Here's a fresh (and funny) refill of Canadian comedy

This is an interesting week for new cable arrivals. Scroll down and you'll see stories I sent to papers, about series that debut Tuesday and Wednesday (Aug. 2-3). Now here's another Wednesday one, this time about a clever new sketch-comedy show:

By Mike Hughes

Canadians, of course, are verty good at many things.

That includes
hockey, curling, truth-telling and moose-hunting. It also includes
sketch comedy.

From “SCTV” to
“The Kids in the Hall” to many of the “Saturday Night Live”
guys, Canadians have brought subtle wit to sketches. And now
“Baroness Von Sketch Show” brings us a new batch.

“We knew it wasn't
going to look like a classic sketch show,” Carolyn Taylor said.

That's partly
because all four regulars are women; guys are added at the fringe,
only as needed.

But it's more
because of the approach. This is filmed movie-style, with no
laugh-track and no audience. “If you have an audience, it affects
you,” Taylor said. “You just start doing it bigger and louder.”

The Canadian way
tends to be quietly clever. “Baroness” packs lots of bits – 13
to 15 of them in a half-hour show – each with its own setting. A
few have big plot twists, but most involve everyday quirks.

“The things we
tend to focus on are human dynamics,” Meredith MacNeill said.

She launched the
idea and is the semi-outsider in the group. She's the only one who'd
never been in the Second City improvisation troupe; she's also the
only one who'd never written for “This Hour Has 22 Minutes,” a
Canadian show satirizing the news. And she's also the only one who
spent 13 years in England, studying at the Royal Academy of Dramatic
Arts and doing Shakespeare.

Then MacNeill
retreated to Canada. “I was a single mom and I had no money .... I
just had a suitcase and I lived with my parents at 37. (These were)
very amazing life choices.”

She worked on ideas
for a sketch show and asked Taylor to take charge. Taylor brought in
longtime comedy colleagues Aurora Browne and Jennifer Whalen ... who
is Canada's Tina Fey; she'd been head-writer of “22 Minutes” and
created two other shows, “Instant Star” and “Little Mosque on
the Prairie.”

The women filmed a
sample of their sketches, using one camera; they now use two.

That first version
included a notion that continues – the “red wine ladies,” who
pick any excuse to drink heavily. “The network, CBC, (said), 'I
don't know. It doesn't really have, like a traditional structure,'”
Browne said. “We are like, 'Trust us, women want to watch other
women getting drunk.'”

The network stayed
out of the way; so far, “Baroness” has had a six-episode first
season and a seven-episode second season, both now reaching U.S.
cable. That may not sound like much, but these half-hours are
carefully crafted. “We overwrite by a long shot,” Browne said,
“and we overshoot.”

By the second
season, settings were more elaborate. “We do a post-apocalyptic
scene that's sort of in a 'Mad Max' world,” Taylor said. “We go
onto the Titanic. We shoot something in space.”

But even when the
setting is large, Taylor said, the humor remains focused on small,
human quirks. “We do impressions of your family members and your

-- “The Baroness
Von Sketch Show,” 10 p.m. ET Wednesdays, IFC, rerunning at 1 a.m.

-- Opener (Aug. 2)
reruns at 6:45 a.m. ET on Sunday, Aug. 6, and 4:15 a.m. ET on Monday,
Aug. 7.