. 3, 9), Larry Bambrick (Eps. 4, 7), Wil Zmak (Eps. 5, 8)
Reviewed by Sidney Morgan
This review CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
We live in an age of great television. With more cable network channels and the traditional broadcast television ones, the number of shows vying for viewers has increased. And ways to consume these have changed as well. Quality has improved, providing viewers at home with an excellent series. But there are so many! How does one choose?
From writers to special effects wizards, from actors to cinematographers, they try to make themselves stand out from the rest. The result is a mixed bag, including more graphic and more extreme violence, highly sexualized scenarios, complex plots, and visual feasts. And all genres exhibit this trend, whether it be a comedy, drama, thriller, or even horror. Though it makes for great must-see TV, it also acts as an adrenaline shot on our emotions. We’re either laughing hard, going through tissue boxes crying, sitting on the edge of our seats biting our nails anxiously, or closing our eyes (too late at times) to avoid that fear-inducing scene. It’s an emotional workout, and it can be mentally tiring at times. So when a show like Carter comes along, it really is a nice and welcomed change of pace.
Harley Carter (Jerry O’Connell) is on top of the world. He’s living the Hollywood dream, playing the lead detective in a television show Call Carter. But his popularity and lifestyle lead him to a burnout. The final straw happens while at a red carpet event, where Carter sees the man he suspects is having an affair with his wife and assaults him. Gifted with this show of madness, the paparazzi make sure Carter is front page news. Needing a mental and physical break, and to escape Hollywood, Harley returns to his peaceful hometown of Bishop, located in Northern Ontario. In Canada. And while there, he reconnects with his two childhood friends, as well as his adoptive parents.
Sam (Sydney Tamiia Poitier) is now a detective. Though it’s completely illogical, she lets Harley accompany her to solve crimes. After successfully assisting in one case, the mayor offers him the position of consulting detective, because, you know, he played a detective on television, which is apparently adequate qualification for the job. But Carter and Sam work well together (O’Connell and Poitier exhibit good on-screen chemistry). Of course, the mystery tropes ooze in the show, including the will they, won’t they one.
Carter also gets Dave (Kristian Bruun), who runs a coffee food truck, to help. With Sam having to follow rules, Carter looks to street smart Dave for some of the more questionable activities and someone he can discuss his ideas with. His dry sense of humour is a nice touch too. The three work well together, though it isn’t the first time they do as they solved the disappearance of Carter’s mother when they were teens.
The supporting cast is good, from Chris Farquhar as Rafalski to Joanne Boland as Nicole. With few scenes, Varun Saranga plays the funny Vijay Gill, the junior agent who’s been tasked to bring back Carter, so that he can honour his contract. Even funnier are Harley’s adoptive parents, Dot (Brenda Kamino) and Koji (Denis Akiyama), who really don’t think much of Carter’s acting abilities and don’t hide those feelings. At all.
For a small northern Canadian town, Bishop seems to have an unusually high number of crimes. Then again, so did Cabot Cove. And the show is self-aware – a murder-mystery show about an actor who played a detective on television is given the position of consulting detective with the local police… Carter does occasionally treat the real cases as one of his television ones, humorously comparing situations, which lead to opportunities for him to be mocked. However, it turns out Carter is actually astute (and really lucky) and has good deductive abilities, using his little grey cells, as that famous Belgian detective Hercule Poirot called them, to solve crimes. Case after case, he proves the naysayers wrong.
Carter is nice. It’s not True Detective or Mindhunters, nor does it aim to be. Like Murder She Wrote, Agatha Raisin and Matlock, Carter entertains and does so lightly. The mysteries are fairly straightforward. Jerry O’Connell is having loads of fun, and it shows. The exuberance he displays is contagious. His charm and his humour make him an asset to the show. The interactions between him, Sydney Tamiia Poitier and Kristian Bruun are natural and make it look as though they’ve been acting together for years. Like Psych, the cases are almost secondary to the relationships. There’s no over the top violence, no intense sexual scenes, nor any complex quasi-impossible-to-solve mysteries, and it’s enjoyable.
With shows that try to top one another with every episode, competing to see who can out-wow the other, Carter stays grounded. And there is a place for this kind of show. It’s like a massage after a stressful week; it feels good. It’s funny, lighthearted and the stories hold up. So if you are looking for a ’90s type murder-mystery show, Carter is it, filling a niche that makes it work.
Carter airs Tuesdays on WGN America and is available online at Bravo.