Da Vinci's Inquest and Da Vinci's City Hall

Da Vinci's Inquest (1998-2005)
Da Vinci's City Hall (2005-2006)
Type: Spin Off

   Now I generally stick to U.S. shows BUT these shows make it in thanks to syndication. About a year ago, late on a Saturday, I was flipping around the dial and happened on a cop show. It was a CSI, Law And Order type show but it had a vibe all it's own. And every five seconds some supporting actor would pop up that I'd recognize from the new Battlestar Galactica, The X-Files, Millennium…

   The show turned out to be Da Vinci's Inquest, a Canadian cop show. That's why the familiar faces kept popping up. Most of the shows I'd seen these people on were filmed in Canada. On that same note, a side benefit of all those U.S. shows filming up there is they left behind some folks trained up on how to make some damn fine high quality television.

   So what is Da Vinci's Inquest? Well, it is unique but if I had to describe it I'd have to say it's like somebody took the best bits of C.S.I., Law And Order, Homicide and Fargo and mixed them together. The show centers on Dominic Da Vinci, a Vancouver City Coroner. So right there you have the C.S.I. bit with his department investigating suspicious deaths. But it's not just about Da Vinci. The show also tracks other law officers and their cases too. Like C.S.I. and Law And Order, Da Vinci's Inquest has the episodic aspect of having a "case of the week". You can pop in for an episode usually and see a self contained investigation. That said, there are also always multiple long running plots going on that often will run for an entire season or longer ala Homicide. The show also has an amazing scope. They don't just focus on the case at hand but also on the characters. Their home lives, who they are as people, how they get along with each other all come into play.

   I throw Fargo into the mix because the location of the show also adds a unique feel and flavor to the show. The show doesn't feel just like Fargo but for those unfamiliar with the show, that's as close a mark as I can hit. You get so used to New York cop shows where everyone sounds New Yauhk, or has a New Yauhk attitude, a city with a different feel is refreshing. The sound of the speech is closer to Fargo. Likewise the vibe is sort of Fargo-ish. That sort of relaxed mellowness. Not that there isn't drama but the cops aren't usually going to let the unpleasantness of their work to get to them. And, again, like Fargo, that mellow is often contrasted by just shocking crimes and horrors.

   The show was also more complex than a lot of cop shows. The cops weren't the only regulars. The show also kept in play a plethora of characters including local politicians, hookers, drug dealers and other assorted characters, all, like the cops, well drawn and layered. The local dope head might turn out to be a really likable character who just happened to fall into a bad life. The politician might be a good guy who also falls into bad circumstances causing him to make, uh, poor choices. Leo, one of the regular cops on the show, a generally good guy, early on in the series arranged to make sure a bad guy who might escape justice otherwise met with an unfortunate "accident". He also would make non-pc comments and even often be hateful of Da Vinci. Understandable since Da Vinci was no saint. He could be manipulative and a bit of a "game player" with those he works with. He's also a recovering alcoholic who could attend an AA meeting and then go out and drink! But you liked him. I think the trump card was that for all his flaws, Da Vinci fought a hard fight to get justice for the dead. So if to do that he had to maneuver and manipulate you could forgive him. And given what he had to face at work, man, you can understand him not just falling but jumping off the wagon once in awhile. And, it should be noted, that was given consequences too.

   One of the most interesting characters on the show was bad baaaad cop Brian Curtis. Prime example of how this show is different. Usually on a cop show a bad cop would have his bad deeds discovered, he'd get his comeuppance and his plot would be over in a set time frame. But in this case, Brian Curtis just stayed around being bad for season after season. The other cops knew he was scum but knowing and proving are different things. He could wreck lives. What other cop show would have a bad cop ruining the life of a "good" junkie and have you really upset about it? You so wanted them to nail his ass and yet didn't because he was so good for the show.

   The show was actually based on a real like Vancouver Coroner named Larry Campbell. In real life, while the series was on the air Campbell was elected mayor of Vancouver. The show decided to keep art imitating life and had Da Vinci also elected mayor. With that change, Da Vinci's Inquest was replaced by a new series titled Da Vinci's City Hall.

   Da Vinci's City hall stretched what the show was about. They still covered a lot of similar territory as Da Vinci's Inquest.

   Da Vinci's City Hall only ran for one season. Now, like I say, I'm not well versed in Canadian television and I'm catching the show in U.S. syndication so I'm not positive why Da Vinci's City Hall went off the air but my guess is ratings. That's usually the case. Assuming that is the case, I think I can see some of what may have went wrong.

   I should say right off, I do think Da Vinci's City Hall is just as good a show as Da Vinci's Inquest. I just think it's a harder sell and transitioning to it from Inquest may have been difficult and jarring.

   Let's compare the start of Inquest to the start of City Hall. The first episode of Inquest started with a shocking case based on a real life crime. Withou spoiling much, it starts with Da Vinci's realizing that a series of hookers dying of alcohol poisoning might not be a series of accidents but might possibly be a series of connected homicides. Maybe. Nobody else wants him to pursue the case since, if he is right, the cops will look bad for not catching on to the truth with the past cases. Da Vinci takes this hint of a crime and pursues it, ferreting out a just shockingly grim crime. So, a story based on a shocking real crime, Da Vinci fighting against everyone and doing whatever he has to do to get justice for the dead and put the bad guy away. Plus you don't know any of the characters so you get the plus of going in without expectations and getting to know these characters.

   Now cut to the first episode of Da Vinci's City Hall. The show opens with now Mayor Da Vinci glad handing with bigwigs at a big affair at the local horse races. The horse track is an important plot for the show. They did need to establish it and establish who Da Vinci now is. But at the same time, as a fan, going in with expectations because I do know these characters, this was jarring. I'm used to a Da Vinci who is a bit of an underdog, fighting the good fight with little to no reward. To see him suddenly as a schmoozing politico… it was odd. And the big plots for him had him using his game playing skills to accomplish political goals. Doing whatever he had to to get justice for the dead was cool. Seeing him use the same tactics just to accomplish a political goal, even a good and noble one… it's different. Like I said, they did keep the cop angle too. The majority of the cops from the old show stuck around for the new show. Maybe trying to mix things up there too, most all of them shuffled around to new jobs. Normally a good idea but for a show already dealing with a lot of change, that might have been one more thing to put the audience off.

   I could see some people tuning into the first episode and saying, yeah, no, don't think so. A shame because once it gets rolling it is a good watch. But, again, some of the difference do continue and might have put people off. Again, to see Da Vinci lie and manipulate for political reasons isn't the same as him doing it for the dead. He wants some influence over a homeless settlement and sends a guy in undercover to directly influence their decisions on where they are going to live. On other occasions we see him directly lie to people's faces about what he is doing or what he plans to do to get them to go along with his plans. Even with him doing these things for good reason, it feels underhanded not heroic. And his goals aren't as indisputable. Justice for the dead. Hard to argue with that. The one black and white bit of plot in the gray toned world of Da Vinci. But on City Hall he's fighting for things like a safe red zone where hookers can operate safely without fear of being threatened or beaten. On the one hand, noble, on the other not something everyone is going to see as undeniably good.

   Finally, I think covering the police stories as well as the political ones may have been a bit too much for the show. That's a lot of territory to service. To be fair I think they did a pretty good job. But at the same time, there are times where the political plots would get involved enough that the ongoing police plots would get almost pushed entirely aside for full episodes. So you get into this weird position where a plot about killer pedophiles ends up being treated as secondary in importance to plots about political infighting between the mayor and the chief of police, about the mayor fighting to keep the race track open and other "political" plots. Not that those plots aren't really well done. They are. But at the same time having them seem to take priority over real evil criminals… it's odd. I could see it bugging some folks. They might have been better off to have spun off Da Vinci's City Hall and then do another spin off for the cops and just have the shows interact.

   Let me just say, I'm really not slamming City Hall. I really like the show. The only reason I'm being negative at all is to say why it might not have survived. The truth is, if this show is syndicated where you live, check it out (FYI: In the U.S. Da Vinci's City Hall airs as part of Da Vinci's Inquest). Or if you can get your hands on the show on DVD, do it. Seriously. This is a great show.

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