TV review: B.C.–set Trickster is an electrifying adaptation of Eden Robinson’s book

Director Michelle Latimer's wicked-cool style pulses and throbs through this CBC TV adaptation of Eden Robinson's novel

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      Trickster (Michelle Latimer). Canada. 86 min. 

      Trickster is a scrappy, bare-knuckle answer to the Harry Potter series. The comparison might seem reductive but the parallels are there. Both are coming-of-age tales with supernatural elements. And both are about young boys absorbing personal traumas and discovering their inherent power and purpose.

      Replace the British accents, Hogwart’s decadence and John Williams’s music box score with Indigenous folklore, a grim sense of humour and an aesthetic and swagger that suits a Snotty Nose Rez Kids video. That’s a taste of what co-creators Michelle Latimer and Tony Elliot bring to this CBC adaptation of Eden Robinson’s book Son Of A Trickster.

      Latimer also directs. Her trademark wicked-cool style and energy pulses and throbs through this series. Robinson is currently writing the final novel in the Trickster trilogy, and Latimer is already writing the second season. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

      The six-part first season stars Joel Oulette. The newcomer is exactly the kind of heartthrob to anchor a show for YA fans. He’s got a jaw line and pecs that call attention like rare rock formations. And beneath his furrowed brow are eyes you can get lost in.

      Oh, and he can act, too.

      Stranger Things in Kitimaat

      Oulette’s Jared is a teen from Kitimat, B.C., where an under construction LNG plant is planning to receive the Coastal GasLink pipeline. Jared doesn’t pay much attention to the divisive plant or the pipeline workers roaring through his community. He keeps his head down, squeaks by at school and works a fast food drive-thru. He also cooks MDMA on the side to support his family.

      Jared is the responsible one who drinks or gets high quietly at a party. His skittish mom Maggie on the other hand storms into the party and becomes its gravitational centre. Crystle Lightning is electrifying as Maggie, a mom who drinks hard, loves harder and has a ferociousness about her that keeps everyone on their toes. She’s diagnosed schizophrenic. We regularly see her having conversations with thin air. But each episode reveals more about her pain and her strengths.

      Jared’s dad is purportedly Phil (Craig Lauzon), a gentle but needy father who bashfully has his handout. But the novel’s title hints that Jared’s real dad is the trickster who goes by Wade, played with cunning magnetism by Kalani Queypo.

      Wade’s been absent. He’s a mystery figure whose return to Kitimaat coincides with peculiar occurrences. Jared encounters creepy doppelgängers, a talking crow, and a nosy woman (Gail Maurice) whose skin seems to barely hang on to her body.

      The teen also goes gaga for new neighbour Sarah (Anna Lambe), an anti-pipeline activist working through her latest foster home. He tends to see pixie dust or fireflies when she’s around.

      On family and history

      The supernatural stuff, which is drawn from lore, complements instead of overwhelms the compelling human drama. Unlike his counterparts in other YA franchises, from Twilight to the Chilling Adventures Of Sabrina, Jared can’t get caught up in the magic. He’s coping with working-class problems, figuring out how to pay the electricity bill and his mom’s outstanding drug debt. He barely has time to think about why he’s seeing a doppelgänger because finding a ride to deliver pizza is a more urgent matter. The talking crow just complicates things.

      Jared’s connection to his family and by turns his heritage is the focus. The demons they struggle with are intimate and personal, yet feel shared across a community.

      The series never feels like it’s labouring to educate on Indigenous history, intergenerational trauma and the current moment. But that history and this moment flow like a current through Trickster. It enriches our understanding of who these characters are, what they represent and how much they could mean to a new generation.

      The first two episodes of Trickster premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival. The series launches on CBC and CBC Gem on October 7.