In advance of Less Than Kind‘s fourth and final season premiere on HBO Canada this Sunday, TV, eh?‘s Martha Marcin interviewed actress Wendel Meldrum and showrunner Mark McKinney.
I just watched the first episode and it looks like an exciting final season. Sheldon, Miriam and Danny are coming of age, Anne is coping with the death of her husband in a rather unconventional fashion. Is there a theme to the season?
Meldrum: Cataclysm of new beginnings with the events changing and people have to catch up.
McKinney: Yeah, all of the themes overlap. For Sheldon we set it in August after he graduates high school, and everybody in the writers room had a story to tell about that weird time. Knowing that you’re not going back, your future beckons you, you have no idea what it is, the boundaries and structures are gone and you start running into your first adult problems. For Anne it has conjured up intense case of empty nest anxiety. For Josh it’s the end of his youth, and he still hasn’t found himself.
The character of Josh is sporting a hair do and ‘stache reminiscent of 70s porn stars. Is this intentional and exactly how far would he go to fulfil his dream of “acting”?
McKinney and Meldrum: Oooooooooooohhhhh! (laugh)
McKinney: What is particularly satisfying is by the time we are airing our hour-long finale you’ll feel that we’ve ended not only the season but the series, and Josh has been in a protracted and violent struggle to find out who he is, thinking that he is meant for some kind of greater glory. He suffers a humiliating reversal that eventually beats him down so far that he actually finds his way in by the end, in a really really satisfying way.
Meldrum: The difference of who think you are and who you actually are, and it’s poetically gorgeous. I really like the character arc he has.
McKinney: And it airs on Bastille Day, another day of discovery, only in this case for an entire nation.
I’m marking my calendar right now. It’s the final season of Less Than Kind — can you elaborate on why there was a decision to end the series?
McKinney: I think the network was getting ready to do other programming, but at the same time it felt logical, really, given where the kids in particular were arriving in four seasons. We knew they were going to get out of high school. It just felt there was a perfect waypoint to tag in the ending.
Is there the chance of a spin-off for Sheldon, Miriam and Danny? Really their story is just beginning.
McKinney and Meldrum: Ahhhhhhhh! Well, yes it is (the beginning).
McKinney: We are in such an interesting and changeable time in television business where people are now watching shows on demand, six to seven episodes at a time. Shows that have garnered a following in a Kickstarterish fashion are starting to reappear. I’m talking, of course, about Arrested Development. I think that and Veronica Mars are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m hoping that the show is durable and sticky and continues to be discovered after it airs, and who knows maybe there will be a movie or a TV movie. Wendel’s fondest dream is to do a perennial Hanukkah movie.
Did you have a sense of how you wanted to end the series?
McKinney: No, but the threads that are its signal strength by the end of the fourth season were always there at the beginning. Because it involved the casting of Maury Chaykin and every thoroughbred actor that we could get to raise the quality and realism of the performances and confrontations, and we wound up with an absolutely amazing cast.
Did you have to make significant adjustments after the death of Maury?
Meldrum: He passed, we pushed (the season) back a month, and it was unanimous that it would be about the passing of the character. It was remarkable what happened that season, what was launched from the death of a friend and cast member. Really honouring Maury’s career and what he brought to the show.
Seems like Canadian comedy having a hard time staying on the air, for example the Gemini and WGC winners have all been cancelled. Is Canadian comedy in crisis?
Meldrum: Hmm what it feels like to me is that people took chances, things got successful, but they cancelled them, and it makes me wonder if they fell on the spear of their own creativity, and how it’s actually connecting with people.
McKinney: I think seven things. One…
Meldrum: (Laugh) I didn’t even think that last thing, never mind!
McKinney: First of all TV across the board in North America is in flux. Amazon is publishing half hour comedy, we’re moving to the internet and to cable, programming primetime is still very important but it’s fading and it’s only going to continue to fade. The House of Cards model is a game changer, so there is that aspect of the so-called “the crisis” which, I think, has really made executives at networks very nervous. It’s a shrinking piece of ice and that model is a polar bear. Geez, another Canadian metaphor …
Meldrum: I love that.
McKinney: I only started paying to attention to how regulation government and subsidies works. I do know one thing: that the industry is stuffed with talent now more than anything. The next Mad Men, the next Game of Thrones could easily come from Canada. I’m not sure if you’re going to be able to point the finger at some nimble government participation in that …
Meldrum: What an oxymoron: nimble government.
I’ve never heard those words together.
McKinney: The industry is treated slightly like the enemy and unfortunately the Canadian ability to produce great shows is here in every single way except where it needs to be reflected, which is at the higher levels of boardrooms and government committees. Not that I think the government should necessarily do it for us; I think it can happen despite them.
Meldrum: We’re hoping that the success of the show, people will look at the model that created it, which is giving the creatives the power and control. Supporting the creatives as opposed to micro-managing them according to market graphs.
McKinney: You can have a great relationship with a network executive, if that person understands the creative side of the business. We had it on Less than Kind. What HBO did when Maury passed away was to say, “Yeah you can stop, here’s some more money, go and write it in.” That never happens. We have a horseshoe up our butt.
Meldrum: Yeah, and that’s what it feels like. Ow!
You touched on video streaming services like Netflix as a game changer when it comes to unconventional comedy. For example Community was almost cancelled repeatedly until it found an audience on Netflix, and my butt is still asleep after my Arrested Development marathon on Sunday. Is there an audience for Canadian comedy on video streaming services?
McKinney: I don’t know where Less than Kind sits in the gigantic video library of the world when we’re done, but it will definitely be there in a way that would not have been possible 15 years ago. It can maintain a presence. And I think there is a chance that shows will emerge on merit in a way they haven’t before. I use Slings and Arrows as an example because it is more popular now than it ever has been.
Now that I’m reading it, my next question it sounds a bit morbid, but I’ll ask you anyway. What are your thoughts when you look back and reflect on your career as a whole?
Meldrum: (Laugh) Oh my god, do you mean morbid/hopeful?
McKinney: So you’re asking if I want to take a morbid look back at my career?
Oh that so did not come out right. You can ignore it.
Meldrum: Oh come on it’s adorable! You made people laugh!
McKinney: I think what you’re trying to say is, it ain’t over yet baby! So how is it going so far? I think I’ve had a miraculous and wonderful career. I always seem to find myself in some interesting creative proposition, and it’s not by design, I’m not a smart guy. I’m not kidding about the horseshoe.
Meldrum: Imagine what he thinks of me, if he doesn’t think he’s smart.
McKinney: Oh I’m talking to the dumb broad now? Learn to turn on your iPad and it might save you a minute.
Meldrum: I’m gonna get it, I’m gonna get it.
What’s next for you guys?
Meldrum: I have some things happening with my writing, but I’m available … call me up!
McKinney: It’s been an intense 5 years. I’ve got a few things in development, the Kids in the Hall conference call is heating up a little bit with maybe the possibility of doing something together. Don’t know what yet.
Do you ever make fun of Bruce McCullough for his brief appearance on Anne of Green Gables the Sequel?
McKinney: Oh we did at time — he was like a block of wood! We stopped, but I can revive it. It never goes out of style.
Is he a kindred spirit?
McKinney: McCullough? He’s my brother from another mother.