REVIEW: Republic of Doyle - "Streets of St. John's"
You can’t deny that Republic of Doyle makes for some great fun. Since its premiere two years ago, Doyle has been a welcome part of CBC’s lineup, where it follows the misadventures of Jake Doyle, a ne’er-do-well private investigator in St. John’s, Newfoundland. After the writers made some bold decisions last year, I’ve been pretty excited for the show to start its third season.
That season kicked off last night, with the episode “Streets of St. John’s”. While I was able to enjoy most of the fun character work the show is known for, the episode did make a number of missteps with its story and script, something I hope will improve as the season continues.
Perhaps the best idea the writers had last season was to have Jake Doyle close down the P.I. business he was running with his father Malachy and join up with the local police as a special investigator. We pick up the story several months later, with Jake chasing down a suspect through the twisting side-streets and colourful buildings of St. John’s. We soon learn that Jake is not adjusting well to the rule-bound police structure.
Jake becomes aware of a plot to silence a mob informant, and the deeper he gets into the case, the more he mistrusts the cops he’s been working for. In an effort to set things straight, Jake has to call upon all his old contacts, including his father Malachy, his young trainee Des and his former flame Leslie Bennett, now working as a traffic cop after Jake accidently got her fired.
All this is well and good, and it was great to see these familiar characters again. But whereas Season 2 was ready to take them in cool new directions, it’s as though the writers have reconsidered, and want Jake and rest to return to the status quo. Jake grows tired of working for the police, Leslie gets a shot at redemption, and Malachy seems magically cured of the poor health and lack of interest in private investigating that set him back in Season 2.
I would have preferred if this shift had been slower, taking place over multiple episodes while new cases occupied Jake’s attention. I wanted to see how he would adjust to life as a cop, but here he’s ready to quit only five minutes into the episode.
What’s more, Jake’s boss at the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary (Daniel MacIvor) seems shocked by Jake’s unorthodox tactics, when he was the one to tempt Jake with an offer at working in a special unit that would do just that: use unconventional methods to solve cases. At the end of last season, I imagined a small unit of cops lead by Jake, getting up to no good but ultimately coming through. I worry that the show’s writers have shied away from some very promising potential stories.
This disappointing development was somewhat remedied by the character work. Allan Hawco (the show’s creator, head writer and executive producer) was charming as always as Jake Doyle, and the rest of the series regulars put in fine performances. My favourite character is perhaps Des Courtney (Mark O’Brien) who always seems to put a funny spin on the events of an episode.
The biggest part of the premiere was how it brought in A-lister Russell Crowe as a mysterious figure who locks horns with Jake. It was great seeing Crowe pop up on Canadian TV as if he’d always been there. I find myself wishing he’d appear again, but I don’t know if the network could afford it. I should also mention Kevin Durand (the sadistic Mr. Keamy from Lost’s fourth season), who was solid here as a member of Crowe’s character’s team.
The performances might have worked, but the script for “Streets of St. John’s” had me wincing in a few places. Allan Hawco prides himself on writing characters that feel like real Newfoundlanders, but I couldn’t help but notice a bunch of Newfoundland expressions that felt forced into the dialogue. It might work for the average viewer, but to someone from Newfoundland, like myself, it doesn’t always ring true.
The city of St. John’s, on the other hand, looks as good as ever. There’s no point commenting on the accuracy to the real-life city, since it’s as much a character in Republic of Doyle as Jake Doyle. The production team does an excellent job finding unique angles of the city, some of which even I didn't notice in the fifteen years I was living there. The row houses and the "pine-clad hills" have rarely looked so crisp or alive.
There were some problems with pacing, leading to a stop-and-start scene rhythm that I didn’t like. The episode felt vaguely off-kilter as it tried to do too much at once: explain away Jake’s career change, work in lots of Russell Crowe face-time, and cram in the mob informant storyline. It left me kind of confused by the end, so hopefully the series gets its groove back as the season moves on.
Granted, I wasn’t expecting much complexity from Republic of Doyle this season – the show is mostly good, cheeky fun that shouldn’t be over-examined. I’m simply disappointed that the show didn’t take the time to fully explore the “Jake as a cop” idea before letting it go. As it is, “Streets of St. John’s” gets three stars out of four.
Have you been watching Republic of Doyle? What did you think of last night’s premiere? Do you agree that the “Jake as a cop” storyline could have been better used? Sound off in the comments section down below! I’ll be reviewing this season as it airs, so be sure to check back here each week. If you’re new to the site, please check out my other articles and consider following me on Twitter. Click below to browse through my other TV-related posts: