Yes, BlackBerry is still fantastic, even as a TV series

An admittedly unorthodox yet nonetheless well-executed new format for one of 2023's best movies

When the first trailer for the limited series version of BlackBerry dropped last month, it was met with a mixed response. People immediately expressed confusion that such a well-regarded movie had been reconfigured into an episodic format for TV. I really enjoyed this film. Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse‘s Christopher Miller even said, “I really enjoyed this film. I recommend watching it, even binging it in one 2-hour sitting if you can, like the movie it is.”

I’ll confess that I was also puzzled, given how much I loved BlackBerry as a film. Sharply written by Toronto’s Matt Johnson and Matthew Miller (Nirvanna the Band the Show) and tightly directed with a witty mockumentary style by Johnson, the original Canadian film’s exploration of the rise and fall of BlackBerry was an absolute blast. Throw in two stellar lead performances from Montreal’s Jay Baruchel and Glenn Howerton as Mike Lazaridis and Jim Balsillie, co-founders of Waterloo, Ontario-based BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, and BlackBerry quickly became one of my favourite things this year. So, why did it even need to be a show?

Well, after watching the series myself and speaking with co-writer Matthew Miller, I fully understand the reasoning behind its existence. For one, BlackBerry was always going to get the TV treatment due to a funding deal with CBC, who originally optioned the book — Jacquie McNish and Sean Silcoff’s Losing the Signal: The Untold Story Behind the Extraordinary Rise and Spectacular Fall of Blackberry — upon which the film is based. But because of that,  director Matt Johnson, Miller and co. had a unique benefit: they could actually go into the production of the film armed with the knowledge that it would eventually become a series.

BlackBerry Mike and Jim

Jay Baruchel as Mike Lazaridis and Glenn Howerton as Jim Balsillie.

The result is a “series” that feels right at home on TV. Unlike many films that have been awkwardly edited for the small screen with abrupt fades to black, BlackBerry really does feel consciously made for television. In fact, Matthew Miller told us that the foreknowledge of the TV series helped the movie take form and fit nicely into a three-act structure. For example, the first episode ends with Mike and Jim’s pivotal trip to New York to pitch the BlackBerry prototype to Verizon. Here, we get a fitting commercial break after Mike forgets the prototype in their cab and Jim angrily realizes he has to make a pitch without it. Letting the audience sit with the comedic tension of this development helps make the impending boardroom meeting all the more impactful.

The limited series framework also allows the filmmakers to include material that was previously cut from the film. Admittedly, there’s been some misconceptions surrounding all of that. It’s not three hour-long episodes; each one is about 45 minutes factoring in ad breaks. What that leaves us with, then, is 14 minutes of new material.

BlackBerry Mike and Doug

Jay Baruchel as Mike Lazaridis and Matt Johnson as Doug Fregin.

This includes an amusing Face/Off gag between Mike and his RIM co-founder Doug Fregin (Johnson) in the final episode. It’s a conversation that would have disrupted the flow of the movie, but one that feels right at home in a longer-form TV episode. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman (Mark Critch) and Palm CEO Carl Yankowski (Cary Elwes) also get a bit more screen time. Admittedly, none of the new scenes make that much of a difference in the larger picture, and BlackBerry remains excellent as a film.

And even after watching the series, the film remains my preferred way to watch BlackBerry. Nonetheless, I appreciate that it exists as an option, especially when it’s clearly been handled with care. Without question, the series format opens up BlackBerry to an entirely new audience, and the more people who get to experience it, the better. One of 2023’s best pieces of entertainment lives on, and it’s a must-watch however you experience it.

BlackBerry (the series) will stream in its entirety on Thursday, November 9th on CBC Gem for free with ads. (A $4.99/month Gem Premium membership is also available.)

Additionally, the BlackBerry series will air on CBC TV on November 9th at 9pm ET, with new episodes to be released the subsequent Thursdays. In the U.S., the series will air on AMC+ and AMC TV the following week.

In Canada, the original film version of BlackBerry is available to rent or purchase on premium video-on-demand (PVOD) platforms like iTunes and Google Play.

For more on BlackBerry, check out our interview with Johnson, Baruchel and Howerton.

Image credit: CBC