Series: Slings and Arrows

Please shut up, Spirit Advisor.

"I am not collaborating with the spirit world on a production of Macbeth."
Geoffrey Tennant, to his deceased mentornote .

Slings and Arrows is a Canadian dark comedy about the New Burbage Festival, a thinly-veiled Fictional Counterpart of the Stratford Festival of Canada. It focuses on Geoffrey Tennant's return to the festival as artistic director upon the death of his estranged mentor, Oliver Welles (who immediately returns as a ghost visible only to Geoffrey). Each season is a Story Arc, focusing on Geoffrey's production of a great Shakespearean tragedy: the first season does Hamlet, the second Macbeth with a subplot about Romeo and Juliet, and the third King Lear.

Characters:
  • Geoffrey Tennant, the artistic director of the festival and archetypical Bunny-Ears Lawyer. Played by Paul Gross, of Due South fame.
  • Ellen Fanshaw, the aging leading woman and Geoffrey's on-again-off-again love interest. If you take a shot every time she insincerely says "sorry," you'll be dead before the end of the episode. Played by Martha Burns.
  • Richard Smith-Jones, executive (business) director who nurtures a secret love of musicals. Played by The Kids in the Hall's Mark McKinney.
  • Oliver Welles, ghost, Spirit Advisor, and Foil to Geoffrey. Played by Steven Ouimette.
  • Anna Conroy, secretary associate administrative director and frequent doormat. Played by Susan Coyne.
  • Darren Nichols, temperamental director and stereotypical postmodernist. Played by Don McKellar.
  • Maria, a typical stage manager. She doesn't like actors. Especially Ellen. Played by Catherine Fitch.


This show provides examples of:

  • Affably Evil: Sanjay isn't evil, per se, but he is a con man, and incredibly charming.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Darren Nichols is as camp as camp can be, but his sexuality just never comes up. Notable in that it's not played for laughs beyond his character being generally ridiculous, and there's no speculation as to which way he swings by any of the other characters.
  • Apologizes a Lot: Practically every other word out of Ellen's mouth is "Sorry!" In general, she's just self-aware enough to realize how annoying her diva-like behavior must be to everyone else, but not self-aware enough to stop doing it.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: Geoffrey vehemently denies the Macbeth curse while talking to a ghost.
  • As You Know: Geoffrey is rather fond of this, often unnecessarily explaining plot details of the plays to the actors. This is lampshaded at one point by Ellen, who snaps that she knows the play, thank you very much.
  • Attending Your Own Funeral: In the middle of delivering a eulogy for Oliver, Geoffrey is freaked out when he sees Oliver offstage, laughing at his own jokes.
  • Bad Bad Acting: Averted: All acting of bad acting contained within the show resembles genuine wince-worthy bad acting. Especially Claire's. That is some very good bad acting.
  • Bathroom Stall of Overheard Insults: Oliver finds himself in one of these in the pilot.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Richard is swayed very easily.
  • Beta Couple: One per season.
  • Bilingual Bonus: In Season 3, Nahum acts as translator when Anna needs to speak with the Bolivians, but he doesn't always translate faithfully.
  • Bi the Way:
    • Oliver; while openly gay, has sex with Ellen.
    • After cavorting with the musical theater company in Season 3, Richard wakes up next to one of the actresses... and the male writer.
  • Bitter Sweet Ending: In the Season 3 finale, Charles finally gets to be a stellar King Lear, Sophie and Paul get together, and Geoffrey and Ellen get married, but Charles dies, Geoffrey resigns from the festival, Richard relapses into a soulless corporate executive, Darren gets appointed artistic director, Anna is fired, and Geoffrey tells Oliver he loves him only after Oliver has disappeared for good. It redefines this trope.
  • Bookends: The first season gradually reveals the events that led Geoffrey to a nervous breakdown onstage 7 years earlier, ending his acting career. In the final episode of the series, circumstances force him to take part in the rump production of King Lear. Oliver coaches him through his initial floundering and he is able to play his part.
  • Brick Joke: In Season 1, Oliver's skull. It's a topic in episode 2 and the beginning of episode 3, and then is forgotten by viewers and by Geoffrey himself until Oliver reminds him at the last possible moment on opening night.
  • British Brevity: Actually Canadian Conciseness, but the effect is the same: Each season is only 6 episodes long.
  • British English: Frank and Cyril. "Fancy a pint, duckie?" (Remember that besides being Those Two Guys, they have the opening to themselves.)
  • Broomstick Quarterstaff: When he overhears Geoffrey yelling in the supply closet at odd hours, Nahum runs in brandishing a mop with a war cry.
  • Bungled Suicide: In a flashback, Ellen spends a while balanced on the edge of a bridge, dressed as Ophelia, with Oliver dramatically pleading with her not to jump and her telling him to go away. Then she does jump... and the water is about a foot deep. When she tells Geoffrey about it in the present day, he can't help but think it's hilarious.
    Ellen: Don't laugh! I was extremely upset.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer:
    • Geoffrey is rude, unreliable, and not particularly mentally stable. He's also a brilliant director.
    • The advertising firm Froghammer appears to be this way, using nigh-incomprehensible postmodern tactics to build up interest in the festival. It's later subverted when it's revealed that they were scam artists from the beginning, but luckily their phoney tactics actually work.
  • Bury Me Not on the Lone Prairie: Oliver wanted his skull to be used for productions of Hamlet. Almost no one wanted to fulfill that request for some reason.
  • But Now I Must Go: Oliver in the final episode.
  • Butt Monkey:
  • Camp Gay:
    • Patrick, especially around his male friends, to the point where Geoffrey is rather bewildered when he notices the UST with Sarah.
    • Oliver.
  • Call Back: In the final episode, Ellen tells Geoffrey her answer is yes. He seems to have no idea what she's talking about, but presumably she is replying to his marriage proposal from 10 years earlier, which we saw in Oliver's flashback in the very first episode.
  • Casting Couch: Claire accuses Kate of trying to seduce Jack to help her career. Actually, Kate is genuinely in love with Jack, but the accusation makes her question her motives enough that it leads to a Second-Act Breakup.
  • Catch Phrase: Changing every season.
  • Central Theme: Each season has a theme that relates the backstage plot to the Shakespeare play being performed.
    • Season 1: Hamlet - madness, betrayal, selfishness.
    • Season 2: Macbeth - power, ambition, trust.
    • Season 3: King Lear - rivalry, death.
  • Chess Motifs: Darren Nichols' invokes this in his production of Romeo and Juliet.
  • Christmas Episode: "Fallow Time" is mostly centered around Christmas (a downtime for the New Burbage festival, which performs in the summer). Oddly, it originally aired in July.
  • Cluster F-Bomb:
    • Maria's drunken rant about actors, ending, "Well fuck you all! Fuck off, you fuckers!"
    • Henry's backstage reaction to Geoffrey's use of Enforced Method Acting on him.invoked
  • Comedic Sociopathy
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive
    • Richard is not so much corrupt as commodity-minded rather than art-minded, but that kinda comes with the territory. First, he rises above this corruption, only to eventually fall from grace into a deeper level of corruption.
    • Holly Day is just as business-minded as Richard, with several extra spoonfuls of unscrupulousness thrown in.
  • Classically Trained Extra: Ellen tells Kate not to run off to Hollywood with Jack, because she'll become one (though she later changes her mind). In season 3, Ellen herself winds up with a job as a Rubber Forehead Alien, which she despises.
  • Creator Cameo: The show was co-written by Mark McKinney, Susan Coyne and Bob Martin. The first two play regular characters (as Richard and Anna), but Martin also makes a cameo in a first-season episode as a plastics executive who takes a class in Shakespeare.
  • Damning With Faint Praise: Nahum's comment on Oliver's A Midsummer Night's Dream: "The production values are very high." We won't talk about the performances, the direction, or the design...
  • Decoy Protagonist: For most of the first episode, it looks like Oliver will be the protagonist of the series... until in the closing minutes of the episode he's run over by a pig truck.
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: Ellen's meetings with her tax auditor eventually morph into therapy sessions.
  • Diabolus ex Machina: Arguably Richard's descent from flawed-but-essentially-decent-person back into soulless corporate executive in the final episode.
  • Dead Person Conversation: Geoffrey and Oliver on a regular basis. In Season 3, Charles joins in.
  • Double Entendre: Most occur in the text (it is William Shakespeare, after all), but the actors are also proficient.
    • "He was my Bottom for seven years."
    • "I've never played Romeo before."
    • "I want a thrust in the Rose."
  • Dream Sequence
  • Enforced Method Acting: An in-universe example. After rehiring Henry Breedlove for the role of Macbeth, Geoffrey feels the need to use this when Henry defies his direction.
  • Face-Heel Turn: Richard in the last episode.
  • Feuding Families: Not literal families, but the classical and musical troupes in Season 3 do not get along, to say the least.
  • First Episode Spoiler: Oliver is very much alive in the first episode, making spoilers tricky to avoid when describing the series.
  • Fisher King: Discussed, as it appears in Shakespeare's plays.
    Oliver: "A king is murdered, children are slaughtered, horses go mad—that's a sure sign of evil—horses going mad."
  • Flash Back: The first season has a few, to Geoffrey's Hamlet production.
  • Flynning: Geoffrey and Darrin's duel has a bunch of this. It's justified, since they're actors fighting with prop swords...
  • The Fun in Funeral: The funeral of Oliver Welles is comical, cliche, and ludicrous all at once.
  • Germans Love David Hasselhoff: In-universe, Jack Crew is huge in Japan.
  • Gilligan Cut: "Of course, it all falls apart if one of the actors is no good at pretending."
  • Godwin's Law: A string of angry phone messages for the festival starts with composed complaints and devolves into "Even the Nazis—"
  • Heel-Face Turn: Richard at the end of the first season.
  • Heteronormative Crusader: Anna has trouble finding a minister for Oliver's funeral. She comes up with one at the last minute, but he ends up giving a fire-and-brimstone sermon about how the theater is an abomination because it turns everyone gay. She has to pull the fire alarm to cut him off.
  • "How Many?" "All Of Them"
  • Ho Yay: They are actors.note 
    • It is strongly implied that Oliver was in love with Geoffrey.
    • Patrick and his friends.
  • I See Them Too: Charles noticing Oliver in the third season. Notably, this weirds out both Oliver and Geoffrey.
  • Idiosyncratic Episode Naming: Almost all quotes from the play of the season.
  • Insistent Terminology:
    • Macbeth isn't cursed, it's extraordinarily difficult to stage effectively.
    • Darren Nichols will not let you forget that he was stabbed!
  • Insult Backfire: Geoffrey and Henry disagree fundamentally on the interpretation of Macbeth. Geoffrey thinks it's necessary to showcase Macbeth's vulnerability in order to humanize him; Henry thinks Macbeth should remain in control of himself at all times (or, more precisely, Henry is the kind of actor who wants to be in control of his own performance at all times, and that informs the way he plays Macbeth). As a result of this conflict, Geoffrey pulls Henry out one night and puts in his understudy. Geoffrey thinks this is a great success. Henry, well...
    Henry: I saw a man stuttering and sweating his way through Macbeth. Now, if that was your desired effect, well, I'd say you succeeded admirably.
    Geoffrey: (proudly) Yes.
  • Intangible Man: Oliver starts phasing against his will in the third season.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service: Ellen gets audited in season 2.
  • Invisible to Normals: Only Geoffrey can see Oliver. (And, briefly, Charles. And possibly Henry at one key moment.)
  • Invoked Trope: If it can be used in theater...
  • It's Not You, It's Me
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Geoffrey is an interesting deconstruction; he is a jerk, and he does have a heart of gold, but he isn't a jerk to hide his heart of gold, he's a jerk because his mental illness, depression and anxiety make it extremely difficult to tolerate other people.
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope
  • Leitmotif: Several, particularly ones for Geoffrey's madness/creativity and final performances.
  • Literary Allusion Title: The show itself, and most of the episodes.
  • Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places: Ellen.
  • Love Triangle: Several examples.
  • Magical Realism: Everyone leads perfectly ordinary, realistic lives, but for the fact that Geoffrey and later Charles regularly has conversations with Oliver's ghost. No explanation is given, no mythos is revealed. It just happens.
  • Mathematician's Answer:
    Geoffrey: Okay look, I'm not saying that evil isn't present in the play. What I'm asking is, are the events of the play driven by evil, or is it that the characters themselves are just, simply evil from the get-go?
    Oliver: Yes.
    Geoffrey: Which!?
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: Quite a bit of the first season revolves around Geoffrey being unsure whether Oliver is really haunting him, or he's having another breakdown.
  • May-December Romance: Ellen and Sloan.
  • Meaningful Name:
  • Meta Casting: Charles, who comes out of retirement to play King Lear shortly before dying of cancer, is played by the distinguished stage actor William Hutt, who retired from the Stratford Festival several times, and who died of leukemia not long after filming.
  • Metaphorgotten: Geoffrey is discussing the end of his acting career with Terry from accounting.
    Terry: Geoff, you gotta get back on that horse or you'll never get on a horse again.
    Geoffrey: I don't wanna get on a horse. I'd rather... direct.
  • Motor Mouth: The original director of Romeo and Juliet appears for less than one minute, which she fills entirely with conversation at an impressive density. Both present Deadpan Snarkers Geoffrey and Oliver utterly fail to get a word in.
    Geoffrey: (after Naveen falls off the stage) She was in a neck brace when they wheeled her away. She was still talking, though.
  • Multitasked Conversation: Geoffrey, Oliver, and whoever else is around. Constantly.
  • Nepotism: Claire is the relation of "some chairman," and so her atrocious acting runs unchecked.
  • Nobody Over 50 Is Gay: Strongly averted, by Frank and Cyril as well as Oliver (who is in his late forties).
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed:
  • No, Except Yes: Lionel Train's attempt to get the actors to improvise a script for him.
    Lionel: You're paraphrasing. That's not what I want you to do. I want to tell the story as written, but in your own words.
    Ellen: That's what paraphrasing is.
  • Not Actually The Ultimate Question: Kate has just found out about Oliver's death. She asks "What will happen to Hamlet?" (meaning, to the production he's about to direct).
    Nahum: Hamlet will be Hamlet: an ineffable tragedy of the human spirit that still resonates, even today.
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Call The Understudy," the ending credits tune.
  • Orphaned Punchline / Noodle Incident: Scenes are often opened at the end of what have clearly been long true-from-life accounts, just in time for the punchline. Breedlove is a walking example; he is introduced finishing a story he's telling to a crowd, at the conclusion of which a fellow actor returns "with a fish," which he throws at a woman in the audience. Later a scene cuts to him saying, "I thought The Pope was a pretty good sport about it."
  • Our Product Sucks: The Froghammer ad campaign in Season 2.
  • Phrase Catcher: The circumstances of Oliver's death and the phrase "pig truck."
  • Plot Parallel: As with Central Theme above, there's always many, many connections between each season's play and backstage plots.
  • Punishment Detail: The Minister of Culture in season 2 was the Minister of Health until she spoke out against her own party, and clearly would still rather be — her reaction to Richard coming to her with a grant proposal for the New Burbage theater festival is to note that the money would probably be better spent on an MRI machine, which would actually save lives.
  • Punny Name: Holly Day, Lionel Train.
  • Put on a Bus: At the beginning of the second season, Kate is Put On A Limo (To Hawaii).
  • Quick Nip: Oliver, before his death.
  • Reassigned to Antarctica: When Richard first meets Holly, it's in the middle of a corporate shake-up. After Richard's former contact at the company introduces the two of them and then leaves, Holly comments of him, "He's just gonna love Anchorage."
  • Reference Overdosed: Given that the majority of the cast are in-universe Shakespearean actors putting on Shakespeare's plays and the show itself reflects those plays in its characters, arcs, and themes, this is inevitable. While the actual plays performed are among Shakespeare's most famous, the characters are not afraid to reference his more obscure works. (Season 1 ends with a quote from King John; season 2, with a quote from Richard II.)
  • The Reveal: The cause of Geoffrey's nervous breakdown and his falling out with Oliver and Ellen. ( Oliver had sex with Ellen.)
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder:
    Geoffrey: Which would you prefer: an empty house with a great play, or a full house with a piece of garbage?
    Richard: GARBAGE! GARBAGE! I want GARBAGE!
and
Ellen: What do you want me to do, ask her to leave?
Geoffrey: Yes! Now! Please!
  • Running Gag: Sanjay quoting something inspirational, and finishing "Richard Nixon said that."
  • The Scottish Trope: Season 2 is about a production of Macbeth, so naturally this comes up. Oliver refers to Macbeth as "the Scotsman" until Geoffrey starts making fun of him for it. The opening credits are all about how the role is cursed, and call him "Mackers."
  • Shout-Out: To William Shakespeare, constantly.
  • Shown Their Work: Those lengthy discussions of possible decisions for the staging, direction, and acting of the plays reference loads of critical theory and scholarship, though they're so conversationally written that you don't need to know that to be interested.
  • Show Within a Show: Much of the action revolves around the production of plays in the New Burbage Theater.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Two of the interns in Season Two.
  • Silly Will: Oliver, who asked to have his head severed upon his death so it can be stripped of flesh and used in a production of Hamlet. Oddly enough, this is Truth in Television, since Polish pianist André Tchaikowsky (1935-1982) was able to fulfill his dream of posthumously playing Yorick in the Royal Shakespeare Company's 2008 production of Hamlet with David Tennant.
  • Sitch Sexuality: Patrick. For Joanne Kelly, anyone'd switch their sexuality. The actors would be loath to admit it, but this subplot is a Plot Parallel for Darren's incomprehensible gender-exploration production!
  • Skewed Priorities: Kate shows up for a performance half an hour late only to find out that Oliver's dead and the performance has been canceled. Her first reaction is, "You mean I'm not fired?" To her credit, she immediately realizes how insensitive this is.
  • Slap-Slap-Kiss: In season 2, Ellen does this twice within three episodes of each other: the first time with Geoffrey, the second with her brother-in-law.
  • Smug Snake: Henry Breedlove, a complete and utter asshole of a pretentious actor who absolutely refuses to take direction.
  • Spirit Advisor: Oliver.
  • Spoiler Opening: An actor who was a regular in season 1 is credited as a guest star in the opening credits of the first episode of season 2. This kind of gives away the result of her character's plotline that episode, which is her deciding whether or not to stay in New Burbage.
  • Stereotype Reaction Gag: Anna tries to score some pot off Maria. Maria initially thinks Anna is hitting on her; after that's cleared up, Maria's reaction is:
    So, you assume I'm a pothead, as well as a lesbian? Because all stage managers are pot-smoking lesbians, right? ... Well, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm all out. This process has been hard on my stash, and my guy is out of town till Tuesday.
  • Talking in Your Dreams: Probably averted: When they're out of contact Geoffrey sees Oliver in dreams which are probably normal ones (i.e., nonsense) and not actual communication; the rest of the time Oliver wakes Geoffrey up to talk to him.
  • Talking to the Dead: Zig-zagged like crazy in a Crowning Moment of Funny. Geoffrey's therapist prompts him to engage in this as role play during a session, guessing (correctly) that he still has a serious beef with Oliver. He then perceives a fantastic one-sided argument, admittedly carried out by a former actor of notable talent. Of course, it is actually Geoffrey holding a Dead Person Conversation with Oliver as per usual.
  • Technician vs. Performer: A recurring motif.
  • Thematic Theme Tune: The openings are drinking songs about whatever play is being performed that season.
  • Those Two Guys: Frank and Cyril. Also, the undertakers at Oliver's funeral in episode 2.
  • Troubled Production: Rife with In-Universe examples — probably the most troubled is the Season 3 and its production of King Lear.
  • True Art Is Incomprehensible: In-Universe, Darren firmly believes this. No one else does.
  • Undeath Always Ends
  • Unfinished Business: Oliver and Geoffrey both believe Oliver is present for a reason, but to their mutual despair, they can't figure out what it is so that he can take care of it and move on.
  • Unsympathetic Comedy Protagonist: Almost everyone in the main cast, particularly Richard.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: You can watch this show knowing nothing about Shakespeare or theater, but you'll miss a hell of a lot.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Frequent.
    • Kate's old drama teacher gets extremely drunk and throws up on Oliver in the first episode.
    • Both Jack and Jerry throw up out of nervousness, right before going onstage as Hamlet and Macbeth respectively.
  • Wham Episode: The Season 3 opener, with Charles shooting up heroin alone in his room.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?
    • Or the Theatre sans Argent? After resigning from the company, Geoffrey mentions in his final "talk with Oliver" that he planned on starting it up again.
    • Equally, what happens to May? Is she dead or still in a coma or what?
  • White-Dwarf Starlet: Ellen is a downplayed example. Although her golden age has clearly ended, she is still a talented actress who performs well, and this is still admitted openly by everyone.
  • Whoopi Epiphany Speech: Sloan delivers a very odd example of this speech to Geoffrey and Ellen in the Season 2 finale:
    Sloan: You guys are so obviously meant to be together. So obvious it pisses me off, all right? What the fuck, just deal with it. You fucking broke my heart, Ellen, all right? But I knew you were right. I mean, come on. (walks off)
    Geoffrey: Wow. Out of the mouths of babes.
  • Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Discussed in the first season. Geoffrey quotes the Coleridge line about this, and then goes on to comment, "Of course, it all falls apart if one of the actors isn't very good at pretending."
  • The Worst Seat in the House: The Minister of Culture sits in it for the opening night of Macbeth.
  • Your Tomcat Is Pregnant: Ellen's chameleon Sibyl turns out to be a male. She only learns this by happenstance a year after she gets him.

Alternative Title(s):

Slings And Arrows