Interview: Murdoch Mysteries’ sealed with a kiss

Well, Murdoch Mysteries fans, what did you think of that kiss? Were  you upset that George and Edna have officially become and item? I have mixed feelings about the situation myself–I’d love nothing more than to have George and Emily reunite–but as writer Jordan Christianson pointed out, it could still happen. Eventually. Maybe.

We chatted with the Canadian Film Centre graduate about the importance of the institutions’ TV-writing course, and Monday’s vaudeville-inspired murder mystery that featured a gut-busting scene with Higgins and Crabtree impersonating Murdoch and Brackenreid.

Was W.C. Fields really in Toronto at this time, or was that just some fun on the part of you and the other writers?
Jordan Christianson: That’s a liberty we decided to take. There wasn’t anything to suggest that he had been in Toronto. We know he was working primarily in the New York area. We portrayed him as a struggling juggler in the episode which sort of helps set him up as a murder suspect although, of course, it wasn’t going to be W.C. Fields. In reality, W.C. Fields is considered to be the best juggler in the vaudeville circuit throughout the United States when he was only 21 or 22. He was fairly famous as a juggler before he made that shift and adopted the personality that we now know.

Let’s talk about Bert Grady and his stand-up act. Where did his jokes come from?
I wrote Bert Grady’s monologue. Some of them are mother-in-law jokes that go back decades and I re-wrote them so we could tailor his monologue to serve the plot of the story. The other monologues that we hear throughout the course of the episode I found doing some research at the Toronto Reference Library. Those are actual monologues of the period. They weren’t attributed to any particular performer but those are real monologues.

You mentioned the Toronto Reference Library. Had you been there before for work on Murdoch?
This is my second season on the show and I did spend some time there last season when I wrote the episode about the bicycle races that ended up dealing with human blood types. The Reference Library is great when you’re trying to get a sense of what people knew at the time. For this particular episode, I was able to find a book with the monologues that we hear and it also gave me a sense of vaudeville. To be honest, going into this episode I didn’t know much about vaudeville and had a certain amount of indifference towards it. [Laughs.] It was kind of like my grandparents’ thing. So I really needed to sort of dig in and the library was helpful in showing just how popular it was at the time. It was the entertainment for everyone.

Crabtree’s line about ‘too early’ rather than ‘too soon,’ was great.
All credit has to go to Jonny Harris on that one. It’s always amazing what Jonny in particular is able to come up with on the spot and it certainly makes us writers look good. I hope it was a fun episode not just for Jonny but for the whole cast. Yannick had a lot of fun with it, especially in that scene where he first talks to Ed Ward. They do a bit of a ‘Who’s on first?’ schtick. If there is one thing I don’t think Yannick gets enough credit for is that he plays humour really well. Really subtly. I was tickled with what he did.

Who came up with ‘flatulence sack’?
I would like to take credit for it, but when I decided the Whoopie Cushion would be part of the episode I did my due diligence and looked into the advent of the Whoopie Cushion to see if it could be used and if it existed. It did, and at one time was known as a flatulence sack.

Let’s get to the controversial part of last night’s episode, the kiss between George and Edna. Are you prepared for the backlash?
It’s so interesting. I think Edna is a very likeable character and she draws something out of George that is an inherent goodness. I think it’s a really sweet and appealing relationship and although we appreciate that George and Emily made a great couple and a lot of people want to see them together, we see them as being at a point in their lives where maybe they’re looking around at other options. I know there were some people on Twitter last week who seemed to perceive a moment between Emily and Lillian Moss. We hope that people like George and Edna as a couple because that’s the direction they’re heading in slowly and cautiously.

Higgins and Crabtree impersonating Murdoch and Brackenreid was hilarious. Lachlan Murdoch did a great job as William.
Lachlan did a great job and hair and makeup did a great job with the exaggerated eyebrows and sideburns. I was on set that day and it was surreal to see Lachlan as Murdoch beside Jonny as Brackenreid across from the real Murdoch and the real Brackenreid as they are trying to carry out a scene in all seriousness.

Your resumé includes time on Mr. D. How did you get from there to here?
About four years ago I had done the Canadian Film Centre TV writing program and myself, Simon McNabb and Michelle Ricci who are all on Murdoch were all in the program together and Peter Mitchell was our mentor in residence. Pete took the job on Murdoch shortly after the program and took Michelle with him. At that point in time Simon and I were both aspiring comedy writers. That class was sponsored by CBC and they had taken a liking to a script I had written and told me about this show they had called Mr. D. I knew who Gerry Dee was and thought he was hilarious and he was actually who I envisioned as the Bert Grady character. I wrote Bert Grady with Gerry Dee in mind.

CBC got me an interview and I was lucky enough to be hired on Mr. D as a script coordinator in the first year. It was a great, great experience and after my two years on Mr. D, Pete called Simon and I up and said he had a couple of openings at Murdoch. I can’t speak for Simon but for me it was a no-brainer. Murdoch allows for humour, so I didn’t feel like I was giving up comedy altogether and it meant I was working with Pete, who is widely regarded as one of the best showrunners in the country. It’s been a fantastic journey.

I can’t recommend the CFC enough for people who are interested in getting into TV writing, particularly in this country. I owe the very fact that I’ve had jobs over the last few years to the CFC. Not only do they take care of you while you’re there, but they really care about you afterwards and they keep tabs on you. They really helped me find an agent and get that first job on Mr. D. I highly recommend it to everybody and I do think that more people need to know about it.

Murdoch Mysteries returns Monday, January 12, at 8 p.m. on CBC.