Well-drawn characters elevate 'Bomb Girls'

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So far, ReelzChannel's contributions to the growth of scripted original programming on cable have been more like evolutionary steps backward with '80s-era-style action show "True Justice" (starring Steven Seagal!) and '90s-era conspiracy-action leftover "XIII."

But with the premiere of "Bomb Girls" (10 p.m. Tuesday), ReelzChannel finally airs a series worth watching even if it means dipping further into the past.

'Bomb Girls'

When: 10 p.m. Tuesday on ReelzChannel.

Starring: Meg Tilly.

A Canadian import, "Bomb Girls" is set at a Canadian munitions factory during World War II and focuses on the women who work on an assembly line building bombs.

As a period drama it's less "Mad Men" -- no deep, probing psychological explorations of character -- and closer to last year's period dramas "Pan Am" and "The Playboy Club," but "Bomb Girls" is better than either of those misbegotten series.

Where "Playboy Club" failed because it was neither fish nor fowl -- some viewers were turned off by the title alone; for others, the show simply wasn't risque enough -- and "Pan Am" failed to soar because there never seemed to be a clear plan to generate stories in an airliner setting, "Bomb Girls" builds its plots on characters and their unique workplace.

At first, socialite Gladys Witham (Jodi Balfour) seems like the central character as she joins the secretarial pool at Victory Munitions but then the focus moves to shift matron Lorna (Meg Tilly, "Agnes of God"), who distrusts Italian-born plant worker Marco (Antonio Cupo).

"An Italian building Allied bombs," Lorna says with spite. "Might as well throw out the welcome mat for Mussolini."

This refusal to paint its characters in black and white is one of the most welcome aspects of "Bomb Girls." In many respects, Lorna is a likable character, but then she also has this fear-driven opinion of Marco, which may also be tainted by a bit of secret lustfulness. Whatever the motivating factor, Lorna is multidimensional -- tough at work but sometimes cowed by her crippled, World War I vet husband (Peter Outerbridge) at home when she's not fretting about the safety of her sons at war.

Other line workers on Blue Shift include tough farm girl Betty (Ali Liebert), who lives in the same rooming house as abused pastor's daughter Kate (Charlotte Hegele). And then there's glamorous Vera (Anastasia Phillips), who ends up serving as an example to other women on the bomb-making assembly line.

In addition to the factory, "Bomb Girls" also goes home with Gladys to her upper-crust life and to a nightclub where the girls often gather after their shift.

Essentially a prime-time soap, "Bomb Girls" is a well-plotted, smartly written soap that doesn't shy away from, shocking, even gruesome, plot turns in showing the dangers of working in a bomb-making factory.

Locally, ReelzChannel is carried on traditional Comcast systems (Channel 161), Verizon's FiOS TV (Channel 233), DirecTV (Channel 238) and DISH Network (Channel 299). ReelzChannel is not yet available on Comcast's former Adelphia systems or on Armstrong.


A version of this story first appeared in Tuned In Journal blog at post-gazette.com/tv. TV writer Rob Owen: rowen@post-gazette.com or 412-263-2582. Follow RobOwenTV on Twitter or Facebook.


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