— Geoffrey Tenant, to his deceased mentornote shortly before they begin collaborating.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Book Ends: 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.
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 actuallywork.
Patrick, especially around his male friends, to the point where Geoffrey is rather bewildered when he notices the UST with Sarah.
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.
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.
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.
Ho Yay: They are actors.note Note that the portrayal of a theater company the show offers is very much Truth in Television, with a wide range of behavior patterns, sexualities (all of which are matter-of-factly accepted In-Universe), and a good sprinkling of overt homoeroticism.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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."
Real-Life Relative: Geoffrey and Ellen are married in real life; Season 3's Sophie is the real life daughter of Frank.
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.
The Reveal: The cause of Geoffrey's nervous breakdown and his falling out with Oliver and Ellen. ( Oliver had sex with Ellen.)
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.
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.
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.
Arguable to an extent. Although Ellen's golden age has clearly ended, she is still 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."