I like my television dark. Dark and foreboding with that feeling like you never know what lays beyond a corner or behind a door. I like television that is strange and surreal and that leaves you unsure of whether you actually like what you’re watching.
I really like Durham County.
In fact, back when we first launched Biff Bam Pop two years ago, one of the initial pieces that I wrote was one on the first season of Durham County which had recently been aired on Showcase. I was enamored with the shows use of imagery, specifically the power lines that seemed to pop up and hum throughout every episode. The series also had two brilliant performances, courtesy of Hugh Dillon and Justin Louis (now working under his birth name of Louis Ferreier) as cop Mike Sweeney and his rival, serial killer Ray Prager, respectively. The series’ 6 episodes were dark and disturbing, with the pilot episode standing out as a brilliant hour of television, Canadian or otherwise. The producers of Durham County had a lot to live up with the show’s second season, which aired on The Movie Network last year and was recently released on DVD. In some ways, it measures up. In others, it’s lacking.
The biggest letdown for Season 2 of Durham County is that Louis Ferreier did not return to his Gemini-winning role of Ray Prager. Perhaps it was his commitment to Stargate:Universe, where he is one of the lead players, that prevented it. Whatever the case, he is definitely missed, even if his replacement, Romano Orzani, does do a more than adequate job in the role.
Durham Country Season 2 also suffers from a more convoluted story than the first. Mike Sweeney faces the repercussions of his daughter Sadie’s interaction with his nemesis and the dissolution of his marriage, all while dealing with a cold case that he may or may not have had a hand in. Throw in a new protagonist in Dr. Penn Verrity (Michele Forbes), who may have killed her young daughter, and you have a lot of story going on at once, and not all of it works.
However, while this season is not the absolute home run that Season 1 was, Durham County is still some of the smartest and darkest television I’ve seen in some time. Those power lines are still there, as is a genuine sense of foreboding as we watch the promoted Hugh Dillon’s Sergeant Sweeney discover once again that things may not be as they seem.
Speaking of Dillon, he is one of Canada’s greatest working actors and is reason enough to watch Durham County. His character is full of layers – desperate to keep his family together, even as he deals with his own rage issues and his fear that his daughter may have been assaulted at the hands of his old high school rival Ray Prager. Dillon is supremely versatile and pulls off Sweeney’s rage and soft side with equal brilliance. There are moments where you wonder how he’s not piecing a few things together, but that comes from the script rather than Dillon’s exceptional performance. He even manages to hold his own with one of geekdom’s favorite actresses, Michelle Forbes.
I’ve been a fan of Forbes ever since her days on Guiding Light (yes, I did just admit that). Of course, to some she’ll always be Ensign Ro from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Forbes has a voice that cuts through and also has a beauty that is luminous rather than particularly overt. Her character, psychiatrist Penn Verrity, is both twisted and tough, and she makes a good foil for Dillon. There are other strong performances throughout this season of Durham County, including Helen Joy as Sweeney’s wife Audrey and the superb Laurence Leboeuf as his daughter Sadie, still suffering the repercussions of her run-in with Ray Prager.
Durham County is clearly about what lies beneath the facade of a happy family. There were some moments throughout the 6 episodes where I was blown away by how dark the show was; in fact, in felt as though it was even darker than the first, and believe me, that one had some severely twisted moments. But while I was feeling uncomfortable watching Durham County, I was also intrigued by it. The mark of great storytelling – I couldn’t help but watch what would happen to these characters next. And I won’t have to wait long to find out. Season 3 of Durham County airs this fall on HBO Canada. Season 2 is in stores now.