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A (Corner) Gas of a time on MasterChef Canada

Tuesday’s “Cooking with (Corner) Gas” episode of MasterChef Canada was full of challenges for the Top 7 home cooks. They had to compete in a Mystery Box Challenge and, FINALLY, a classic MasterChef Canada Tag Team Challenge. But just hold on and let me tell it in order.

As the seven remaining home cooks entered the kitchen they saw a MASSIVE Mystery Box. What could be in it? Or perhaps, who could be in it? Tonight’s challenge was elevated diner food and the contestants got a little bit of help from the cast of the hit series Corner Gas Animated, including Brent Butt, Tara Spencer-Nairn, Lorne Cardinal and Nancy Robertson. For me, it was a good opportunity to add one more great Canadian series to my watch list. For the cooks, winning would give them a huge advantage in the upcoming Elimination Challenge.

All of the cooks rushed to the pantry and got baskets full of delicious products. And then there was Beccy, who had just a couple of grapefruits, eggs and butter. I was looking forward to seeing what she had in her creative mind and what the judges would get in the end. The atmosphere in the kitchen was easy and fun. The Top 7 cooks were cooking passionately and had so many great ideas, like chicken and waffles from Eugene, a Japanese play on steak and eggs from Kaegan and a tuna melt from Marissa. But chefs Claudio, Alvin and Michael made their choice and decided to try three dishes out of the seven; the lucky ones were Nadia, Andy and Beccy. Nadia made a stuffed French toast with smoked applewood brie and spicy berry fig sauce and the judges loved her brie! Beccy cooked an elevated diner pie with grapefruit and basil with Italian meringue and crumble; the presentation was extraordinary. Andy prepared a Thai Burger with vegetable tempura.

Chef Alvin was very impressed by Andy’s dish … and he was the home cook who won the challenge. Which dish would you like to try?

The Elimination Tag Team Challenge was a replication of an Asian box with five different dishes. It contained perfectly crafted Chinese bao with pork belly, cucumber and Asian pear, jellyfish salad and Banh Mi sandwich, and Takoyaki. And for the dessert? Fried banana in coconut batter. The home cooks had 70 minutes to master the box. Andy was safe from elimination but as well had a power to make teams for the Tag Team Challenge. He made Eugene and Beccy a team, Michael G. and Kaegan the second team and Nadia and Marissa the third. The heat was on. The teams were rushing to finish. The normally quiet Beccy was very vocal, urging Eugene to work faster. The judges started to sample the dishes. The first team to get all of their items in their box were Kaegan and Michael G. The Banh Mi was great, the takoyaki and the bun were good, but the bananas were burnt. Beccy and Eugene missed a couple of details but still made a great box. Nadia and Marissa, unfortunately, disappointed judges and Marissa left MasterChef Canada.

MasterChef Canada airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET on CTV.

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APTN’s Guilt Free Zone returns for raucous laughs and rockin’ talent

Guilt Free Zone‘s tagline is “This Show is Ridiculous.” That’s true, but it’s also hilarious, educational and truly unique.

Returning for its third season this Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. ET on APTN, Guilt Free Zone (GFZ) is something I’ve never seen in Canadian primetime. It’s a sketch comedy, variety and musical series that showcases solely Indigenous musicians and talent every week while delivering a humorous take on colonization.

“I remember sitting around, thinking about doing a variety show,” GFZ co-creator, co-executive producer, star and Juno-winning singer-songwriter Derek Miller recalls of his initial idea for a program. “It’s grown a personality and a full vibe since then. It’s been an evolution to see how it goes from an original intellectual property idea to actually stuff happening.”

You can’t talk about GFZ without mentioning its past. Season 1 of the variety program had more of a traditional late-night talk show look, with Miller behind a desk, interviewing Indigenous guests from all walks of life, interspersed with moments of sketch comedy and showcasing a musical guest. Then, in 2015, after watching two episodes of the program, the federal government revoked the program’s tax credit, citing GFZ was a talk show and therefore exempt from receiving money. That forced Laura J, Milliken, the series’ co-creator, executive producer, writer and president and CEO of Big Soul Productions, to do some major scrambling. The result? What GFZ is today. I think the show is better for it, and Milliken agrees.

“That prompted a huge wave of creativity and it was actually a really good thing,” Milliken, the co-executive producer of the Gemini-nominated Moccasin Flats, says. “I kind of paced around my house for like, a month, trying to figure out how we could make it the Guilt Free Zone and keep all these wonderful performances but also give it that comedic feel and also say the things we wanted to say.” To tune into GFZ is to visit a legal speakeasy that Derek has won in a poker game. Derek has no clue how to run a bar and relies on the staff of oddballs who he inherited along with the bar to help him. Those include multiple characters played by Amy Matysio (Save Me), Herbie Barnes (Tipi Tales), Darrell Dennis (Blackstone), Camille Stopps (Killjoys), Craig Lauzon (Royal Canadian Air Farce) and Michaela Washburn (The Thaw).

Those wacky characters—and a writing staff that includes Milliken, Katya Gardiner and Dennis—enables to show to go off in wild, hilarious directions. One upcoming Season 3 instalment, “Dick Trouble,” sees the GFZ crew reminiscing about life pre-cell phone, plunging Derek into a film noir sequence while another, “Whack and Roll,” features puppies and an 80s dance off. There is also an acknowledgement of the taking of sovereign Indigenous lands through the lens of comedy.

“We do make commentary in the comedy about who we are and that we’re still here and we have a sense of humour,” Milliken says. “We make political jabs, social jabs and stereotypical jabs. We fight against the stereotypes that are cast upon us, but really the Guilt Free Zone is a place that’s ours and a place that we have to work together on to preserve and make ours.”

The other half of GFZ‘s weekly episodes are the stellar musical performances. An exclusively Indigenous list of performers—in addition to Miller—takes to the stage this season, including Lee Harvey Osmond, Leela Gilday, DJ Shub, Vern Cheechoo, David R. Maracle, Lacey Hill and Arthur Renwick, introducing viewers to an extensive set of bands, performers and singer-songwriters to take note of.

“In my mind, the performances are so beautiful,” Milliken says. “We’re really trying to show these people in the best way possible. “We’re here. We’re here to stay. We have talent and we have laughter.”

Guilt Free Zone airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on APTN.

Images courtesy of Big Soul Productions.

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Everyday heroes grab the spotlight in Discovery’s Hellfire Heroes

There’s a saying being used on social media about not all heroes wearing capes. While it’s mostly being used in a cute or funny way, it’s apt when describing the folks in Discovery’s newest original series.

Bowing Tuesday at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Discovery, Hellfire Heroes follows the firefighters of central Alberta who put their lives on the line every day in remote communities. Far from the big cities of the province, the men and women of the Lesser Slave Regional Fire Service and Yellowhead County Fire Department are charged with keeping folks and properties safe without the things we take for granted in larger communities.

Tuesday’s debut episode focuses on one of those differences when an expansive trailer home goes up in flames: a water source. With no fire hydrant system to use, the Lesser Slave squad relies on the water they’ve trucked into the site to knock the fire down. But the warren of buildings threatens the lives of two firefighters who’ve headed into the blaze.

We spoke to two members of the Yellowhead County Fire Department—Chief Albert Bahri and Lieutenant Gabriella Sundstrom (left in the image above)—about the show, why they chose this profession, what they hope viewers take away from watching Hellfire Heroes and what you can do to help out.

I’ve watched the first episode of Hellfire Heroes and it’s very dramatic stuff.
Chief Albert Bahri: This is what we do daily. A lot of people look at it and say it’s dramatic but for us, it’s what we do every day and a realistic view of what we do.

Chief Albert Bahri

It’s one thing to do your jobs every day, but it’s another to have television cameras and a production crew follow you while you do that. Did you have any reservations about being followed?
AB: Absolutely. Our job is to keep people safe or make people safe and keep our personnel safe. We do that very well, and when you bring in somebody from the outside that isn’t part of the team and that zone of safety that we have created, how do you deal with that and how do you bring them in so that they’re safe? We had huge reservations but they were alleviated when we looked the guys and started to work with them. We provided a great deal of training as well, so they knew when we needed to zag, they needed to zig and vice versa, to make sure they were in the right spot but also the safe spot. As a fire chief and a director here, in the beginning, it was interesting to see how to film this, while keeping in mind that you’re coming into someone’s life that is maybe the worst time in their life. The crews were spectacular.

Lieutenant Gabriella Sundstrom: At first, I thought it might be interesting to see how it went and then it turned out to be great. The guys had a lot of questions and they learned very quickly how to move with us and work with us.

One thing I noticed going through the biographies of so many of the firefighters involved is that this career goes through generations of families. Gabby, why is that?
GS: It’s kind of a community service. A lot of people want to help their communities somehow, whatever that may be. And I think the other part of it is the fire service has a huge tradition of honour and pride that people take in the service that they do. When you get a taste for that, it’s really hard to do anything else.

AB: When you have family members that he been involved in it, you’re very interested. My son, from the age of four, has been interested. I was intrigued as a younger person as well from my father who was in the military but had done some firefighting with that. It’s a huge community, a huge family, that you are part of. You actually have two families to turn to and they become intertwined and intermingled quickly. My son is a firefighter now and my daughter is interested in it. A lot of the people we have, they’ve gotten the bug from a family member.

What’s the bug? Is it to help people? Is it the adrenaline rush?
AB: I think it’s a combination of many things. I think a big part of it is to give back, as Gabby said, to your community. You want to help people. There is a great adrenaline rush. I remember my first call and the rush. Even now when a call comes in, it’s still there. But when you get it, you can’t get rid of it.

I live in Toronto, where fire hydrants are plentiful. Where you’re fighting fires, there just aren’t. What kind of logistical nightmare does that pose?
AB: That’s one of the things that, for me, made the show special. You look at the size of our area—22,000 square kilometres—and we don’t have any of those water supply areas in our rural spot. We have to bring it by truck. We have to find, once we empty that truck, where to refill. We have to strategically locate those areas. In Alberta, there are two seasons, winter and construction, and in winter there’s five feet of ice you have to cut through. We have to overcome that and it’s a huge struggle. We have very large water tankers and we are also locating tanks that we have put in the ground and insulated so we have water stored so we can go and take water out of those tanks.

What do you want viewers to come away with when they watch Hellfire Heroes?
GS: I hope they walk away with a better understanding of all the things that we do and the pride that we take in providing the best services that we can to people. And, when you see those flashing lights, pull over and let us get past you.

AB: I want them to see what we really do. I want them to see the size of our area but I want them to look at the whole service in general across Canada and say, ‘Is there a place that I can go and volunteer and get involved in this?’ Our volunteer membership across Canada is decreasing. My hope is to bring an awareness of what you can do and how to do it so that people can come forward and say, ‘I’d like to try that.’ You don’t know if you like it until you try it, so we’re more than willing to accept anybody that wants to try.

Hellfire Heroes airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Discovery.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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Gorgeous time period web series Chateau Laurier racks up record views

If social media presence is a bona fide measure of success, Chateau Laurier is simply killing it. The web series has just crossed the three million views line on Facebook—in just two months—and shows no sign of slowing down. Couple that with 65,000 followers on Facebook … clearly, creator-producer-director James Stewart and co-writer-producers Emily Weedon and Kent Staines know what they’re doing.

What the trio has created in just three episodes of content—Season 1 of Chateau Laurier can be seen on the show’s Facebook page—is a sumptuous, gorgeous tale of a couple on the cusp of their arranged marriage taking place against the backdrop of Ottawa’s historic Chateau Laurier. Hattie Bracebridge (Kate Ross) is accompanied by her aunt (Fiona Reid) to the storied establishment where they meet Mr. Mutchmor (the late Bruce Gray, in his final role) and prepare for Hattie’s impending nuptials. But with one errant glance and a few steps away from the lobby, Hattie goes on an adventure that leads to a major twist.

We spoke to creator-producer-director James Stewart about Chateau Laurier, why it’s become a smash hit online, the challenges of filming in a hotel and what’s next for the project.

Why do you think Chateau Laurier has resonated so much not only in Canada and the U.S. but around the world?
James Stewart: I wish I knew the secret sauce. I think there are a number of story reasons and a number of technical reasons. I think the story reasons are people love period dramas. That whole fanbase, with Downton Abbey ending, there is a real hunger for it. I think, specifically in Canada, there is a real hunger for it. As John Doyle pointed out, because of NHL hockey there is no Murdoch Mysteries and no Frankie Drake Mysteries and we landed right in the middle of that. For a technical reason, we decided to launch it as a web series in three-minute episodes and I think that makes it highly shareable and highly viewable. And, once viewers watch it, they’re hooked and take another until they’re done in nine minutes. They say that brevity is the soul of wit. I think brevity is the soul of the Internet.

Facebook is highly shareable and that demographic, women, older women and girls, they are all on Facebook. My mom is on Facebook, my aunt is on Facebook.

Kent Staines (l) and Fiona Reid

How much of a learning curve has it been, for you as a creator, making something in short-form for Facebook?
It absolutely is a learning curve and it changes every year. I did a short film called Foxed and it did the film festival circuit in what I would call a traditional way of distributing something. Then I said, ‘What else is there?’ I put it on iTunes. Then, I was out of outlets for it to create revenue of any kind and I put it on Facebook. It got five million views. It was nuts. Why is that? Because people share, share, share on Facebook. It’s very easy to hit that button.

When we came to Chateau Laurier, I think I was able to really harness all of my social media followers. The Foxed Facebook page has 30,000 followers and I have about 80,000 Twitter followers. We were originally going to launch Chateau Laurier in the fall. We were going to throw a party and have a launch event. I wanted to do it at TIFF Bell Lightbox and they were busy and then Bruce Gray passed away. There was a celebration of his life and then about a month later I said, ‘OK, let’s launch it.’ At that point, we already had 30,000 followers on Facebook.

Give me the background on Chateau Laurier. You grew up in Ottawa in awe of this building. How long has this series been in the works?
I’ve always wanted to do a series on Chateau Laurier and kind of peel back the layers on Ottawa the good. It has a very dangerous history. In the 1800s it was a very dangerous logging town and then it became the capital and all this power and prestige was dumped into this kind of frontier town. Then they opened the Chateau Laurier right in the middle of it and the Titanic went down in the same month. The owner of the hotel went down on the Titanic. The furniture for the opening of the hotel was on the Titanic and they had to delay the opening. It was supposed to open in April and they opened in June in a very subdued way. They didn’t throw a big party. I’ve always known that, liked that, and if I’m in town and don’t stay with family I’ll stay there.

Bruce Gray

And then, a few years ago after Foxed, I thought, ‘I want to do this show. We have a bit of momentum.’ So we got some BravoFACT money to do a short, a sort of proof of concept for a primetime drama series. We did that and then decided to launch it as a web series because that has it’s own cache and is a genre now. We had very little money. It looks very expensive because we shot it at [the Fairmont] Royal York.

It looks stunning. Not only is it impressive to look at but you really pack a lot of story into just under 10 minutes.
Thanks. Arthur Cooper shot it and we really just phoned around and asked who was available and wanted to do it. Everybody was a pro, including the cast. Fiona Reid and Bruce Gray and Kate Ross and Luke Humphrey … we had a connection with them all and they loved it. We shot overnight in the lobby of the Royal York. I wanted to film it in Ottawa, but logistically we just didn’t have the money.

Did you have a traditional writer’s room with yourself, Emily and Kent?
No, we didn’t. Essentially, Kent and Emily wrote the screenplay that became the web series. It was more of a writer’s booth. The love story was based on an idea that Emily came up with.

I saw a picture of you, on social media, at the CBC. Are you actively pitching Chateau Laurier as a series?
We are. We are talking to everyone. Plan A is we are going to broadcasters to say we have a hit on our hands. We have an unabashedly Canadian story, we have a great cast, we have established our characters and they have three million fans. And we’re going to do Season 2 of the web series where we introduce two more of our lead characters in the Mutchmor family and have some great drama. And if we get a primetime series the web series will serve as a prequel.

Season 1 of Chateau Laurier can be seen on the show’s Facebook page.

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Comments and queries for the week of May 18

Which summer shows are you looking forward to?

The Amazing Race Canada. I’ve watched every season since the show started. I have never watched the U.S. version though. My summer schedule was Rookie Blue and of course The Amazing Race Canada. Now I’m down to one show to watch. —Robin

Baroness Von Sketch Show in great part because IFC shows it here in the States. Hopefully, IFC has learned by now what a Caesar is. —Chad


 

LOVE LOVE LOVE this series. As one of those “unruly” neighbours to the south, I’ve been watching for years. I love the recurring characters, especially Cyrus Lane’s Newsome boys. He makes me laugh so hard with a simple expression or gesture. I noticed his familiar face in a painting at the Newsome estate. Is it possible that Roger and Rupert resemble other relatives like Mother Newsome? Would love to see more of Lane next season especially portraying more than one character in an episode. Maybe a Henry and Ruth wedding episode where wedding preparations uncover a literal skeleton in the Newsome closet??? Just a thought. Thanks for bringing this wonderful series to the world for another season. —Joanie

Got a question or comment about Canadian TV? Email greg.david@tv-eh.com or via Twitter @tv_eh.

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