Unlike her TV alter ego, Jann Arden is aware of her own good fortune.
The iconic singer-songwriter and star of CTV’s hit comedy series Jann—returning for its second season on Monday at 8 p.m. ET/PT—has been able to ride out the COVID-19 pandemic from the socially-distanced comfort of her rural Alberta home.
“I’ve got nothing to complain about,” she says during a phone chat from her house. “My nearest neighbour is a half-mile away. I usually work out here anyway, and I’ve done a lot of recording here. I have a big piece of land, a huge garden, and I’m here with a dog. I want for nothing.”
That isn’t to say the coronavirus hasn’t thrown Arden a few curveballs. For instance, her official induction into the Canadian Music Hall of Fame was scuppered when the JUNO Awards were cancelled in March, and her much-anticipated cross-Canada tour had to be postponed in May. Still, she’s taking it all in stride.
“It was disappointing, but [COVID-19 has affected] all of my colleagues, everyone on the planet, every person that I know,” she explains. “Good things come out of bad things. I think it has actually taken the façade off of a way that we’ve been living that’s been so empty, and without a lot of merit, and truth, and vulnerability….I, for one, am grateful to have had the opportunity to slow the hell down.”
As philosophical as Arden is about 2020’s setbacks, it’s safe to say her hilariously narcissistic TV namesake wouldn’t handle things so well.
“Oh, she would have been terrible!” Arden laughs. “Everybody in Jann’s family would have been made miserable, she’d be like, ‘You have no idea what I’m going through!’”
Of course, TV Jann—Arden’s less-successful, much more self-involved doppelganger—doesn’t need a worldwide pandemic to make people miserable. Her lack of self-awareness and desperate attempts to revive her career kept her family cringing—and viewers laughing—throughout Jann’s critically-acclaimed first season.
Jann’s self-serving antics crescendoed in the finale when she left her mom Nora (Deborah Grover), who had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, on the doorstep of her pregnant, bedridden sister Max (Zoie Palmer) so she could go on tour with her on-screen nemesis, Sarah McLachlan.
This naturally caused some hard feelings.
However, as the second season starts, Jann is sporting a new, family-first attitude. After finding out Max is in labour, she decides to ditch McLachlan’s disaster-prone tour—think food poisoning and exploding musical instruments—to make amends with her family and win back her ex-girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor). The problem is, no one is particularly happy to see her when she returns, and her knee-jerk selfishness trips her up at every turn.
Exhibit #1: When she finds Max and brother-in-law Dave (Patrick Gilmore) cradling their newborn baby in the opening minutes of the premiere, she indignantly cries, “You couldn’t friggin’ wait for me?”
Things don’t get much better over the next few episodes, as Jann finds out her former manager Todd (Jason Blicker) has signed a hot new talent (Nia Taylor) and her new manager Cale (Elena Juatco) keeps pushing her outside her comfort zone.
“Things really pick up where they left off,” Arden says. “You kind of got to know everyone in the first season, and I love the new situations that the writers have put them in.”
She’s also pleased with Season 2’s stacked guest-star lineup, which includes k.d. lang, Elisha Cuthbert, Keshia Chanté, and in the first episode, McLachlan—who gamely skewers her nice-girl image to settle a score with Jann.
“She’s fantastic, and she’s such a good sport,” Arden says of McLachlan, making it clear that the Jann/Sarah rivalry doesn’t extend to real life. “Half of the stuff you see was her idea.”
As in the first season, Arden’s natural comedic timing and willingness to take the piss out of herself help keep Jann likeable even when she’s at her worst. Meanwhile, Grover’s whimsical and tender handling of Nora’s Alzheimer’s journey continues to provide emotional depth.
Arden’s real-life mother passed away from Alzheimer’s complications in 2018, just after the first season wrapped. When asked if that loss made shooting Season 2 more difficult, she says it was actually the opposite.
“You know what? It was a delight,” she says. “I got to live in a world for the five or six weeks when we were shooting where my mom was alive. And Deborah reminds me so much of my mom. My mom was hilarious. She was very intrepid; she wasn’t precious about dying.”
Arden says she’s thrilled that Jann allows her the opportunity to educate the Canadian public about Alzheimer’s and dementia.
“I think to be able to see a main character in a contemporary, modern scripted comedy on a major network, to see that in your living room is so accessible, and it’s been really important,” she says.
During Season 3—which has already been ordered and set to go before cameras in January—Arden plans “to keep the pressure up” with Nora’s journey.
“There are so many great things that we can do with the story, and it makes it interesting,” she says. “You have to have pathos to have humour, right?”
Meanwhile, Arden says there are no plans to include COVID-19 stories in future seasons.
“We’re not addressing it, we’re not mentioning it,” she says. “In TV Jann’s world, it never happened.”
For the sake of Jann’s family, that’s probably a good idea.
Jann airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.