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TV,eh? What's up in Canadian television

Tonight: Rick Mercer Report, 22 Minutes, Schitt’s Creek

Rick Mercer Report, CBC
Rick and ‘Dr Popsicle’ check out Mustang Survival in Burnaby, BC and wear their life-saving gear when they’re dropped into English Bay. Then Rick is off to Toronto’s York University to check out the campus observatory, the nursing school, and the innovative NHL fitness testing programme.

22 Minutes, CBC
This week on an all-new episode of 22 Minutes the cast tackles fear; Federal Fisheries Minister and Conservative MP Gail Shea; and Kanye West sings with Paul McCartney.

Schitt’s Creek, CBC
When filthy-rich video store magnate Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy), his soap star wife Moira (Catherine O’Hara), and their two kids – über-hipster son David (Dan Levy) and socialite daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy) – suddenly find themselves broke, they are forced to live in Schitt’s Creek, a small, depressing town they once bought as a joke.

Schitt’s Creek is anything but for CBC

Go ahead, say them. Your jokes about the name, Schitt’s Creek. Some wondered—months ago when CBC announced the Eugene Levy/Catherine O’Hara project co-created by Levy and his son, Dan—if the title would make for easy headlines if the ratings were bad.

The fact is, CBC may end up getting the last laugh by having the strongest homegrown sitcom this country has had since, well, that show about not much going on that just recently made a movie. Just yesterday, CBC announced it had greenlit a second season of Schitt’s Creek before Season 1 had even debuted. That’s the kind of move that Netflix makes, not a public broadcaster, and it’s an indication of just how confident they are in the project.

Debuting Tuesday, Schitt’s Creek stars Eugene Levy as Johnny Rose, a video store magnate who sees his empire crumble due to bad investments. The government descends, claiming their mansion and almost everything in it. The only thing the feds don’t touch is a property Johnny bought for his son, David (Dan Levy), on a lark: the small town of Schitt’s Creek. The pair, along with wife/mother Moira (Catherine O’Hara) and daughter/sister Alexis (Annie Murphy), decamp for the little community where they’re met with odd characters—including mayor Roland Schitt (Chris Elliott)—and a fish out of water situation. But where most sitcoms go over-the-top to get laughs, Schitt’s Creek is more subtle, with funny things going on in the background and names (hello, Roland Schitt?) as opposed to pratfalls.

“We talked a lot about that in the writer’s room,” Dan says. “We never played anything for the laughs and it’s something my Dad comes from. That’s why I came to him with this show. I knew there was a special touch that he has in terms of legitimizing funny situations in a reality that’s tangible. If you have great people playing these funny situations, that’s where the magic is.”

He’s right. Eugene and O’Hara have made careers out of playing characters who don’t mug for the camera, and Eugene’s DNA has been carried on to Dan. Best-known to a generation of viewers for his co-hosting duties on The After Show alongside Jessi Cruickshank, Dan’s comic chops cause a lot of laugh-out-loud moments. One great scene features David and Alexis arguing who will sleep in the motel bed closest to the door; David wants his sister to sleep there because a murderer who breaks in will kill her first, giving him time to escape.

Dan had been playing with the idea of a family who has lost their money for a TV show and it went through several incarnations once Eugene came on board. It was over dinner conversations with friends, Eugene recalls, that they realized “Why not call the town Schitt’s Creek?” (“Because that’s exactly what I’d think of,” O’Hara jokes.) He admits the CBC wasn’t the first network he thought of to air Schitt’s Creek, but positive meetings coupled with the network looking to rebrand, and a deal was made.

“We set out to make the kind of show that we want to watch,” Eugene explains. “What I find funny and the most interesting are character-driven pieces because that’s all I’ve done, from SCTV on. You have to stay in the character and stay as grounded as you possibly can, that’s what appealed to me.”

And, clearly, the CBC.

Schitt’s Creek airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Interview: Murdoch Mysteries channels Indiana Jones

William Murdoch, swashbuckling treasure hunter? Well, not exactly, but Toronto’s most successful detective did find himself in several tight spots during Monday’s newest episode while he hunted for the elusive Holy Grail. Paul Aitken’s script certainly tore a page from the Indiana Jones trilogy, right down to mysterious iconography, secret passages and deadly traps.

“Temple of Death” was also the latest instalment to employ the skills of Robert Crowther and his team over at Rocket Science Visual Effects, who have been working on Murdoch Mysteries for years. Some of the scenes Rocket Science has done for Murdoch include the outside of the temple in Monday’s storyline and the expansive Toronto waterfront from this season’s debut. We spoke to Crowther about the work he’s done on Murdoch Mysteries.

You’ve worked on several different projects over the years. Hannibal, Murdoch, The Listener, Todd & the Book of Pure Evil. It must be fun to jump back and forth among different genres.
Robert Crowther: It’s definitely interesting. Every day is a new problem to solve, really. Any dramatic project comes down to the same thing: how do we tell the story? And in visual effects there is a lot of problem solving. Something has been written and the first thing that runs through my mind is, “How the hell are we going to do this?” [Laughs.] So you have to go through a process of problem solving, really, to determine the best way to show it. And in all cases, even on a larger project, cost is always a factor.

How did you get into the visual effects game in the first place?
I kind of fell into it. I had an opportunity out of York University to do a summer internship at a visual effects company and it wasn’t really even something I was looking into at that time. Once I had some exposure to it I realized that it really fit the kind of talents and interests that I had. I had more than a better than average technical ability but also an interest in storytelling and picture. I thought I was going to be a director, but the reality of the world hits you and at that time there were definitely more opportunities in the visual effects industry. It’s something I found my way into at that time.

I really wanted to be in films and even back then I realized that being a member of a filmmaking team you are very, very involved in the way the story is told. Often, you can have your own level of influence. So though I never did become a director, I do find visual effects to be a very satisfying creative outlet.

What falls under your responsibilities at Murdoch Mysteries?
What’s evolved over the last few years is that rather than be involved in every episode there are a few episodes throughout the season that need a little more assistance from our side than the others. I’ll focus a little more on a certain number of episodes. In Season 8 there were probably four episodes that needed a little additional guidance. It starts with the script and I break down what I see to be an opportunity to use a visual effect or it’s not possible to get the shot through practical means. We’ll start with a read-through and then a meeting and discussion about the different options or approaches we can take to a problem. There is also a budget process as well, determining what the show can afford. Then we plan scene by scene what we’re going to do.

I go on the tech surveys as well in preproduction and I’ll go out to the locations and figure out what we’re going to shoot. I’ll consult on how a visual effect should be executed within the location or the set we’re in. I’ll go there on the shoot day as well to work with the director and director of photography to put the camera in the right place to get the footage we need. There are often camera details we need to get our hands on.

Foster

In Monday’s episode, there is that shot of the temple that Murdoch and Crabtree enter. How much of that had to be worked on by your team? What did you add that wasn’t there?
Most of the frame was modified by us. We had a real location for it. There is a beautiful cemetery mausoleum—The Thomas Foster Memorial in Uxbridge, Ont.—where we shot both interior and exterior. The exterior we shot as-is and we had the art department dress some vines and things on the building—it doesn’t have those now and it’s kind of in an open field—but we had to make it look like it was surrounded by 30 years of tree growth. So we had the actors do their dialogue do their lines with the set dressing around them and then we extended all of that. We added vines that go all the way up to the top, we didn’t replace the roof per se, we just integrated it better and replaced the sky. All the foliage around it is added by us as well.

Your team recreated the wonderful Toronto lakeshore for the season premiere. Can you talk about how you came to create that for the show?
That episode started with the script and Peter Mitchell had already mapped out what happened at the docks and wanted to create this sketchy part of Toronto. Most of the time Toronto plays as Toronto the Good. He needed this other place and had already set it up in the previous season. That was the central challenge at the beginning of Season 8, to make a new part of Toronto for the mystery to play out. I don’t even know where the initial thought to not shoot at dockside came from. It might have been Armando Sgrignuoli or Stephen Montgomery who sort of said to us, “Can you make this look like the waterfront of Toronto?”

After scratching our heads for awhile, we worked with some existing location photographs. We had some great footage from Season 7 where we had done the Keewatin crossing Lake Ontario. We had a lot of footage of Lake Ontario and we knew that any view from the Toronto harbourfront would look out on the islands. We took a lot of pictures and once we looked at them we realized we could create the harbour of the time. The other part of it, of course, is that today you have the island ferries and a few sailboats in the harbour. But in that time you had lake freighters coming in both directions and pleasure craft and the ferries, so we started working on CG vessels to populate the harbour and make it look busy.

What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
I think it’s got to be having a final product that you can be proud of. In any creative process there is quite a lot of doubt and quite often we’re doing things we haven’t done before. If you’re not doubting what you’re doing, you’re probably doing something that’s too easy. I like to think that we challenge each other every time and the payoff is seeing that put to picture with all the sound added and telling a great story.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Clara Hughes’ epic road trip documented for CTV’s Big Ride

clara_hughes

From a media release:

Bell Media announced today the debut of the new original documentary CLARA’S BIG RIDE as its anchor program for the fifth annual Bell Let’s Talk Day. Premiering in primetime on Bell Let’s Talk Day, Wednesday, Jan. 28, the one-hour documentary will be available on demand all day on CraveTV and CTV.ca, before airing at 7 p.m. ET/PT in super-simulcast on CTV and CTV Two and live-streamed on CTV GO. CLARA’S BIG RIDE is a powerful documentary directed by multi-award winning filmmaker Larry Weinstein (Thirty-Two Short Films About Glenn Gould, Our Man in Tehran, TSN’s THE 13th MAN), chronicling an unprecedented 11,000 km bicycle journey across Canada by six-time Olympic medalist and Bell Let’s Talk spokesperson Clara Hughes. Throughout the journey, Hughes spreads a hopeful message designed to break the silence surrounding mental illness and helps create a stigma-free Canada.

Part catalyst for change, part epic road movie, CLARA’S BIG RIDE is a rousing documentary that tackles the profound conversation on mental health and the stigma surrounding mental illness. Crossing every region of the country, the documentary features brave stories from Canadians whose lives are touched by Hughes’ historic ride.

In the spring of 2014, Hughes embarked upon an exhilarating journey on her bicycle in an effort to unite Canadians in a much-needed conversation on mental health, and to spark positive changes in the way mental illness is perceived. The documentary recounts the epic 110-day journey through 105 communities and 235 events in varied and often extreme weather conditions.

Over the course of the documentary, CLARA’S BIG RIDE captures the voices of a group of heroic young Canadians as they tell their stories of living with mental illness. These voices include: Stacey, a teacher from Lindsay, Ont.; Marisa, a Media Relations Coordinator from Montréal; Antigonish, N.S. student Dexter; University of Prince Edward Island student Alanna; Dorothy, who runs a community program called “Going Off, Growing Strong” in Nain, a remote town in Northern Labrador; Sally, a practicing artist from Dawson City; Royal Roads University student Megan in Victoria; Canadian Armed Forces Veteran Terry; and Pascale, an outspoken teen and mental health advocate.

One of the greatest amateur athletes in Canadian history, with six Olympic medals in cycling and speed skating – two distinct sports crossing Summer and Winter Games – Hughes’ athletic prowess brought her national recognition, including the Order of Canada, and, just as she completed the ride, the Meritorious Service Cross. While cycling across the country, Hughes shares her own story of battling depression on the heels of her Olympic success.

Review: Trapped in a Stranger than Strange Empire

Oh John Slotter, you sure put the strange in Strange Empire. The morally challenged character played to creepy perfection by Aaron Poole seems to be going off the deep(er) end in “The Cage,” directed by Anne Wheeler.

The episode begins with the aftermath of the mine collapse that ended the previous, pre-holiday episode. Actually, if you’re counting crows it begins with one for sorrow in a striking treetop tableau before cutting down to Slotter sitting with clasped hands as the other folks of Janestown frantically retrieve the broken men and broken bodies from the mine. When one head-smashed-in unfortunate is stacked in front of him , he digs into the skull to retrieve a bone fragment in a scene I may have watched from behind outstretched hands.

Ruby, as she so often does, has one of the best lines of the episode: “Pretending everything’s rosy don’t make nothing pink.”  Isabelle has secured funding for the mine by promising repayment, with the mine and her body as collateral. It culminates in a battle between the Slotters, with John telling Cornelius “You’re the part of me I’ve tried to root out my entire life” but pulling the final punch  and accessing the better — I didn’t say good — part of his soul.

The  bone fragment reappears when Slotter crosses into the Montana territory to shoot the marshal’s friend the smithy and kidnap the man’s daughter as an offering for his own father, to make amends for Isabelle’s sake if not his own. How sweet, if you ignore the twisted family dynamic, murder, kidnapping, and placement of the bone inside her mouth before he gagged her.

Miner Franklin remains underground long after only dead bodies are being retrieved, causing Mrs. Briggs to realize she loves him and to be snide to Rebecca in her grief: “It’s good you don’t feel. God blessed you that way. It’s like not being a woman at all, isn’t it?” Her distress results in the most touchingly awkward attempt at comfort by the doctor who seems to feel a great deal, just not in a way Briggs can understand.

After Briggs has agreed to halt the rescue in order to not jeopardize the rescuers, Robin has one of her visions that leads to his rescue, very much alive and able to receive Briggs’ affections. How sweet, if you ignore that she’s been quite the judgmental harridan to Kat and Rebecca in particular and is not one of the woman on my most deserving of a happy ending list.

Is Kat destined for one? It seems unlikely on this show but she’s got a protector in the marshal, who heads off bounty hunters who are after her for murder. With the help of Isabelle’s right hook, she has a favour for the marshal as well: Slotter delivered on a platter in a cage.

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