Derek Diorio has created hundredsÂ of hours of film and television and knows well that you can’t please everyone all the time. “Somewhere along the line, somebody savages the show.”
ExceptÂ Hard Rock Medical, the show he co-created withÂ Smith Corindia. The Â series has never had a bad review (knock on wood). Â “The worst somebody called it was ‘maybe a little too earnest.’ If that’s the worst we get, I think we’re doing OK.”
That seems like a challenge to me, but I can’t do it either: after discovering it part way through its first season, itsÂ blend of quirky humour and absorbing character dramaÂ instantly made itÂ a favourite.
Based on theÂ unconventional Northern Ontario School of Medicine, centred aroundÂ eight medical students learning how to deliver health care to isolated residents, Â Hard Rock MedicalÂ has been difficultÂ to find even amid the witness-protection-level-promotion of manyÂ Canadian series. I was assigned a story about it last summer and had to stifle my “Hard Rock what now?” reaction.
Season two launched last week on TVO — episodes are available online. It gained a nation-wide broadcaster whenÂ APTN picked it up after the Australian co-producer dropped it (season two will likely air in April there).
The second season retains its humour but takes a darker turn.Â “Thematically, there’s a lot of questioning of faith,” saidÂ Corindia. “We’ve got Healy questioning his medical career and battling alcoholism.”
“I hate talking about it but mental illness was the underlying theme of this season,” saidÂ Diorio. “The pressures you have in your life, things you have no control over that Â affect people in very different ways. But if you put that out there, who’s going to watch it?”
How they approach themes is why those who have discovered the show want to watch. Within the first couple of episodes, for example, med student Charlie’s goat (received in payment for treatment) may have swallowed some diamonds, so what’s a man to do but sneak it into a vet’s MRI machine? It’s a comedic entry point to the impending doom of Charlie’s financial situation, another example of the personal cost of pursuing a medical career.
Instead of following a syllabus as with the first season, season two incorporatesÂ medical emergencies into the students’ lives. “Healy is a medical emergency,” Diorio pointed out, while Corindia gave the example of Nancy’s estranged husband suffering a stroke.Â Incorporating the personal stories with the medical cases was one way to make the series more compact.
With eight med student characters and a handful of faculty vying for air time, it’s not easy forÂ a half hour show to serve all the characters. Going from 13 episodes in season one to eight in season two threw in a bonus challenge.
“It’s kind of like a Tetris game,” said Diorio.
They plotted out storylines for four major characters: Charlie (StÃ©phane Paquette), Healy (Patrick McKenna), Farida (Rachelle Casseus) and Cameron (Jamie Spilchuk). Then came the “mini-majors” and the more minor characters.
“Last year Gina figured much more prominently,” Diorio lamented, “but this year we ran out of real estate. Her story is actually a ton of fun but we justÂ didn’t have time to get into it.”
Corindia explained that people see the ensemble as the med students especially, but this season gives more weight to some of the faculty as well.
Given the tricky financingÂ and huge cast, it seems a minor Canadian TV miracle that the show doesn’t scream low budget.
“Everybody works for free,” Corindia jokingly explained.
“The joyÂ of the show is everybody has bought in,” Diorio continued more seriously. He gives the example of Australian actor Mark Coles Smith, originally cast as part of the Australian co-production deal. Without that deal, Hard Rock Medical takes a financial hit to bring him in, but the producers feel he’s an integral part of the show. His agent isn’t keen on him continuing with a (let’s say it:) obscure Canadian seriesÂ while his career takes off in his home country. Yet both sides are eager to have him back for a potential third season.
“Part of that is they get to do something they don’t get to do anywhere else,” said Diorio. “WeÂ are a dot on the landscape and we get calls from actors who want to be on the show.”
“They’reÂ invested in characters as well as the show,” added Corindia. “But Â at the end of the day, I mean come on, you are on a TV series.”
Patrick McKenna, whose character isolates himself in a cabin andÂ in addiction, is nearly unrecognizable, completely absorbed into the role.
“I think it’s safe to say he’s never played a role this dramatic and funny at the same time,” said Diorio. “Wait until you see where he goes.”