This article contains information that could be considered too revealing according to our spoiler policy. Proceed with caution. You can't unsee it!Reason While the series has already aired its whole first season in Canada, it doesn't drop on Netflix until the day after this post's publication; we also got screeners.
Should You Brave Frontier?
It's a show about the Canadian fur trade in the 1700s. We know what you're thinking: 'What's the catch? It sounds almost too compelling!'
What Is This Thing?
Frontier is set in Canada in the 1700s -- wait, come back! -- as various nations and companies fought to dominate the fur trade, i.e. beavers. Game Of Thrones's Khal Drogo (and soon The Justice League's Aquaman) Jason Momoa is the biggest name on the show. He stars as Declan Harp, a half-Irish, half-Native Canadian badass intent on shagging up the Hudson Bay Company's stranglehold on the fur trade. Veteran British actor Alun Armstrong is the HBC's ruthless Lord Benton, intent on quelling Harp's nuisance, and Degrassi alumnus Landon Liboiron is Michael Smyth, an Irish criminal forced by Benton to help him do so.
When Is It On?
Netflix is releasing all of Season 1's six episodes on January 20. The first season was already released in Canada in weekly instalments on the Discovery Canada channel, and Canucks who missed it can see all six episodes online at Discovery Canada's website.
Why Was It Made Now?
If you told me it was produced to mark the 150th anniversary this year of Canadian Confederation, I'd believe it; even if the show didn't have Momoa's towering presence, it's difficult to imagine the conception of this show didn't involve someone thinking, "What if Canadian history but more Game Of Thrones-y?" (It's even more difficult to imagine the words "Canadian history" being part of the pitch for the show, except perhaps as part of federal arts funding applications.)
What's Its Pedigree?
The show is produced by Take the Shot Productions, a St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador-based company whose previously best-known show is Republic Of Doyle, a present-day-but-'70s-throwback show about a St. John's private detective that took The Rockford Files as its inspiration and ran for five seasons on CBC. Landing a recognizable face like Momoa feels like something of a coup for the production, and the part seems tailor-made for him. After two episodes, I tried, and failed, to think of another actor who could carry the part.
It's filmed largely in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as historical settings like Cornwall in the United Kingdom, and Louisbourg, Nova Scotia.
If you're Canadian, you've learned to be a little mistrustful of Canadian television productions that attempt to emulate the slick productions of our southern neighbour, usually on a shoestring budget. Throw in the Canadian history angle, and you've got a lot to be suspicious of. So when it premiered on Discovery last fall, I ignored it.
But after watching the first couple of episodes, I found myself pleasantly entertained. Canadian grade-school students learn a largely whitewashed history of the forces that shaped the nation, usually presented as relatively bloodless, especially in contrast with European settlement of the United States. Why, up here, companies came to spread some money around while our forefathers ran around the woods carrying canoes on their heads and mapping the wilderness.
This is something some social studies teacher is going to be able to pop in to keep the class entertained while he nurses a hangover, although he should be forewarned about the occasional f-bomb.
I wouldn't say the characters, so far, are overly nuanced, and even only six episodes can feel repetitive if it's just going to be Harp attacking the Hudson's Bay Company over and over again. This show needs be more than Declan Harp: Canadian Fur Commando. And we get it: Lord Benton and Declan Harp are really not that different, guys! One just has a royal charter and the other one doesn't!
I can see watching this! Possibly wrapped in a Hudson's Bay blanket, whose black, yellow, red and green stripes are still iconic across Canada three centuries later. (And it's not just because Momoa has been spotted around St. John's, where I live, drinking beer and throwing axes, but I sure wouldn't want him mad at me.)