Culture & Conversation

Good Intentions Gone Farcical

Making a television program shot in Montreal appear as if it could transpire in any city in North America is the oldest game in Canadian television. Without US production, Canada would have a much slimmer film and TV industry. But when the creators of The Foundation decided to film a comedy in Montreal, the tables were turned to produce a show that fulfills what Canadian content should be about: filming wildly comic situations in whatever city has the balls to put up with what the writers dish out.

In a riff on contemporary times, creators Michael Dowse and Jennifer Wilson have taken the rich man’s favourite tax evasion vehicle – the charitable foundation – and turned it into a farce of epic proportions. The Foundation is not so much about the causes it funds, but rather, the people who are responsible for the day-to-day running of the organization.

Started by a tobacco baron with oxygen mask in one hand and lit cigarette in the other, the foundation of this show is a vehicle that bears its founder’s name in perpetuity accompanied with the loosely defined mandate of ‘the betterment of mankind worldwide’. Good intentions, indeed. Presided over by his son-in-law, Michael Valmont-Selkirk (stand-up comic Mike Wilmot), who has the position for his natural life as part of a divorce settlement, one soon realizes that this foundation gets itself involved in causes on an egotistical whim rather than by any rigorous process related to need.

Foundations, like their benefactors, compete for causes and Valmont-Selkirk has decided that a competing good Samaritan across town, represented by Rejean Lemlaire (played by veteran francophone actor Yvan Ponton), is taking too much of the limelight. So he decides to one-up the man. He, too, will enter the one-night challenge, spending an entire night living on the streets without shelter and by his wits with the noble goal of contributing a million dollars to a local homeless shelter.

The ensuing competition is a contrast of parodies. Lemlaire does it the honest way, showing his gang of homeless how to build better cardboard shelters. Valmont-Selkirk shows up on the street wearing a fur coat with a pocket full of cash that gets used to buy up a block-party sized supply of wine and beer for the street people. Soon, he is buying them not just booze but shots of crack from a local street dealer. News spreads and even Lemlaire’s homeless jump ship and run for the freebies.

Outrageous? Perhaps, but it is effective at poking a rather large stick in the eye of all those good intentions enunciated in sober, reassuring tones by our leaders of business today. It does nothing to denigrate the good work the foundations do, but it does make you take a second glance at what they claim is good for the targets of their beneficence. After all, when the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is intelligently criticized in Harpers for perpetuating world hunger, rather than preventing it, shows like The Foundation provide a welcome escape valve of humour to lighten our collective misgivings.

The Foundation, appearing on Showcase on Sundays at 10:40 pm, starting on September 13, 2009.

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