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Outrageous Fortune: Slings and Arrows Returns

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Sunday brings us the third, and it looks like unfortunately last, season of Slings and Arrows, Sundance’s Canadian-import backstage comedy set at a theater festival. (No relation, the producers swear.) In this season, the once-struggling New Burbage festival is struggling with success, flush with money and praise from a recent hit but wondering if they need to sell out their artistic integrity to keep packing in the seats for a planned production of King Lear. (The number-crunching general manager–Mark McKinney, whom the show shares with Studio 60–wants William Shatner for the lead.)

Watching it, I was struck by something that also occurred to me watching Ricky Gervais’ British HBO series Extras: I couldn’t imagine an American series, today, about show business whose main theme was that success could be a bad thing for an artist. Sure, you have portrayals of hacks and out-of-control stars, but you don’t get the sense that commercial success will make a good artist miserable. (Larry Sanders was miserable, but that was his nature; Tracy Jordan on 30 Rock is crazy, but seems pretty happy with his life.) Here, you’re more likely to get Studio 60, which treats late-night comedy as if it were Shakespeare, and asks you to believe the unfunny show-within-a-show is a big hit; or you get Entourage, which, as much of a blast as it is, is all about hoping that Vincent Chase will get another dumb blockbuster, in order to keep Turtle and the gang in SUVs and bimbos.

I wonder–and I mean this as a compliment, Canada–if there isn’t something in the national character that’s suspicious of big, American-style success. (I’m not completely pulling this out of my big Yankee backside; I’ve seen the general idea expressed by Canadian artists like Margaret Atwood.) In any case, while Slings stays on the air, I’ll be glad to be a little Canadian once a week.

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