Every year over the holidays, most of Canada’s French-language entertainment specialty channels offer themselves for free to entice people to check them out and hopefully subscribe.
Unlike in the rest of the country, which will only be moving away from big everything-included packages this year as new CRTC regulations take effect, in Quebec a lot of TV subscribers choose their channels à la carte, which makes the importance of such free previews even larger.
Bell Media, Groupe TVA (Quebecor), Groupe Serdy and Radio-Canada are all offering their entertainment/lifestyle channels for free from Dec. 14 to Jan. 14. News and sports channels are not offered, and other channels offered differ by provider.
Videotron is offering these channels, and Bell is also offering most of them:
- Canal D
- Canal Vie
- ICI ARTV
- ICI Explora
- Prise 2
I don’t usually subscribe to most of these channels, so I made it a point of checking them out during the holidays. A lot of their content is dubbed series imported from the U.S. Those series that are created here tend to be low-budget reality TV, which can be very hit and miss.
I haven’t gotten close to seeing everything, but here are some series I’d recommend from what I did watch, in order of what channel they’re on:
Monsieur Homme (ICI Explora)
If you were a fan of the Radio-Canada series Les Pieds dans la marge, and star Mathieu Pichette, you’ll probably enjoy this self-deprecating faux educational series about things that affect men. Pichette brings out his silly fake gravitas and has fun with guests as they try to get us to pay attention to real issues (like the causes of death that are more likely to affect men than women).
Talk shows are a dime a dozen, but they usually involve host and subject sitting in a studio together. Host Mitsou makes things a bit more interesting by taking her guests (all of them women) outside and doing stuff. The setting, combined with the it’s-just-between-us-girls feel results in some interesting revelations and emotional moments.
Le coeur a ses raisons (Prise 2)
Prise 2 is a rerun channel, with lots to choose from among American and Quebec series. This parody of a soap opera, starring Marc Labrèche and Anne Dorval, is deliciously over-the-top in costumes, makeup and prosthetics, music and, of course, acting and writing.
Vedette Inc. (Canal Vie)
How do you manage a personal brand? It’s one thing if you’re just an actor or musician or blogger, but what if you have a real business, with real employees, whose work is based at least in part about how the public feels about you as a person? This documentary series tries to answer that with interviews with celebrities about the business side of what they do. It’s a bit fluffy — in French they’d call it a “docu-feuilleton” — but it’s nice to see these personalities shed their public entertainment persona for a bit to talk business. The part of the episode where the vedette is given the results of a public survey about them — and inevitably are shocked to discover they’re not as well known as they think they are — is worth the price.
On efface et on recommence (Canal Vie)
What’s the easiest way to get someone to break down with emotion on camera? Take someone who’s had a personal drama, and do something for them that would cost a lot of money, then record their reaction when you show it to them with a big reveal.
That’s basically the concept of this series, hosted by Chantal Lacroix (who’s kind of a veteran of these types of shows). She gets people in the community to contribute to rebuilding a home or otherwise putting someone’s life back together (and plugs their mom-and-pop companies in exchange) and we watch as the subject cries with gratitude at the end.
Code F. (Vrak.tv)
Sit girls on stools in front of green screens and have them talk about girl stuff. It’s better than it sounds, mainly because the women on screen (and sometimes men) are mostly comedians and they don’t hold back when making jokes about various aspects of life. The editing means it’s fast-paced with quick one-liners, and it really looks like the people on screen are having fun.
Les Testeurs (Vrak.tv)
This series is mainly worth watching because of the chemistry between Patrice Bélanger and Étienne Boulay as they test ideas, consumer goods and random stuff they found on the Internet. What works and what doesn’t? Who cares really when they’re hitting each other with rulers.
Carol, bar de danseuses (Z)
What happens when you put Le Gros Cave, Jean-François Mercier, in a strip club? A surprisingly interesting peek into this world that most of us are too prudish to enter. Mercier doesn’t ogle and demean, but rather lets the women speak for themselves for the most part, about why they do what they do, the challenges of doing it, and what happens afterward.
Gang de malades (Z)
Get people with physical disabilities to exploit their differences for cheap laughs? How could that possibly end well?
Well, if it’s done right, it can. The joke isn’t on them so much as us. Hosted by Pierre Hébert, this hidden-camera series puts its visibly different stars in ridiculous situations (a doorman with no arms, a blind person driving a car) and filming unsuspecting strangers as their fear of offending prevents them from pointing out the obvious.
Hébert does a good job of making sure his co-stars are in on the joke, and what comes out of the show seems to be as educational as it is funny (for those of you who think awkwardness is funny, anyway).
This is just a sampling of shows available on these channels. I know there are plenty of shows that I would like that I haven’t had a chance to check out yet. Do you have a favourite original series that airs on a French-language specialty channel? Offer your picks in the comments. And if you have cable TV, take a bit of time over the next week and a half to check these channels out.