Television Nostalgia – Heading Due South with Paul Gross!

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Another classic television show from the 1990s was the wonderfully entertaining Due South. Created by Paul Haggis (in the days before he became an Oscar winner), it centres around the unlikely partnership of a Canadian mountie and a Chicago police detective. RCMP Constable Benton Fraser (together with his deaf wolf Diefenbaker) travels to Chicago to track down his father’s killers and in doing so he meets Detective Ray Vecchio and they form a partnership and friendship as Benton remains in Chicago and regularly becomes involved in Ray’s cases.

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It sounds like a bizarre concept for a drama series but it worked brilliantly, bringing both humorous and more serious storylines in equal measure on to our Saturday nights on BBC One. For two series, the leads were played by Paul Gross and David Marciano. Gross brings Fraser to life perfectly – he was such a different character and his quirky, polite, principled, kind-hearted mountie was a joy to watch. It made you wish everyone could be a bit more like him (and yes, he was also gorgeous)! Bringing the other side of the duo to life was David Marciano’s Ray, who with his Chicago Italian upbringing and cynical, sarcastic and streetwise personality he was the perfect balance to Fraser and David Marciano was superb in the role.

Crucially too they had such great chemistry together. You genuinely believe they are great friends who would be there for one another and over the years you see their caring, comedic and affectionate friendship develop. They make each other better people. Another key component of Due South was the strength of the supporting cast. Beau Bridges was excellent as Ray’s boss, bemused by Fraser’s constant presence in his station. Ramona Milano added a touch of flirtatious fun as Ray’s sister Francesca, clearly besotted with Fraser, together with Catherine Bruhier as Elaine Besbriss, who also seemed to be attracted to the handsome mountie (who wouldn’t be?!). We also saw Gordon Pinsent in the recurring role of Fraser’s dead father (bonkers I know), whose relationship with his son improves now he’s dead!

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As the series grew, so did the cast of regulars, as we got to know Fraser’s no-nonsense boss Meg Thatcher played by Camilla Scott and the police duo of Huey and Gardino (or Luey) (and then later Dewey)! Not to mention Fraser’s wonderful deaf wolf Diefenbaker! After being cancelled in America the show was rescued and given a new lease of life through its popularity overseas – primarily here in the UK, with the BBC co-funding series three and four (packaged in DVD form as just one series three). Sadly, however Marciano had already committed to new projects and so Callum Keith Rennie joined the gang as Fraser’s new partner, Ray Kowalski. Theirs was a new dynamic but enjoyable in a different way, although I personally missed the original duo and tend to prefer episodes from the early seasons when reaching for my Due South boxset. Then there were also one of the best theme tunes and all the wonderful songs and artists the series introduced me to, none more so than Sarah McLachlan and I still listen to the two soundtracks released to accompany the series.

Each week the cases varied from those with a serious and sometimes emotionally dramatic resonance for the duo, to the utterly ridiculous, but that was all part of its charm. It was something for a family to watch together, that always seemed to make you smile. Sadly Due South ended after four seasons (or three depending on where you watched it and how they chose to transmit it) in 1999. It would be lovely if we could have a one off special and return to these brilliant characters. It probably won’t happen though, so if you missed this sometimes overlooked gem at the time, please go and watch it now.

And of course here are my favourite ten episodes:

1. Victoria’s Secret (series 1)

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This two-part story was a slight departure from the usual light-hearted tone of the series, as we learnt that in his past Fraser had been in love with a woman, who also happened to be a criminal. His world is turned upside down when she comes back in to his life. The question is whether she has left her criminal past behind. The story gave Paul Gross the opportunity to play another dimension of the character we knew so well and his friendship with Ray is tested in a way it hadn’t been before, as Ray distrusts Victoria’s motives. It also introduced me to Sarah McLachlan’s music as “Possession” features in this episode. The story builds to the point where you have no idea what the outcome will be and the ending between Ray and Fraser at the station is one of the pivotal and poignant moments of the whole series.

2. Juliet Is Bleeding (series 2)

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Another more serious episode, this time focussing on Ray, as we see the return of mafia player Frank Zuko. However what makes the episode interesting is that his sister Irene is the childhood love of Ray’s life. As her brother is implicated in some terrible events (one which impacts on the whole cast) their love becomes stretched to its limit, as does Fraser’s friendship with Ray, as he starts to question Zuko’s guilt. There is some lovely acting from David Marciano here in one of the series’ most moving episodes. It also contains one of my favourite songs “Full Circle” by Loreena McKennitt, which plays during one of the series’ most poignant scenes.

3. Pilot (series 1)

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Not all first episodes get it right, but for me Due South’s opening Pilot is brilliant. Opening with the murder of Fraser’s father, we are soon introduced to Constable Benton Fraser and his unique way of seeing the world, which in Chicago is as alien as it could be and by the end his friendship with Ray is already firmly established. It has some lovely scenes as Fraser learns more about the father he never really knew. Also throw in some very funny moments in the Canadian wilderness, as Ray joins Fraser to rebuild his father’s cabin and brings along his all-American arsenal of weapons and this is a wonderful 90 minutes of television. I couldn’t wait to see more of this series after watching it all those years ago and it’s an episode I tend to return to often.

4. North (series 2)

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The first episode of series two is set in the Northwest Territories after Ray and Fraser’s plane is high-jacked and crashes, leaving Fraser with a serious concussion. It is then up to Ray to take charge and try and get them to safety, with comedic effect. It’s also a lovely episode that sees them rebuilding their partnership after the events of the last series. It’s one episode that really captures what wonderful chemistry Paul Gross and David Marciano had.

5. The Duel (series 2)

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A tense cat-and-mouse game between Ray and Charles Carver, a parolee who Ray helped catch years earlier, but who he could never prove committed a separate murder, brings added drama to this episode, as both Fraser and Ray as well as their loved ones are put at risk by Carver’s determination to get revenge on Vecchio. The episode has a slightly darker tone to some of the lighter episodes of the series, which always makes it stick out in my mind, as Carver leaves little clues for Ray as to who he is going to target next. Plus it has one of my favourite exchanges between Ray and Fraser about Ray’s dislike of maths logic problems!

6. All The Queen’s Horses (series 2)

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The RCMP’s famous equitation team are held ransom on board a train in this bonkers episode which sees Fraser grow closer to his boss Meg Thatcher and the glorious return of Leslie Nielsen’s Buck Frobisher, who gets the shock of his life in the form of his old dead friend Bob Fraser. With Ray’s help they need to save a whole train of unconscious mounties! Totally barmy, including a good sing song, but certainly good fun.

7. Perfect Strangers (series 3)

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This episode has a few elements that bring together everything that made Due South so good. The story is interesting (two murders, two suspects, but with tight alibis) and it also requires Ray and Fraser to travel to Canada, resulting in Ray being exposed first hand to the politeness of Canadians in their home territory. His reactions to that always make me laugh! It makes a change for him to be the odd one out and not Fraser, who also finds himself in an awkward situation with Inspector Thatcher, as she starts to want a child and wants him to be part of the process. Good fun all round.

8. The Man Who Knew Too Little (series 1)

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This series one episode never fails to make me laugh, as Fraser escorts an uncooperative witness back to Canada to testify and poor Ray ends up tagging along, despite his holiday plans. The banter between Ray, Fraser and Ian (Rino Ramano) is very funny, as are the scenes where Ray and Fraser have to track Ian on foot (the duck line is a Due South classic). Episodes like this one had such great material for David Marciano. Then of course there is the fate of Ray’s precious car. Poor poor Ray.

9. Call of The Wild (series finale)

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I was quite sad when Due South ended. It had been saved with help from the BBC before but the end of the third (split in to two series for the UK) saw us bid farewell to our favourite mountie. It was lovely to see David Marciano back as the real Vecchio, as I doubt it would have felt right without him. Watching Fraser say goodbye to his parents was very poignant, as his father finally moves on to the next life with his wife, while Fraser and Kowalski head off for more adventures.

10. A Cop, A Mountie and a Baby (season 1)

Benton Fraser with a baby. I needn’t really say more about this episode in which a mother scared for her child leaves him in the back of Ray’s famous green Buick. Seeing Fraser and Ray looking after the baby is just too cute to not be included here!

Hopefully this post will make those fans out there reach for the DVDs to watch their favourite episodes and hopefully I have tempted those new to the show to give it a go. Here’s a great youtube video of the show’s opening and closing theme and titles to get you in the mood!

That’s all from me, but in the words of a mountie we all know and love – Thank you kindly!

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3 responses to “Television Nostalgia – Heading Due South with Paul Gross!”

  1. Nancy says :

    Thank you for your great review of Due South. I never warmed to the reboot that happened after it was cancelled by U.S. TV, because I never liked the character of Kowalski very much (although he was okay in a few episodes). But the original Due South of the first two seasons is a true gem, and I agree with most of the episodes you chose for your top 10. The one exception is Call of the Wild. Part 1 was fine, but Part 2 treated Ray Vecchio very badly and was a terrible way to end the show. I have to imagine that Fraser and Kowalski ended their adventure in a few weeks because they were fighting a lot with each other, and Fraser went to find RayV, or RayV went to find Fraser, because they wanted to spend time with each other again. I really can’t see Fraser and Kowalski being friends for life, but Fraser and RayV definitely would be that way.

  2. Annette Malaski says :

    I totally agree with your assement of the series. However Beau Star was the actor playing the Lieutenant not Beau Bridges. And I also share the opinion that Call of the Wild pt two was a mess. I lovedFraserFraset

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