Creating a flawed television character isn’t easy. Make them too likeable and a drastic change can alienate viewers. Too much of a jerk and nobody cares what strife you put in their way. Playing that character is a whole other thing, especially for a relative newcomer to the business. And yet Karis Cameron does it as Dylan Blake in YTV’s newest scripted drama, Open Heart.
Debuting Tuesday night with two back-to-back episodes, Epitome Picture’s Open Heart doesn’t just spotlight Dylan, but puts her at the centre of a show that’s equal parts focused on medicine, the angst of teenage life and a family mystery.
“We really wanted a new approach to telling a teen story that wasn’t really focussing on high school or college elements,” says creator, executive producer and scribe Ramona Barckert, who has written for Epitome’s landmark Degrassi. “We thought, ‘What stories can we talk about in a different way?'” Different meaning, not just tales of fights with Mom and the tropes, twists and turns the viewership has already seen in countless projects.
The answer? Open Heart, which places Dylan Blake, a strong-willed 16-year-old who is arrested and placed in court-ordered community service at Open Heart Memorial, the very hospital where her mother Jane (Jenny Cooper, 24) and sister London (Tori Anderson, The L.A. Complex) are working. Dylan quickly bonds with fellow teens placed there, including Mikayla (Cristine Propseri, Degrassi) and Wes (Justin Kelly, Degrassi). Dylan is the black sheep of the family, the girl who only really related to her father, Richard (Jeff Douglas, Canada’s Smartest Person), but he’s recently gone missing, adding the mystery layer to Open Heart.
It takes some deft acting to pull off a rebellious teen that you want to cheer for, and Cameron really is a revelation. With just two professional acting gigs under her belt—Signed, Sealed, Delivered and R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour—the Vancouver Island native jetted to Toronto for weeks of prep work with, among others, Degrassi alum Stefan Brogren before cameras rolled on Season 1.
“We spent the first three of four weeks just breaking down Dylan,” Cameron says. “We had the first four scripts and just broke them down. Why is she doing what she’s doing? What are her motives? Why does this mean so much to her? Why is she saying this?” The result is a series that—despite being broadcast on YTV—can entertain any genre of viewer.
Tuesday’s debut of two 30-minute episodes—Open Heart shifts back to the one-instalment setup next week—introduces viewers to the main characters, including fellow hospital staffers in Dr. K (Demore Barnes, Hemlock Grove), Teddy Ralston (Dylan Everett, Degrassi), Dr. Scarlet McWhinnie (Elena Juatco, Canadian Idol), Seth Park (Patrick Kwok-Choon, The Best Laid Plans), Jared Malik (Mena Massoud, The 99) and Dr. Hud (Kevin McGarry, Being Erica). The briskly-paced stories jump from hospital to family mansion back to the hospital where Dylan uses her street skills to get some much-needed information into her dad’s disappearance. By the time the hour is up you’re left wanting more.
“My style of writing is very fast and I want people to buckle up at the beginning of the episode and know you are on a ride,” Barckert says with a laugh. “There isn’t a lot of filler. There are no musical montages about feelings and no longing looks. The characters make decisions quickly and move quickly. There is not a lot of pausing.”
Buckle up everyone, it’s going to be one hell of a ride.
Open Heart airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on YTV.