By BERNIE BELLAN Forty-nine-year-old Ari Cohen is a featured performer in a terrific new series titled “Shoot the Messenger”, which is set to premiere on CBC TV Monday, October 10.
Cohen, the son of Jerry and the late Carol Cohen, is a graduate of Joseph Wolinsky Collegiate (class of 1985) and the University of Manitoba, where he earned a B.A. in Theatre and Film Studies. Cohen also obtained a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Alberta in Edmonton.
Cohen has had an extensive acting career over the past three decades, having appeared on stage many times in Winnipeg in Winnipeg Jewish Theatre productions (“The Last Night of Ballyhoo”, “League of Nathans”, and “Zaide’s Shoes” – all of which were co-productions with Prairie Theatre Exchange).
As well, Cohen says that he owes a debt of gratitude to Manitoba Theatre Centre Artistic Director Steven Schipper whom, Cohen describes, was “a very early mentor of mine”.
When he was still a theatre student at the University of Manitoba, Schipper came to see Coehn in a show in which he was appearing at the university’s Black Hole Theatre. Schipper introduced him to Winnipeg filmmaker Guy Maddin. Subsequently, Cohen made his film debut in a Maddin movie titled “Archangel”.
While he says that he’s primarily worked in live theatre over the years, he’s also appeared in a variety of TV and film productions. One of his most recent movie appearances was in David Cronenberg’s “Maps to the Stars”.
In “Shoot the Messenger” Cohen plays the part of Sam Charles, the suave and debonair attorney general of Ontario. In the three episodes which I was able to preview, the character of Sam Charles is introduced primarily in episode two, but Cohen says that later episodes develop his character quite a bit more fully.
The plot of “Shoot the Messenger” is a combination of a newspaper/police drama. The series opens with a beautiful young reporter called Daisy Channing, played by Regina-born Elyse Levesque in a steamy scene in which she’s in bed with someone who turns out to be a police detective.
As the story unfolds, Channing is quickly embroiled in what appears to be the gangland shooting of a young Somali-born Torontonian. (Although the city is never mentioned by name, there aren’t any attempts to disguise it as anything other than a Canadian city, unlike other television series shot in Canada which go so far as to remove Canada Post mailboxes so as to make Canadian cities seem more generic.)
According to Ari Cohen, the story behind “Shoot the Messenger” was partly inspired by the story of the late Rob Ford during the time that he was Toronto’s headline-grabbing mayor.
“The story is multi-ethnic and multi socio-economic”, Cohen observed. It shows a seamy side of Toronto, including Somali gangs, corrupt businessmen, ambitious, unethical politicians – in short, a slice of Toronto life that is both compelling, yet repulsive.
There are eight episodes in the first season of “Shoot the Messenger”. Cohen says that the show’s producers are hoping that the series will be renewed for more seasons. In addition to being shown on CBC, the series has been picked up British distributor ITV and will be televised in a number of countries outside of Canada.
I must admit that I rarely watch any TV series that isn’t either on HBO or Netflix, but “Shoot the Messenger” drew me in from the start. Would I have watched it had I not received a request to write about it from a publicist for the show, who grabbed my attention when he mentioned that Winnipegger Ari Cohen had a leading role in the show? I doubt it, but now that I’ve watched the first three episodes, you can bet I’ll be setting my PVR to record every other episode of this terrific new series.