CTV continues to change Canadian television. Not content to produce series in Canada for simultaneous release on both sides of the Canadian/US border, now it is premiering series in international markets first. The Listener is a genre series that is not only eligible for mainstream viewing, but has also taken on almost 180 international markets before it even hits the airwaves in Canada or the United States.
With shows such as Heroes and The 4400 paving the way, a series with a telepath as its leading character is no longer a stretch. The Listener features Toby Logan (Craig Olejnik), a Peter Parker-type character with the ability to ‘listen in’ on the thoughts of others. While the usefulness of this for his job as a paramedic is obvious, it’s in discovering the secrets of others where Toby both shines and gets into trouble.
He spends most of each episode tracking down some criminal or another (like the police officer in the first episode who accidentally shoots his partner, and tries to get rid of the witnesses to his own mistake), and giving the good guys a leg up where he can without giving himself away. It’s a delicate balance for Toby as he expends a lot of energy explaining how he’s figured something out, all the while keeping his ability secret.
Through Toby’s childhood, it seems, a kindly neuroscientist, Dr. Ray Mercer (Canada’s own iconic Colm Feore, appearing in Stratford this summer), took an interest, helping him control his ability so that all those random thoughts didn’t drive him insane. As an adult, not only can he control that ability, he can focus the effort, getting front row seats – or ‘surfing privileges’ as he sardonically calls them – into the pertinent secrets needed to help bring the perp to justice. And he’s decided that his power, rather than being a curse, is actually a gift, there to help others in trouble.
His EMS partner Osman “Oz” Bey (Ennis Enser) keeps him grounded, while his love life is kept hopping between the winding up of one relationship with ER doctor Olivia Fawcett (Mylène Dinh-Robic) and the start of another with Detective Charlie Marks (Lisa Marcos), who, with each episode, gets closer to figuring out his ability. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Toby possesses smoldering green eyes and a buff physique to go along with that hidden talent.
The problem a genre series of this type faces with mainstream audiences is the believability factor. Can someone with such powers really exist in our world? The Listener skirts this by keeping the powers centred on one individual – he’s an abnormality in a sea of so-called normal humans, and has to deal with those humans on their own terms. Toby’s powers get trotted out only occasionally, and it also helps that he doesn’t get the full picture every time. His ability is extraordinary, but not boundless.
Feore wasn’t all that present in the first two episodes. Like a convenient walking encyclopedia, his appearances seemed carefully timed to provide a crucial piece of information Toby needed so he could move on to the next phase of his current pursuit. And the police narrative is not well structured. Their utility is borderline, providing just enough slack in the storyline so our telepathic friend can leap to the challenge.
The Listener doesn’t play up its purely science fiction pedigree, preferring instead to focus on the all-too-human relationships among the various characters. This should bode well for its commercial success, both in North America and abroad.
The Listener, premiering tonight June 3rd on Space at 7 pm, and CTV at 10 pm.