Jordan Christianson created perhaps the funniest episode of Murdoch Mysteries ever on Monday night. “Weekend at Murdoch’s” was chock-full of double entendre, jokes and sight gags in its homage to Weekend at Bernie’s and provided a comedy clinic thanks to Cyrus Lane, who returned to the show as Roger Newsome.
And while the scenes involving Crabtree, Higgins and Newsome were uproariously funny—his body was carried around Toronto to appear he was still alive and could testify against Rex Gray—it was sad to say goodbye to a character the Murdoch writer’s room has loved to breathe life into.
We spoke to Christianson about “Weekend at Murdoch’s,” and that fact Cyrus Lane may not be finished with Murdoch Mysteries after all.
I think this is the funniest episode of Murdoch Mysteries that has ever been done. Congratulations on a great script.
Jordan Christianson: Thanks. It’s certainly the most overtly comic of the season, if not the history of the show. It’s perhaps testing the boundaries of what you can get away with in an hour-long murder mystery procedural, but I’m quite pleased with it and we had a lot of fun making it.
Why is Roger Newsome a favourite in the writers’ room?
At the end of Season 7, we had a murder that took place in a pompous, rich-boy club kind of setting and we figured we needed a few rich boys. At the outset, it wasn’t expressly written that Roger would be a twit, but when Cyrus Lane was cast we realized there was great comic potential for the character. At the beginning of every year, we would try to come up with a reason to bring him back.
Talk about that process. You write a character and then they are cast. It’s at that point you realize, ‘Holy crap, we need to have more Roger and Cyrus in the future.’
He’s simultaneously one of those guys who very much feels of the period. Older actors seem to feel the period than younger actors. Sometimes when we have a younger actor on the show, they can’t help but feel a little contemporary to me. Cyrus was one of those guys who has a very timeless, period kind of look in the way that he carries himself. He’s got the Stratford Festival background and has the theatre training that lends itself well to the Victorian era. Newsome articulates well and enunciates and has good posture and seems well-bred and wealthy. Cyrus is a very keen actor and picks up whatever intended bits of humour there are in the script and adds a ton of his own, particularly when he’s working with Jonny, Lachlan and Yannick. Those guys improvised quite a bit and were coming up with physical, slapsticky gags between takes.
I did wonder about improvisation, especially when Newsome was being carted around on the street and Cyrus did over-the-top waves to folks in the crowd.
The idea to do that was scripted, but it’s easy enough to write it in the script and it was up to the actors to coordinate how to do it. Yannick would be pushing the chair working the knobs to supposedly cause the body to move, but they needed to time that perfectly. They had to coordinate a lot of that. There was a fair amount of ad-libbing of dialogue as well and moments, like when Crabtree is manning the wheelchair outside of the ornithology event and Newsome punches Crabtree. That was something Jonny and Cyrus worked out on their own. Jonny actually improvised one of my favourite lines in the script. At one point he’s speaking to Louise Cherry and Louise says, ‘For the sake of my story, I’d love to interview Mr. Newsome. It would really spruce things up.’ And Jonny says, ‘Well, he can’t speak because, even though he was wearing the bullet-proof vest, he broke a rib.’ That was scripted, but Jonny then said something along the line of, ‘In fact, it’s almost as if he’s not breathing at all.’
As I remember it, when we conceived the story initially we were just going to cast the role of the witness that gets assassinated and ends up in the wheelchair for the whole show. And then somebody else in the room—I think it was Simon [McNabb]—had the idea of it being Roger Newsome. At once it was, ‘It would be a shame to lose him,’ but also knowing how good of a physical comic Cyrus is, we began to realize they’d have to do a lot of work in that chair in order to sell the comic premise and we already knew Cyrus could do it. And having it be a character that we met a few times before and has a preexisting relationship with our guys—particularly Crabtree—we thought would also bring an added layer to the story we wouldn’t have had if we just cast John Smith.
As great as Newsome was in this episode, you did kill him off. What are your thoughts, seeing as he’s been a room favourite?
[Showrunner] Pete’s motto is always to not assume there will be another season so if we have a good idea we should go ahead and do it. The consolation is that we created the character of Roger Newsome’s sister, Ruth, and perhaps she can carry on the torch of the Newsome family. I wouldn’t be surprised if, as we got to know Ruth more, there might be a cousin or something that has a striking resemblance to Roger.
Regarding the murder case itself, it was interesting to have our team take on the case of Rex Gray after Station No. 3 couldn’t close it.
It also covered off the necessity to explain why Murdoch wasn’t able to solve the initial case. We didn’t want to dwell on the details of the original case. We just wanted to get to the murder right away and not have to fill in any more backstory than was necessary.
OK, why is Henry Higgins still on the force?!
He should have been fired after this one and if there is a flaw in this episode—and I’m sure there are many—is that I never quite found a way to do was find that redeeming moment for Higgins at the end of the episode. It was packed with so much stuff that I just couldn’t find that moment.
Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.