"Little Mosque on the Prairie", the gentle CBC satire about a Muslim community in the fictional small-town of Mercy, Saskatchewan will be entering its sixth and final season on Monday.
Filming for the season just ended a few days ago. There were tears, smiles and laughs as the cast of the groundbreaking series wrapped up the shooting of its final season, marking the end of one of CBC-TV's biggest success stories.
The CBC series was an immediate sensation when it debuted on 9 january 2007. More than two million viewers tuned in to the premiere -- a staggering viewership by Canadian standards, with numbers that rivalled those of star-packed U.S. imports.
Ratings normalized after that first episode, but averaged an impressive 1.2 million viewers through the rest of the first season. CBC says viewers dwindled in following years until settling to an average of 520,000 last year.
Over the course of this season, Rev. William Thorne, an Anglican priest played by Brandon Firla will continue to develop as a person, entering into a friendship with one of the more hardline Muslim characters. Rev. Thorne had been the show's villian, having spent much of Season 4 attempting to bully the Muslims out of town.
With any long-running comedies, the villains cannot stay completely villainous or they become rather stale. After three seasons spent reluctantly morphing into a three-dimensional character, the good reverend will forge an unlikely friendship with fellow hardliner Baber Siddiqui in Season 6. As played by Manoj Sood, Baber is the extreme Islamic yin to Thorne's fundamentalist Christian yang.
Coincidentally, these caricatures of religious intolerance are played by Calgary actors who grew up in the same northwest neighbourhood. It turns out that Brandon Firla and Manoj Sood (both pictured above) also have similarly philosophical views about their show coming to an end.
"We all know in this industry that every show has a life span," says Sood. "For a show to last six seasons in the current business of television, that's a really great thing. Not to mention that the show, depending on the time of year, is airing in about 70 different countries."
Like Thorne, Babar is a bit of a "buffoon" who is meant to be the unyielding conservative thorn in the side of Mercy's liberal iman, Amaar Rashid.
But while Baber and Rev. Thorne may represent the hardened edge of their respective religions, it's unlikely Little Mosque will go down in history as an edgy comedy. However, Little Mosque is reagrded highly its ability to gently skewer stereotypes without the use of melodrama or dark humour.
"It's popular around the world for two reasons," says Sood. "The first was it's timing. It was the first show of its kind, ever. More importantly, it grew out of the post 9/11 environment. Generally when you see Muslims on TV, you're watching about some horrible event in the world, some terrorist event.
"The fact of the matter is, 99.99999 per cent of the Muslims in the world are not like those people. But when you always see them in a negative light it creates a stereotype. Little Mosque broke that stereotype."
Sood, whose family background is actually Hindu, isn't particularly worried about typecasting now that the show has ended. Neither is Firla, who showed he was nothing like his holier-than-thou character in 2010 by captaining the atheist team on CBC's Test the Nation: IQ.
While the two actors may have grown up in the same part of Calgary, they took very different roads to Little Mosque.
Firla is a classically trained actor who attended the prestigious London Academy of Musical and Dramatic Arts and had visions of trodding the boards at Shaw and Stratford before deciding comedy was his thing.
He now lives in Los Angeles, where he is trying out for American comedy and dramatic roles.
Sood, on the other hand, didn't enter the business until he was in his 30s. He hoped to land a few commercials to make some extra money in Vancouver, but after nabbing his first audition for a movie-of-the-week has spent the past 20 years working steadily.
For now, he plans to stay in British Columbia and develop his own TV projects.
As for having "Little Mosque on the Prairie" on their resume, both actors say it's a boon. It's recognized worldwide, including the U.S, where it never did get a real airing but managed to attract a cult following.
"I don't think America is ready for a sympathetic version of Islam on network TV," Firla says. "Or not yet, anyway. But it's definitely a known entity down here. If people haven't seen it, they've heard of it or are immediately taken by the title. It's good to have on the resume."
Eric Volmers, "Little Mosque on the Prairie entering its final season" Calgary Herald January 6, 2012
"'Little Mosque on the Prairie' wraps final season " CTV News January 5, 2012
Reproduced with permission from Islam Today