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‘Cardinal’ Offers a Few Hours of Guilty TV Pleasure
June 16, 2017  | By David Hinckley

If it’s summer, it must be time for another Canadian police series to visit the U.S. – and sure enough, Hulu offers the nicely compact detective drama Cardinal beginning Friday.

Imports from the North have become a modest summer tradition for broadcast networks, which use them to offer relatively cheap original programming, and that’s presumably what Hulu has in mind with Cardinal.

The closed-end series runs six episodes and is based on the novel Forty Words for Sorrow by Giles Blunt. It has been renewed in Canada for two more seasons based on subsequent Blunt books with the same main characters.

Billy Campbell, who is known for shows that include The Killing, plays detective John Cardinal.

Cardinal seems rather melancholy, which apparently has become almost a requirement for TV detectives. Specifically, he seems to have burned out while unsuccessfully investigating the disappearance and apparent death of 13-year-old Katie Pine.

As our story opens, a new lead has surfaced in the case. So Cardinal, who had taken himself out of the murder investigation game, now plunges back into the Pine case with all his old obsessions.

This single-mindedness, alongside the fact he does not play well with others, creates serious challenges for his new partner, Lise Delorme. She’s played by Karine Vanasse, in a role much different from her previous turns in the short-lived Pan Am and the super-soap Revenge.

Lise’s frustration is tempered by the fact she has a second mission. She’s a mole, sent to partner up with Cardinal so she can determine whether he’s actually a dirty cop who’s been feeding information to a drug dealer the cops can’t seem to nail.

So Cardinal runs on two intertwined tracks, with Cardinal himself trying to find a killer and Lise trying to help in that pursuit at the same time she tries to sneak inside Cardinal’s walls and find out whether he’s really up to something.

Campbell does a fine job with a character who is written to spend much of his time being inscrutable, while Vanasse captures both sides of Lise’s schizophrenic mission: to play the good partner at the same time she must hide any skepticism that arises from her observation of his doings.

Cardinal isn’t the kind of drama that’s looking to break new ground or offer profound social insights. It’s aiming to tell a good story – the television equivalent of a beach read – and it accomplishes that mission.

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Good news, TVWW readers: David’s new book from Doubleday, The Platinum Age of Television: From I Love Lucy to The Walking Dead, How TV Became Terrific is available on Amazon for $20. (Paperback will be available September 5th, here.)

Doubleday says: “Darwin had his theory of evolution, and David Bianculli has his. Bianculli's theory has to do with the concept of quality television: what it is and, crucially, how it got that way."

"The Platinum Age of Television is an effusive guidebook that plots the path from the 1950s’ Golden Age to today’s era of quality TV. For instance, animation evolved from Rocky and His Friends to South Park; variety shows moved from The Ed Sullivan Show to Saturday Night Live; and family sitcoms grew from I Love Lucy to Modern Family. A high point is the author’s interviews with Carl Reiner, Mel Brooks, Norman Lear, Bob Newhart, Matt Groening, Larry David, Amy Schumer and many others...Bianculli has written a highly readable history." —The Washington Post


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