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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.


  • 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 Halls 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.
Tropes used in Slings and Arrows include:

  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Bittersweet 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.
  • British English: Frank and Cyril. "Fancy a pint, duckie?" (Remember that besides being Those Two Guys, they have the opening to themselves.)
  • Bunny Ears Lawyer:
    • Geoffrey.
    • 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.
  • Catch Phrase: Changing every season.
  • Chess Motifs: Darren Nichols' invokes this in his production of Romeo and Juliet.
  • Central Theme: Each season has a theme that relates the backstage plot to the Shakespeare play being performed.
    • Season 1: Hamlet - madness, betrayal.
    • Season 2: Macbeth - power, ambition.
    • Season 3: King Lear - rivalry, death.
  • 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.
    • Even more so, Holly Day.
  • Classically-Trained Extra: Comes up a few times
  • 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: 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...
  • 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 and Oliver.
  • Double Entendre: Most occur in the text (it is 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.
  • Fake American: All of the American characters are played by Canadians.
  • 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.
  • Flash Back
  • The Fun in Funeral: The funeral of Oliver Wells is comical, cliche, and ludicrous all at once.
  • Heel Face Turn: Richard at the end of the first season.
  • How Many All of Them
  • Ho Yay: They are actors.[1]
    • 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
  • Informed Attribute: The Hollywood actor in the first season rises to the occasion and delivers what we're told is a masterwork of acting. What we see of his acting is a montage of him just intoning Hamlet's various soliloquies with the same morbid tone and far-off expression.
  • Insistent Terminology: Macbeth isn't cursed, it's just very hard to stage properly.
    • Deryn Nichols will not let you forget that he was stabbed!
  • Intangible Man: Oliver starts phasing against his will in the third season.
  • Intimidating Revenue Service
  • Invisible to Normals: Only Geoffrey can see Oliver. (And, briefly, Charles.)
  • Invoked Trope: If it can be used in theater...
  • It's Not You, It's Me
  • Jumping Off the Slippery Slope
  • Leitmotif: Several, particularly ones for Geoffrey's madness/creativity and final performances.
  • Literary Allusion Title
  • 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.
  • May-December Romance: Ellen and Sloan.
  • Meaningful Name:
  • 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:
  • Ode to Intoxication: "Call The Understudy," the ending credits tune.
  • 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.
  • Punny Name: Holly Day, Lionel Train.
  • Put on a Bus: Kate, at the beginning of the second season.
  • Quick Nip: Oliver, before his death.
  • 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.)
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder:

 Geoffrey: Which would you prefer: an empty house with a great play, or a full house with a piece of garbage?



 Ellen: What do you want me to do, ask her to leave?

Geoffrey: Yes! Now! Please!


  1. 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.
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