Rachel McAdams has played a lot of amazing women in her career, from the beautiful Allie in “The Notebook” to the rebellious Ani Bezzerides in “True Detective” season 2. But there’s one part she’s played that doesn’t get nearly enough attention, and that isn’t fair, because to this day it’s still one of her all-time best performances.
And no, it’s not Regina George (although she’s pretty great, too). I’m talking about a character she played on a Canadian TV show you’ve probably never heard of, but should absolutely binge as soon as you can.
In 2003, a year before McAdams was cast as the ultimate mean girl, she appeared on “Slings and Arrows,” the entirety of which you can now watch on Hulu. Set against an annual Shakespeare festival in the fictional town of New Burbage (which is based on the real-life Stratford Festival in Ontario), the quirky comedy explored the lives of the theater company that’s tasked with bringing the festival back to its former glory. Oh, and the recently deceased artistic director who haunts his replacement, because what would a good Shakespeare story be without a ghost?
You’d think that a show about the inner lives of Shakespearean performers would be way too serious, if not insufferable. Instead, it’s the complete opposite. Each character is a fascinating weirdo with their own hilarious story to tell, and they’re all led to greatness by their inimitable new director, Geoffrey Tennant (played by Paul Gross), who could convince even Donald Trump to care passionately about the Bard. Seriously, you’ll probably get more out of his opening monologue about “The Tempest” than you did out of your entire high school literature class.
In the first season, Rachel McAdams plays a young ingenue in the company named Kate McNab, who’s looking for her big break but who keeps getting stuck in small parts while her less-talented friend hogs the spotlight. But eventually she’s finally given her dream role of Ophelia, and begins an adorable, heartfelt relationship with her Hamlet, a famous American movie star (played by Luke Kirby from “The Astronaut Wives’ Club”), before the two of them run off to Hollywood to make it big as a power couple.
It’s pretty much every young actress’s dream, and Kate honestly shouldn’t be as interesting as she is because of just how dang perfect her life is. But McAdams’ natural charm truly makes her one of the best parts of the series, and although we don’t see much of her performance as Ophelia — this is a show about a production of “Hamlet,” not the actual production itself — she’s honestly one of the best actors to ever play the role on film, and will definitely make you cry even if you know nothing about the character.
(Although, it’s guaranteed that you will know something about Ophelia going in, because Geoffrey Tennant delivers an excellent, beautiful speech about her to the actress Kate replaces. You’ll probably cry during that, too. This show is very sneaky about finding ways to hit you with feelings.)
Unfortunately McAdams’ time with the New Burbage festival ends at the beginning of the second season when she runs off to go be famous, and the show goes on without her. But even then, it keeps getting better and better when the company puts on performances of “Macbeth,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “King Lear.”
Need to brush up on Shakespeare for a paper you’re writing or a class you’re taking? This show will teach you thing about “Hamlet” that you won’t learn anywhere else. And if you are just a Shakespeare fan (Qe exist! there are dozens of us!), or someone interested in learning what it’s like to be a stage actor, then this show is pure heaven.
Basically, you owe it to yourself to watch all eighteen episodes on Hulu — and trust me, you especially owe it to Rachel McAdams.