April 25, 2006
Canuck spy agency 'Underfunded'
By ANN MARIE McQUEEN -- Ottawa Sun
James Bond never drove a Ford Fiesta, occupied an office above a convenience store or economized on international missions by bunking down at Motel Six.
And he certainly wouldn't have circled the block nervously, unsure what to do after spotting an unfamiliar Honda parked in his love interest's driveway.
But then again, Agent 007 had unlimited resources and ladykiller instincts. And he didn't have to work for the Canadian Secret Service, a fictional Canuck spy agency at the centre of a new NBC pilot Underfunded.
As the pair of Los Angeles comedy writers behind the proposed one-hour action comedy explained, the show's protagonist is a more clever everyman than Maxwell Smart.
"He's the guy who always solves the crimes," says David Breckman over the phone from Toluca Lake, Calif. "But like Jim Rockford of The Rockford Files, he doesn't always get the credit."
Breckman and Ross Abrash, who worked together on Saturday Night Live in the mid-'90s, said they originally wanted to tweak the super agent genre with a feature film about a spy on a budget.
They didn't have a country in mind, but decided Canadian Secret Service sounded pretty funny. Both were pleased to learn there was a real Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to play off of. And they had definite ideas about the main character, Darryl Freehorn, played by newcomer Mather Zickel.
"We like the kind of guy who is attractive, and funny, but just like most men he doesn't always do that well with women," said Breckman.
"And can you imagine 007 having to worry about roaming charges or correct change for the bus?" piped up Abrash.
Whenever he identifies himself on the job, the character flashes his badge and says "Darryl Freehorn, Canadian Secret Service, yes we have one too."
"It's rote," says Breckman. "He's already said it 11,000 times."
The show is directed by John Fortenberry, who has worked on Arrested Development and Rescue Me. Though the main characters are played by American actors, most of the others are Canadian, including former model Monika Schnarre in the roll of a femme fatale. Zither's character frequently works with an American counterpart who takes credit for his work, but is the kind of agent "who was absolutely positive there were weapons of mass destruction," says Abrash.
The pilot features Zither's Canuck agent investigating the sabotage of an American space station. The show's opening moments feature screaming headlines about the tragedy on an Ottawa newsstand, on a variety of local papers including the Sun.
"Our offices are exactly like the Pentagon's in Washington ..." says Zither's voiceover moments later, "if the Pentagon had the operating budget of a Payless Shoe store."
Breckman and Abrash say NBC execs have already seen the 90-minute pilot and liked it. If Underfunded is not picked up for the 2006-07 season, the pilot might eventually air as a movie of the week.
CSIS spokeswoman Barb Campion said the organization was aware of Underfunded but had no official position.
"We haven't seen it," said Campion, "so it's difficult for us to comment on the content of the show."
Abrash and Breckman stress Underfunded makes more fun of American politics than those north of the border.
"We know people in Canada, we're really confident they'll laugh at it," said Abrash. "And not just because you guys have legalized pot."