Canada is jokingly referred to as Hollywood North for a reason. When your heroes head to outer space, race through an alien forest, or gaze across a vast ocean skyline, you’re actually looking at Vancouver. Wide open spaces? Probably Alberta. Detroit, New York, Chicago? Nope. That’s Toronto.
Sometimes, the film crews will make the extra effort to hide the TTC signs and all the other telltale Canadian features, but we know our true north strong and free and take quiet pride in seeing those little pieces of Canada represented on screen.
But lately, it’s not just a Canada Post mail box in the background catching our eye. It’s actual Canadian shows filmed in Canada, with Canadian cast and crew, and sometimes even set in Canadian cities—though not always obviously so. We wouldn’t want to make our American viewers too uncomfortable.
“Canadian series have a history of pretending they’re set in America. But there’s also the so-called Anytown, North America setting (Canada sharing many characteristics with America, in terms of geography, architecture, accents). But in recent years we’ve also seen what could be called the “soft” Canadian setting. Series which admit they are set in Canada but in a way that a lot of viewers probably wouldn’t pick up on.” — Canadian TV Shows Set in Ambiguousville, North America
With science fiction shows in particular, American fans are jumping on the bandwagon, though they may not realize it, and the SyFy channel, for example, isn’t about to promote that fact. While it’s hard for SyFy to deny the origins of a BBC series that comes complete with British accents, it’s easy to shove Canadian origins under the rug. Not sure if that show you’re watching is really a SyFy original? You could check SPACE, our Canadian scifi counterpart. Or, you can refer to this handy list below!
A class war threatens the interplanetary space system known as the Quad, but Dutch and her team have sworn to stay out of it, focusing only on their missions as bounty hunters, or Killjoys. But of course these Killjoys are as likely to escape the conflict as they are their sordid pasts.
English actress Hannah John-Kamen leads the team as Dutch, with Canadian actors Aaron Ashmore and Luke Macfarlane playing the Jaqobis brothers.
Based on the book by Canadian author Kelley Armstrong, Bitten focuses on a Torontonian woman named Elena Michaels who falls for the wrong guy. That is, he’s the right guy, until he turns into a werewolf and bites her. Elena struggles with her loyalty to her pack as she tries to come to terms with her werewolf instincts, but as a former foster child, she knows that her pack is the first true family she’s ever had and she will do whatever it takes to protect them.
The series initially jumps back and forth between Elena’s Toronto home and the pack’s home, Stonehaven, in New York. As Elena becomes more involved with the pack’s struggles, her time in Toronto lessens, but, hopefully she won’t forget her roots.
Continuum’s star, Rachel Nichols, is an American, but the series originates in Canada and is set in present day and future Vancouver. It follows a group of rebels and Nichols’ police officer who travel back in time from 2077. The rebels are intent on their mission to stop corporations from taking over the government, while Nichols’ character fights to keep their violent campaign and the truth about their time traveling in check.
Though there is implication that the United States and Canada will become one in the future, Continuum unabashedly takes place in Vancouver. Though initially, the show seemed to dumb down its Canadianness (i.e. referring to the Canadian Security Intelligence Service as “C-S-I-S” instead of “Ceesus”), it no longer makes such efforts.
Bo is a succubus who learns that there are many more people in the world with special powers and abilities hiding out among the regular humans, and she becomes central to the conflict between Light and Dark Fae as she searches for the truth of her origins.
Lost Girl is not explicitly set in a Canadian city, though the implications are that the Light and Dark Fae are running rampant in the streets of Toronto. The show does frequently use Canadian terms and the occasional Toronto area code or TTC bus has been heard or seen in passing.
Based on the Dark Horse comic of the same name, the series follows six people who wake up on a ship with no memory of who they are. Together, they begin a journey of survival and as they rediscover themselves and reconcile what they learn about their criminal pasts as murderers, terrorists, pirates, and more, with who they seem to be now.
Another original Canadian series set in space, the main cast is once again primarily Canadian.
Orphan Black stars Tatiana Maslany as everybody. She plays a growing number of clones who are trying to find out the truth of their origins. The show leans heavily on realistic science, but also on the heart and soul of the characters. Maslany is deserving of all the praise she receives in her ability to bring each of her clones to life (can you really pick a favourite?), but the supporting cast and the writing is not to be overlooked.
Orphan Black was initially a victim of the “Ambiguousville, North America” syndrome, where anything too Canadian was obscured just enough until, in one episode, clone Alison Hendrix began carefully counting out her distinctly Canadian stack of colourful money. Hopefully more shows will follow suit and embrace their northern origins.