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Catherine Reitman reflects on Season 1 of Workin’ Moms

Season 1 of Workin’ Moms has been unlike any other comedy I’ve seen on CBC. As a matter of fact, to call Catherine Reitman’s creation a comedy is putting it in too small of a box. To tune into a half-hour episode on Tuesday night at 9:30 p.m. is to witness, yes, plenty of laughs, but also tears, drama and downright shock.

When we last left the ladies, Kate (Reitman) was reconsidering her decision to accept the Montreal gig; Anne (Dani Kind) had fleeting thoughts of an abortion; Frankie (Juno Rinaldi) had lost her job, and perhaps her mind; and Jenny (Jessalyn Wanlim) was juggling nipple piercings and alleyway makeout sessions.

With just one more new episode before the Season 1 finale—”Merde” on Tuesday—we spoke to Reitman about the journey she and these characters have been on.

Kate’s struggle has been awful to watch, but also very real and there were times I wanted to punch Nathan because this about her time to shine, for me anyway. But as of last week’s episode, it feels like Kate is regretting her decision. She’s being left behind and left out of her family dynamic.
Catherine Reitman: It’s not a ‘likeable’ storyline and it’s something I deal with a lot. Kate is in many ways a younger, naive version of myself. Someone who doesn’t want to compromise anything. To me, that’s very relatable but it’s also a very unrealistic way to live your life. Now that I’ve done a season of this show with a newborn, a three-year-old and a husband, something’s gotta give. To ‘have it all,’ as has been promised in this modern world, but there is not really a structure in place to achieve that. At least, not without compromise. The more I meet working women, there isn’t an affordable way to do this—daycare, etc.—trying to have it all, you lose all of your grace and relationship in the process or you lose things that have value to you and make you a unique, special individual and not just a mother.

Catherine Reitman as Kate

When I got pregnant with Liam, it was the day before I got my first-ever series greenlight. All of a sudden I realized I had an option. I could move forward and just be a mother and say no to this incredible opportunity. Or maybe, I could be an OK mother and follow this thing I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little girl. That’s sort of the route Kate takes and I think it’s really easy to lose your grace on that path and it’s something that I wanted to explore.

Nathan is played by Philip Sternberg, your real-life husband. Did you and he have discussions about whether or not you would showrun Workin’ Girls?
We absolutely had that conversation and his fears and my fears were absolutely equal. He wondered if we could do this. It doesn’t just mean, ‘Hey, you’re going to be working while you’re pregnant,’ but we were uprooting our toddler and saying, ‘Not only do you have a new baby brother to contend with, but you’re now living in a different country and Mommy’s gone all day and all night in production.’ It’s actually the cruelest to our toddler because he doesn’t know what the hell is going on. [Laughs.] Yes, it was a huge adjustment for all parties.

Dani Kind has been fantastic as Anne.
She’s been magical.

Every character is good, but Anne has been in some pretty dark places, the most recent of which secretly hoping she’d lost the baby when she fell on her stomach. I’ve never even considered that that might be a thought.
It’s funny. When you think about a woman considering an abortion or a woman being relieved at a miscarriage … if you had just told me that I would have complete judgment about her. The truth is that life is incredibly complicated. I heard a statistic where women having abortions are most likely to already have children. There was this huge wake-up call when I heard that statistic because I have absolutely thought about having an abortion before and have fainted on my child while pregnant and thought a miscarriage might be a relief for a second. That doesn’t make me a villain, it makes me a person. To watch it, and see the disconnection Anne has from the child she already has and then see them growing closer … there is something very potent to me about that.

Dani Kind as Anne, Ryan Belleville as Lionel

Anne could easily be construed as an angry woman and when you get somebody like Dani Kind … she never plays it safe. She plays it 100 per cent to the point where you become her. Every time I see her play it, I say, ‘Uh huh, I believe her and I want to be her.’ You get on board with a potentially unlikable subject matter.

This is a messy show.
Yeah man. This is a messy life.

The writers’ room must have been a real mix of laughs and tears.
It was pretty therapeutic. Everything you see on-screen is based on, if not mine, someone else’s story.

Have you gotten any negative feedback about some of the subject matter?
Not one. People put the fear of God into me. I was told that Canada would not accept this and we would have one wild season and be on our way. At first, the pushback was, ‘What kind of show is this?’ It’s not like a lot of stuff on our network. But as soon as you get on board with it and see it’s multi-faceted, then you can enjoy it.

One of the things Dani has said on social media is how caring the environment was on Workin’ Moms. That starts with you, the showrunner. How did you ensure it was a safe space?
I wasn’t afraid to fail. Because it was so real and we had been practicing fearlessness in the writers’ room for six months, but the time we got to production it was a very therapeutic environment. If someone needed to cry, they could cry. If they wanted to be angry, they could be angry. But we needed to be constructive and supportive of each other.

What are you most proud of?
That my boys still like me. I was really scared. I knew I had to go full-throttle with this and give everything I had to it with the awareness Canada might not accept it and it would be a flash in the pan for me. The fact we started to see [ratings] numbers and the fact that people wanted to watch it and stopping me at restaurants and thanking me for telling these stories and generating a conversation … that all of that happened felt really rewarding. And then, at the end of the day, my boys aren’t mad at me. They still accept me at their breakfast table! They know my features!

Workin’ Moms airs Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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The Story of Us: Hunting treasures makes worlds collide

I have been hearing some noise about CBC’s Canada: The Story of Us, and to be honest, I was excited. I always fall for these milestone events—be they the Olympics or major moments with the Royal Family—and Canada’s 150th falls into this category. I also completely understand why Canada 150 touches a nerve and, depending upon my frame of mind at the moment, it touches mine at times too. However, as an eternal optimist, I always hope these events can lead to an opportunity for bridge-building rather than more walls erected.

And it is clear from the very first moment that this a politically-motivated series with an opening statement by Prime Minister Trudeau. It is a statement that needs to be made, but I question the need for it here. His message: that we as Canadians do have a “dark past that we are only just coming to understand as we move forward into a new chapter that is the story of us.”

And so it goes. “We are explorers, and risk takers, dreamers and fighting the odds in a land of extremes.” Go us!

Christopher Plummer, Rick Hansen, Adrienne Clarkson, Missy Peregrym, Lorne Cardinal, Paul Gross, Georges St. Pierre, Joseph Boyden, Colm Feore

The first episode is entitled “Worlds Collide,” and it very carefully walks the delicate line that currently exists between cultures as we begin—although I find the position of “beginning” questionable—a chronological journey through Canada’s history with the story of Samuel du Champlain and the Beaver Wars. Now I say “story” intentionally. Much of the grittier detail is elided over in this retelling, obviously for time’s sake. But throughout, I felt this was all sugar-coated; re-enactments enhanced by CGI imagery. Toss in the many celebrities liberally peppered throughout with the odd historian, like John English, Ph.D., History of Trinity College and you have the “opening chapter” of Canada: The Story of Us with the establishment of New France.

The first episode also describes the process by which France promotes population growth in New France: Filles du Roi—Daughters of the King—women sent over by France to propagate and make the new colony viable, the birth of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Battle of Quebec in 1759.

Episode 2 “Hunting Treasures” airing next Sunday, suggests the epic quest for treasures: our natural resources. Our country was not begun by a settler society but rather a mercantile society. The entrepreneurial spirit is strong and is what motivated the quest to conquer a landscape wrought with so many challenges.

First, we learn the history of St. John, New Brunswick, featuring the story of William Hazen, an American who has come north to escape the War of Independence and make his fortune in the wood trade.

Peter Mansbridge, Clara Hughes, Rick Mercer, Eugene Levy, Tatiana Maslany, Georges Laraque, Sarah Gadon, John Ralston Saul, Atom Egoyan

Next, the series tackles the complexities that influenced the competition between the Hudson’s Bay Company and The North West Company in their quest for dominance and monetary gain. Enmeshed in this competition was the importance of horses and buffalo, and the alliances between Indigenous tribes and their unique connection to the land, all of which presented challenges that needed to be overcome. The abundance of resources created a mindset that ofttimes persists today: resources are to be entirely exploited until they are virtually extinct.

The story of Mathew Bell is the next story to unfold. Bell is a man from Britain who sets the course for industrialization in Lower Canada, and made Canadian winters bearable with his creation of the “Canada Stove.” This innovation also made Les Forges Saint- Maurice the first company able to guarantee his employees a year-round wage and set a precedent for company towns that would continue to spring up across the country like Hamilton, Ont., and Fort McMurray, Alberta. We learn a bit about Chief Maquinna of Nootka Sound in present-day B.C., and his influence on the north-west fur trade and current diplomacy for which Canada is renown.

We close with the retelling of Sir Alexander Mackenzie’s passage across the Rockies in order to bring The North West Co. to that coast, uniting the fur trade across the continent.

To be perfectly frank, after Episode 1, I was not at all impressed and delayed settling in to watch Episode 2 for the purposes of this review. I was also disappointed that The Story of Us, basically began with the traditional Discovery Story, the way our textbooks have always treated the history of Canada. Understandably there is more documentation regarding the history of Canada post contact, yet still at this time when we are working toward reconciliation, it would have been nice to have more than 45 seconds devoted to the 12+ thousands of years before Samuel du Champlain’s arrival.

However, I found next week’s instalment much more engaging and I am looking forward to seeing what Episode 3 will bring. It didn’t hurt that “Hunting Treasures” closed with Peter Mansbridge evoking some patriotism the way only he can, with his closing statement: “Our natural resources will always be incredibly important, but don’t kid yourself … it is our people, Canadians, that are our greatest resource.” You don’t have to tell me, I am well aware I am a sucker for this stuff!

Overall, the cinematography is stunning. The use of CGI was a bit overdone in my opinion. I am not a huge fan of re-enactments but these were well done. I wish, as a student, when I was forced to learn Canadian history I had Canada: The Story of Us to watch. It is far more entertaining and engaging than the dry textbooks we had to study. By no means does this cover all of the details, but as a tool for educators, it would be a worthy device to introduce segments of our history to students. Parents, sit down with your school-aged children and watch. Some events will be very familiar while others may be a pleasant surprise.

Canada: The Story of Us airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

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Enjoying a raspberry cordial with Anne

First, a couple of facts about me before my preview of CBC’s second episode of Anne. I’m a 46-year-old man who has never read the Anne of Green Gables books or watched the 1985 miniseries starring Megan Follows. Some may say it’s a disadvantage not to have absorbed the novels or landmark TV project, but I think it’s a good thing. It means I go into Anne without any preconceived notions or automatic comparison to the source material or beloved 80s project. I like good TV, and Anne is very, very good.

From the opening scene in last week’s debut where Matthew thundered towards the train station to grab Anne before she left town to that same shot bookending those initial 44 minutes, I was in thrall not only by the cast, scenery and cinematography but the writing too. So far Moira Walley-Beckett has stayed true to L.M. Montgomery’s tale (the die-hard fan in my house tells me so) while adding a decidedly dark edge when Anne is recalling her time with the Hammonds.

So, what does Episode 2, “I am no bird, and no net ensnares me,” written by Walley-Beckett and directed by Helen Shaver hold? Here’s what CBC’s episode synopsis reveals:

Hoping all is not lost; Matthew races to catch up with Anne while Marilla anxiously hopes and waits for their return to Green Gables.
And here’s what I can tell you after watching a screener.

Oh, those credits
I’ll never get enough of hearing “Ahead by a Century” as Anne‘s opening credits, nor the amazing, twisting, tree animation.

A Workin’ Moms star is workin’ it
Keep an eye out for Workin’ Moms actor—and recent You’ve Been Hooked interviewee—Alden Adair, who plays a small, but pivotal, role in Sunday’s opening minutes. That scene adds a gritty realism to Anne; not everyone is a nice person and wants the best for children. Other notable Canadian faces include Daniel Kash and Rob Ramsay in supporting roles.

Marilla’s crisis of confidence
From what I understand, Colleen Dewhurst was one heck of a Marilla Cuthbert. I have to say Geraldine James is simply fantastic in this iteration. She’s crusty and cross on the outside, but a total softie inside. She clearly sees some of her younger self in Anne … and is feeling awful for accusing the girl of stealing the broach and not believing Anne when she denied doing it. Marilla wants so badly to do something to right her wrong, but must leave Matthew to find Anne and wait at Green Gables, hoping for good news.

The little things mean a lot
I’m not talking about characters or performances in this case, but the minute details in sets and props that bring Anne’s world to visual life. Dirt caked under fingernails describes hardscrabble lives where hard work is important, sunlight blazing through a cherry blossom denotes hope and a bustling, loud, crowded Charlottetown dock is a sharp contrast to the quiet sanctuary that is Green Gables. Also, kudos to Amin Bhatia and Ari Posner (most recently of X
Company
) for their stellar music.

Anne airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Heartland says goodbye to Season 10 with a new addition

If you’ve seen the teaser commercials for Heartland‘s season finale, you know Amy has the baby. But will “Greater Expectations” be a love-in all episode, with every character going goo-goo over the little sprite or would other storylines be featured? That was my big question before watching a screener.

Here’s what CBC had to say about “Greater Expectations,” written by showrunner Heather Conkie and directed by Dean Bennett:

Amy, Ty and the entire Heartland family are thrilled to welcome a new member into the fold. Meanwhile, the ghost horse returns and Amy disagrees with Georgie’s plan to capture and gentle him. Then, Lou changes her mind about a business deal but not before Mitch makes a surprising choice. 

And here are some more non-spoiler bits about Sunday…

A Ghostly appearance
Ghost, that mysterious horse with the black spots returns, and Amy and Georgie are transfixed. Is Ghost a good luck charm or a harbinger of bad things to come?

Caleb ties the knot … with help from Ty
Tim voices his concern, but Caleb is adamant: he and Cass are getting married and Ty is supposed to be his best man. The only issue is that Caleb is currently unemployed … and that’s where Tim comes in. Is Tim willing to hire Caleb as an instructor at the rodeo school, or will he send this cowboy packing?

Georgie + Jack = good times
It’s not often that Jack and Georgie have their own storyline, but they get a doozy on Sunday. It involves Ghost. That’s all I’ll say, except that I hope the pair get more screen time together in Season 11.

Lou makes a decision about the business
Did Lou listen to Lisa’s advice, or did she partner with Peter? You find out on Sunday. Her choice has a ripple effect on what Mitch does next.

Let me know what you think of Sunday’s finale by commenting below after you watch it!

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The legacy of Denis McGrath

So much has and will be posted about the Denis McGrath-sized hole left in the world after his death last night. A small part of his legacy is that without him, TV, eh? would likely not exist. In an alternate, Denis-less universe, one we’re struggling to imagine now, I most likely would never have thought about the issues that led me to create it, and even if I had, it would have ended with a whimper not long after its experimental launch.

The origin story of this website is that while covering television and movies online I became fascinated with the way TV is made, with so much control in the hands of the writer rather than the director. I started following TV writer blogs, including Denis’s influential Dead Things on Sticks, to learn more about the process. That lively comments section is where I met the online Canadian TV community and began to realize … there’s an online Canadian TV community?

Obviously I knew  Canadian shows existed but from Denis’s posts I realized there were a whole lot I’d never heard of, despite writing about TV. I wrote an article lamenting that fact, wishing for an online resource like a TVTattle or Futon Critic, and an anonymous commenter asked me why I didn’t start such a site myself — a question I immediately dismissed. I had no skin in this game. Just Denis’s voice in my head about the struggles of the Canadian TV industry.

I went to the Banff TV Festival to cover a David Shore (House) master class, among others, and while there I sat in a town hall discussion about how Canadian TV should appeal more to international audiences. I wondered why networks weren’t more concerned with letting me know about these shows first. Through it all Denis was a sounding board and a huge influence in my understanding of the issues at play, and he encouraged my attempts to write about them from the audience perspective.

That was when I quietly put up a bare-bones site and started posting stories and media releases about Canadian shows. I let a few people know, including Denis. I’m grateful to many but his support meant everything. He championed the idea from the first, and through his influence helped make it and me feel part of that Canadian TV online community almost immediately. What started as a whim suddenly felt valuable, because he saw value in it.

Through the years the TV, eh? charity auctions benefited enormously from his contributions, his bids, and his promotion. He harassed industry folks to donate and his followers to bid, helping raise thousands of dollars for Kids Help Phone. He was a tireless promoter of the fundraising campaign that helped relaunch the site after I’d closed it down a couple years ago. I don’t think anyone escaped his haranguing to contribute what they could.

We ranted at the crazy industry together and drove each other crazy at times. But he was always supportive and generous with the site and with me. We dated for a time, years ago, but long after that he continued to offer support and advice. Some of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me came from him. He valued some core things about me that others have occasionally tried to make me feel badly about, and I keep his voice in my head at those times. He had a big voice and a bigger heart, and he leaves an enormous legacy.

I wish everyone and every cause could have a champion like Denis McGrath. I wish for his wife, family, friends and colleagues some comfort that a Canadian TV community he helped create is grieving with them.

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