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TV,eh? What's up in Canadian television

Coroner: Showrunner Morwyn Brebner and director Adrienne Mitchell on bringing “real” Jenny Cooper to TV

There’s something a little different about Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan), the lead character of CBC’s new drama series, Coroner. Like most crime procedural protagonists, Cooper—the creation of British novelist M.R. Hall—is troubled and going through some tough times, most notably, the sudden death of her hard-gambling and secretly destitute husband.

But instead of engaging in Scandinavian thriller-style brooding like fellow book-turned-TV crime-solvers John Cardinal and Kurt Wallander, Cooper simply gets down to business. Yes, she sucks down anti-anxiety pills and suffers the occasional crying spell in her car, but she shakes it off and keeps going, every step forward a tiny act of defiance. Her superpower is just getting up each morning and doing what needs to be done with as much humour and grace as possible—even when that involves investigating gruesome crime scenes. And that makes her feel refreshingly real.

That realness of character was what made series executive producer and lead director Adrienne Mitchell want to adapt Hall’s The Coroner book series into a TV show. It’s also what enticed showrunner Morywn Brebner, who worked with Mitchell on CBC’s Bellevue, to sign on to the series.

“We were really searching for a series of novels that had a strong female lead who was unpredictable, who was authentic, with a sense of humour,” says Mitchell.

Brebner adds, “[Jenny’s] anxiety, and her fearlessness, and humour, and her deep, deep intelligence—which is really beautifully embodied by Serinda—made me feel like there was something about this woman that was like the woman you wanna be. So flawed, but so committed to living her life the way she feels she needs to.”

To get us ready for Monday’s new episode, “Scattered,” which is the first of a two-part instalment, Mitchell and Brebner gave us a call from Toronto to tell us more about what makes Jenny Cooper special and how they went about adapting Coroner for the small screen.

First of all, how did Coroner come about? I know that you two have worked together in the past.
Adrienne Mitchell: At Back Alley [Film Productions], Janis Lundman and I are the principals, and we were really searching for a series of novels that had a strong female lead who was unpredictable, who was authentic, with a sense of humour. And who was placed in a world that had a very strong investigational line but also a very strong character line that sort of dipped in and out of her work and family. We came across the very talented M.R. Hall’s books and were really were struck by the character Jenny Cooper, who just stood out to us on so many levels, being someone who was full of incredible intelligence but also full of her own theories and going about it in ways that will blow up in her face and also doing it in such a way that she was strangely self-aware. It was just such a fun read to explore her character.

And we were so fortunate to work with Morwyn on Bellvue. I got to know her since I was the lead director, and Morwyn’s voice is a really amazing, unique voice, not only in our country but I think in North America. I thought she would be amazing for this. Janis and I were just praying and hoping that she liked the novels.

Morwyn Brebner: I really liked working with Back Alley on Bellvue, and I really wasn’t looking for anything to do, and I certainly wasn’t looking for anything in the sort of crime realm. But then I read the books myself and was really drawn to the character for the reasons that Adrienne was saying and because she seemed like a real woman to me. Her anxiety and her fearlessness and humour and her deep, deep intelligence—which is really beautifully embodied by Serinda—it made me feel like there was something about this woman that was like the woman you wanna be. So flawed, but so committed to living her life the way she feels she needs to. It’s a really beautiful quality in a woman. She’s not afraid of things. She’s drawn to do the things she needs to do, and it’s really amazing.

One thing I particularly enjoy about the series is just what you said, that Jenny feels real. Unlike a lot of characters in crime procedurals, she doesn’t have any super abilities and she isn’t mopey. While she has anxiety and other issues, she is getting out of bed and showing up every day, choosing to be present. Just like a lot of women I know. 
AM: What you’ve just said there is the best thing and is a cornerstone of this series. She gets up after getting beaten up, and she just keeps getting up. She’ll have an anxiety attack, she’ll wrap her Ativan in wrapping paper during inquests and then pop the pill. She’s got this incredible fight in her and just keeps going. Morwyn and I have talked about this, and we love that she doesn’t dwell and wallow.

MB: For me, what’s really interesting is that a lot of the ways we deal with women who are complex in shows, is we re-traumatize them. That becomes their narrative, exploring the character through re-traumatization, which isn’t quite something that we do with male characters. What I love about Jenny is that that’s not actually her arc. It’s a going through and it’s a moving forward. We used to talk about the quality of her suddenness, which was that she would just do things. And that action and forward living is really exciting to see in a female character. I really love her because she does feel like, as you say, a woman you would know.

I also appreciate the way you deal with Jenny’s grief in the series. It ebbs and flows, recedes and then reappears in new ways. I thought that was an important quality in a series that revolves around death. Is that something you were actively trying to portray?
MB: Her husband doesn’t die in the books, actually. And the impulse to do that, for me, was that I was having trouble fitting the husband into the storyline and then I felt somehow the decision to kill the husband really made the story snap into focus for me. You know, in a Disney movie, you kill the parents so the kids can have an adventure? It was a little like that. And I was trying to figure out how to fully move the show from the books into our world. That was the decision that actually made it happen, and after I did that, I felt that the show really came alive.

AM: Grief is not a linear thing, and we trying to really service that in this series and explore that. Grief comes and goes, and it may trigger something else in your life that’s unresolved, and then that grief merges into something else. So I really tried to explore all the dimensions. Grief is not one thing. It’s active. It can manifest in so many ways. So what you’re seeing is something that we really wanted to work with.

MB: Grief is something that feels within you and lives without you, and that’s the process. You’ll come to see that it’s very integral to the series.

What are some of the other changes you made from the novels?
MB: The relationship with her son, which is beautiful, we’ve altered. M.R. has been very generous about that. The character of Alison [played by Tamara Podemski] is in the book, and we love that character so much, and the character of McAvoy [played by Roger Cross] is in the book, but he’s in one of the books in a different way.

It was really saying, ‘How do we take this beautiful spirit and the beautiful character in these books and make her a really Canadian character, a Toronto character and let her live in a way that feels like she’s really part of our world and really representing for us?’

And how did you go about taking a British story and a British character and making them feel, as you say, “really Canadian”?
MB: That’s a really interesting question. I feel in an adaptation, you try to retain the essence of something, but the specifics of the show are very Canadian. Everything is set very specifically. Everyone speaks specifically.

AM: And all of the cases come from things that have happened in Canada and are inspired by them. The research, the coroner research, the pathologist research, we had consultants who would share things that were happening here in Toronto. We have such a diverse city, which we love, and that’s really reflected in the casting and in the stories. So it just happened kind of organically.

MB: Yeah, I think in order to adapt something, you have to put it into your own perspective and you have to put yourself into it and you have to, you know, have skin in the game. I feel that it was a very organic process, but I do feel like in the end, the transmutation happened while retaining the strength of the source material.

AM: I think our show is a bit more urban, in a bigger city. I think the M.R. Hall version was more English villagey, that small town vibe. So we’re in a much bigger urban environment. One of the biggest changes, too, is that our place of work is quite a big institution. It’s a state-of-the-art facility.

MB: Our coroner’s office in Toronto is the most advanced facility in North America. In the book, it’s much more sort of ad hoc and dusty, and it has a real charm, but it’s very different. We wanted to represent the reality of our situation here. And in the book, she’s a lawyer, because a coroner is a lawyer there, and here, she’s a doctor because that’s the way it is in Ontario.

Adrienne, as the lead director for the show, what sort of look did you want to bring to the series?
AM: I think the juxtapositions in Toronto are fascinating. The city is growing exponentially. There are so many condos and buildings being built. So, one of the things we were looking at visually was the contrast of that versus nature being moved out, people being moved out, the tension of living in that type of environment, where there is constant change and people being squeezed out. Visually, I don’t think Parkdale gets featured a lot in any of the Toronto shows I’ve seen. Parkdale, where there’s so much gentrification going on, where’s there are so many colliding communities.

It’s also very important for us to have geography, locations that inform [Jenny] as the coroner. The coroner is all about looking at the world and how bad shit happens. It’s not so much about her perspective and not so much about convicting a criminal. It’s, ‘How do I prevent this from happening again?’ And, in that way, we need to see the environment of where the death occurred and visually from her perspective, what that looks like.  We also wanted to visually explore something about her personal relationship with death, and we love these moments when she has a little prayer that she says to the dead, and we’re working with all sorts of interesting lenses to really establish her personal connection to the dead and that they’re not just a body, that there is something there, that she has to try to find the truth in the situation to sort of give them peace.

This week’s episode is the kick-off of a two-parter. What hints can you give us about it, and why did this particular story require two parts?.
AM: It needs two parts because it takes Jenny into a really personal relationship with a character whose life is going to be greatly endangered if she doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

MB: And it leads Jenny to make a decision that has strong, strong implications for the rest of the season. These two episodes are just so exciting.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Comments and queries for the week of January 18

Why has Frankie Drake Mysteries disappeared? It was great fun and very interesting. —Doris

Season 2 of Frankie Drake Mysteries has completed its 10-episode run on CBC. We’re waiting, with fingers crossed, for a third season renewal.


As much as I enjoy all of the [Murdoch Mysteries] characters and the actors who portray them, I agree with many who would like William and Julia to be front and centre in the episodes rather than making an appearance now and then in the B storylines. I got interested in the show because of Yannick Bisson and wish he were in 90 per cent of the scenes, like in the good ole’ days. On another note, Julia has been a coroner, a family physician in private practice, an alienist and a university adjunct professor. Am I the only one who remembers Julia was also head of pediatric surgery in a new children’s hospital in Buffalo? So why is she “in school” to learn surgery? —Lynne

I love the show. References to old Toronto, Murdoch’s inventions, and Crabtree’s titles are fun. Seeing other characters take the lead is like taking a break; you need to develop those people too. I also find John B. a little flat. What I really want is for William and Julia to have a child. Thanks for a great watch. —Judith

The young lady who portrayed Annabella was like a beam of light. I really was into the character. We need to see her back again with the attraction to the young constable as a theme for another episode. Kudos! —Jack

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

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Links: Little Dog, Season 2

From Charles Trapunski of Brief Take:

Link: Interview: Joel Thomas Hynes and Sherry White
“I think everyone loves an underdog story and he is an incredible underdog who, I think, everyone felt quite sympathetic towards. I also think that it didn’t take itself too seriously but it also wasn’t a send-up, there are some raw emotions in it as well as the fact that it’s funny. It’s the kind of show that I’d love to watch so I’m glad that other people are enjoying it as well.” Continue reading. 

From Bridget Liszewski of The TV Junkies:

Link: Little Dog creators say it’s time for Tommy to take responsibility
When viewers last saw Little Dog’s Tommy Ross (Joel Thomas Hynes), he was riding off into the night after a winning a fight that he was supposed to throw, making his family, adversaries and many others pretty upset with him. Continue reading.

From Melissa Girimonte of The Televixen:

Link: Get ready for Round 2 of Little Dog with Joel Thomas Hynes and Sherry White
“The second season is exploring the fallout of [Tommy winning the fight], and his relationship with his father, Lowly Sr. (Andy Jones). In the first season, we looked at Tommy’s relationship with his mom, but now we’re diving into fatherhood.” Continue reading.

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Preview: Little Dog gets back into the ring for Season 2

Life for Tommy “Little Dog” Ross isn’t getting any easier. In fact, it’s looking a lot tougher for him in Season 2. And, honestly, I wouldn’t want it any other way. That makes it all the more rewarding when he punches his way—literally or figuratively—out of a bad situation.

Returning for Season 2 this Thursday at 9:30 p.m. on CBC, Little Dog picks up moments after the Season 1 finale. Tommy “Little Dog” Ross (Joel Thomas Hynes) was on the run after winning his rematch with Rico “Havoc” St. George (Dwain Murphy). Why? Because that went against Tucker’s (Mary Walsh) wishes. The win also messed up Lowly’s (Stephen Oates) bet against his own brother. The result? Sylvia (Ger Ryan) lost her house.

When we catch up with Tommy, he’s in a bad way. Battered and bruised physically from the showdown with Rico and hurting emotionally thanks to his family turning against him, Tommy pedals into the night and seeks shelter in an old shack. Freezing and frustrated, he lashes out at a bird fluttering overhead and kills it. Shaken, Tommy adopts the now empty bird nest and its egg contents as his own. Finally, this is something he can control and care for and not even a bad canned spam will stop Tommy from mothering the eggs.

Show creator, executive producer Hynes and showrunner, executive producer Sherry White have created something truly special in Little Dog in general and Tommy more specifically. Hynes brings an incredible amount of hurt, longing and vulnerability to Tommy. It’s truly special. Amid the maelstrom of life in the Ross clan, he’s the sensitive centre, a guy who wants to be loved and cared for but gets dumped on at every turn. It doesn’t appear as though things will be getting any easier for Tommy. By the end of Thursday’s return, Tommy is introduced to the child he had with Pamela (Julia Chan), opening a new door for Tommy to stumble through: fatherhood.

I can’t wait to see how he handles that.

Little Dog airs Thursdays at 9:30 p.m. on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.

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Original drama Ransom joins Global’s winter schedule beginning February 16

From a media release:

Season 3 of original suspense drama Ransom moves in on Global’s winter schedule, taking over Saturday nights beginning February 16 at 8 p.m. ET/PT in simulcast with CBS.

This season finds crisis and hostage negotiator Eric Beaumont (Luke Roberts) and his elite CriRes team (played by Nazneen Contractor, Brandon Jay McLaren, and Karen LeBlanc), struggling to balance the demands of their personal lives with their careers as negotiators handling high-pressure kidnappings and hostage-takings. As they negotiate with formidable criminals and immerse themselves in the world of extreme hostage situations, the team members deal with the repercussions of Season 2’s dramatic conclusion.

During the first episode “Justice” (airing Saturday, Feb. 16 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Global), when a man is murdered and his wife is threatened to be next, Eric and the CriRes team are brought in to negotiate a blood money payoff.

Viewers who miss any of the intense drama can stream following the broadcast the next day on GlobalTV.com, Global GO (available for Apple TV, Google Chromecast, and Amazon Fire TV), and on demand.

Ransom is produced by Sienna Films, Big Light Productions, Entertainment One (eOne) and Korda Studios, and was created by Frank Spotnitz (The X-Files, The Man in the High Castle) and David Vainola (Diamonds, Combat Hospital) who also serve as Executive Producers.

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