For the second week in a row, the Golden Age of Television is reviewing a mystery. The title of this article could be, “Guys! Something Shot in Manitoba is ACTUALLY REALLY GOOD!” or, “I Never Thought I’d Like a First-Run-Syndicated Detective Procedural Set in 1880’s Kansas” or, “If You’re Looking For A Show To Watch With Literally Any Family Member, The Pinkertons Is It.”
Set in post-civil war, pre-prohibition era America, The Pinkertons takes place in the Wild West, where all of the drinking, shooting and gambling requires the constant presence of sheriffs, US marshalls and detectives. The Pinkerton Detective Agency sets up shop in Kansas City, where there are plenty of murders to go around and money to be made by solving them.
I heard about this show because The Pinkertons was shot in Grosse Isle, Manitoba (Canada), about 40 minutes from my hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba. The production took 8 months to shoot in 2014/15, and required loads of local talent – both crew and actors. I’d heard a lot about the production from friends, and was eager to see what they had been working on. I know I shouldn’t slag off Canadian-made TV, but the stigma of Can-con being sub-standard unfortunately still exists, and I felt trepidation before watching my first episode. Airing only on the channel CHCH in Canada, The Pinkertons is difficult to find while on the air, but I hope that its inaccessibility won’t send the show into obscurity, because boy, is it enjoyable. (edit: The Pinkertons is now available on Netflix, as of November 1, 2016.)
At the heart of the show are it’s leads, Jacob Blair and Martha MacIsaac. Blair plays Will Pinkerton, son of Allan Pinkerton, the founder of the Pinkerton Detective Agency and MacIsaac plays Kate Warne, the first female detective in America, who partners up with Will. Both actors are completely charming. With natural chemistry, the two share easy banter and both actors deliver nuanced performances. Will Pinkerton is the less-experienced detective of the two, but more easily slips undercover than Warne. Will drinks and fights and gambles, and can think like a criminal. Jacob Blair plays Will Pinkerton as a complex man, one who could easily be classified as a brute but his empathy and ability to listen to the advice of people smarter than him distinguishes him as more than muscle. His partner, Kate Warne, is a grounded, intelligent, compassionate detective, who is able to get answers out of anyone. On screen, MacIsaac is simply rock solid. Her presence feels welcoming, and she can turn simple lines into jokes, or a turn of her head into an admonition. Both actors can ride a horse, take a punch, and both turn in humble but impressive performances week by week.
As for the story, every episode of The Pinkertons features a mystery. Usually it’s murder. Sometimes its robbery plus murder. The show is decidedly PG, so the writers blunt the rough edges of the Wild West. There are prostitutes, but there aren’t sex scenes. There are brutal murders, but we don’t see the gore. For example, one man is bound to a tree and frozen alive, but we don’t see him die, we just find him already frozen and dead, his teeth marks on the bark indicating he wasn’t dead when he was tied there. Due to the fact that I watched The Pinkertons via illegal/annoying means and couldn’t find the pilot episode (which I heard has an amazing train robbery and gun shoot-out with Jesse James), I watched episodes 3, 8, 11, 12 and 20. Probably not the best way to experience the story, but the procedural element of the show allowed me to enjoy each episode without worrying too much about what I had missed.
Overall, the stories are fun. There are lots of gun-fights, fist-fights, horse rides across the frozen prairies, travelling salesmen and preachers and lawmen. At times, the mystery of whodunnit can be a little obvious, and there are awkward elements of the show. For one, there are some wonky accents. Most of the actors (leads included) use their natural speaking voice, but every once in a while, someone shows up with a “wild west accent” or a “saloon drawl” and it sounds out of place. I’ve read from American reviews of the show that the “Canadian accent” can be distracting, since the show takes place in Kansas. The show isn’t perfect but it’s so enjoyable that I don’t hesitate to recommend it.
I’m going to end this review on a decidedly biased rave about Manitoba talent. First, the onscreen talent: local actors are featured in almost every episode of The Pinkertons and man, do they deliver. I am biased because I’ve seen so many of them perform on stage, on screen, doing improv and theatre and short films, but I feel an overwhelming sense of pride seeing so many Manitobans shine in their roles on this show. As for the production side of things, the costuming and sets are on point, the stunt work is great, and visually, the show looks beautiful. For a look behind the scenes, check out this Uniter article about the production. Having The Pinkertons shoot in Manitoba must have been a boon for the industry, allowing for so many people to do awesome work.
If you can find the show, check it out. And here’s hoping The Pinkertons gets picked up for season two.