Jann: Co-creators Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier on writing Season 3 and their love of spoilers

In Jann’s world, COVID doesn’t exist. During the third season of the hit CTV comedy series, serially self-absorbed Jann (Jann Arden) and her family are dealing with 99 problems—including Jann’s lack of funding for a new album, Max’s (Zoie Palmer) new relationship with her biological father Marty (Ron Lea), and Nora’s (Deborah Grover) continuing battle with Alzheimer’s—but a worldwide pandemic isn’t one of them. 

“We want our show to be, first and foremost, entertaining, and it didn’t seem like the right kind of show to be actually addressing a serious worldwide pandemic,” says Jennica Harper, series co-creator, co-executive producer, and showrunner. “So we don’t do that. You can escape for a hot 19 to 20 minutes in our world.”

While viewers likely appreciate a weekly break from the pandemic, Harper and co-creator and co-executive producer Leah Gauthier couldn’t escape the realities of COVID while creating the new season. Social distancing forced the show’s writing staff, including new addition and “instant fit” JP Larocque, to plan and pen all eight of the season’s episodes over Zoom; and once filming began in Calgary, safety regulations dictated everything from the number of people who were allowed on set to the ways cast and crew could interact with each other. 

“No one was allowed to sit in a car with each other, and you have to eat a snack outside, so you’re on a snowbank by yourself,” says Gauthier, adding that the conditions led to “a weird kind of tired that I’m sure people can relate to now that we’ve been doing it for so long.”

Luckily, everyone’s dedication to the rules meant no one got sick during production, and the cast and crew were able to gather together for the show’s premiere party in Toronto a few weeks ago, allowing Harper and Gauthier to see Larocque in person for the first time. 

“It was just so nice to see their face in real life,” says Gauthier. “We formed a connection over Zoom, but it’s so much better when you finally get to meet the people you’ve been working with.” 

We chatted with Harper and Gauthier about their approach to writing Season 3, their newfound love of spoilers, and what we can expect from Jann’s new love interest, Nate (Charlie Kerr), who makes his debut in Monday’s episode. 

You’ve talked about the way COVID impacted your writing process and production. Did it change any of the storylines you wanted to include this season?
Jennica Harper: I feel we were incredibly fortunate because Season 2, as you know, ends with a huge event, the Tunies. Last season, we just threw everything out there, huge galas, just all kinds of events, episodes that had tons of people. Even our school episode in Season 2 was pretty huge by COVID standards, there were so many extras, all the kids. So I felt really fortunate that our conversation about what we wanted to do with Season 3 was, pre-COVID, already a more down-to-earth, character-based season, with intimate stuff between the characters we already care about, family stuff. That was already our goal, so thank God for that because to do something like a Season 2, we would have been really rethinking.

In Season 3, we tried not to do any huge events that had a lot of extras. So, for example, a big event would be going to a big mountain resort. We go to Kananaskis Lodge in Episode 5, which is big in scale and scope and beauty, but we never have 200 people in a room. It’s not necessary. We did scale in different ways this season. Another big factor was looking at stories between the characters. We have a lot more stories happening at Jann’s cottage, we’re bringing people to her, rather than her always at Max and Dave’s [Patrick Gilmore] and elsewhere. Nora’s back with her, she’s hired Trey [Tenaj Williams], Trey’s now around all the time. Cale [Elena Juatco], of course, is in her breakdown mode, so she’s great fun to have around without having to be at big events, she’s in our domestic world now. So it was already storywise what we had been talking about, but it was also a very conscious choice to spend more time at Jann’s cottage, which is a wonderful set that we own, that we control, and doesn’t mean you have to have 20 people walking by in the background. 

A lot of things changed in Jann’s life at the end of last season, such as her firing Cale, breaking up with Cynthia, and asking Nora to live with her. What were your goals for her character in Season 3?
JH: The theme of the season was kind of starting over and new beginnings, and so that’s what we were looking for in bringing Trey in, and then as we get into the season, we get into Jann considering dating again and dating a man. So really it was about Jann being a woman who is kind of going back to basics. In terms of romance, realizing she deserves to be happy and maybe she should be looking for love, and in terms of her career, realizing she should really pursue the album that she wants to write that’s from the heart, that is more her than any of the stuff she did with Cale. So she’s got to figure out new ways to take control of her own life in this season. 

Leah Gauthier: Jann still has so much to say. I mean maybe the world thinks she’s aged out of relevance, but she’s like, ‘I’m actually going to do a bunch of stuff for myself going forward.’ 

This is a serialized show, but it also depends on the comedy of Jann always being a little self-absorbed and making bad choices. How do you decide where her character should grow and where she should stay stuck?
LG: That’s a good question because it sort of is just this collaborative experience when we write that Jann will absolutely shut something down almost immediately if she’s not willing to go there. She’s not going to waste anyone’s time. But there is a collective feeling or understanding when we hit the nail on the head in terms of her self-absorbed nature. Mostly, if it reads like it’s in her best interest, and no one else really gets hurt, but she’s gonna do what she’s gonna do for herself, that’s kind of a comfortable zone for us. And it’s always pretty funny especially if we throw in a physical comedy aspect to that as well—which is why we definitely put her upside down in a dumpster later this season. So there’s that coming, get ready. We want to keep her not completely self-actualized because that is the person that she is. Like we’re not going to make her completely whole at this point because then we run out of story. 

JH: I agree. The way I have started to think about it, so many episodes in, is that she can be as selfish as we want if she doesn’t really realize the harm she’s doing to other people. And I think that’s it. There is a sort of innocence and naivete to her narcissism. We have sometimes been compared to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Obviously, we’re not going to complain about that comparison, but I do feel that Larry David is kind of more of an asshole. 

LG: So lovable. 

JH: Larry David? 

LG: I love him, I love him. 

JH: Well, I love him, too, but I think the thing is, he’s righteous, he has to be right. If something is ridiculous to him, he has to prove that. It’s more of an intellectual thing or something. But with Jann, she is from the heart, man. For me, when she gets up from that support group [in Episode 302], where she’s supposed to be listening to advice about her mother, and she’s just like, ‘Oh, my God, thank you so much for helping me solve my problem.’

LG: ‘This is very helpful!’

JH: ‘This is so helpful!’ She is truly in her own head and just an innocent, right? She’s just like, ‘I’ve got a great idea, and I’m gonna go now.’ And I don’t think that she is really aware of her selfishness. That’s how I read her.

You introduce two new characters this season: Trey, who debuted in the premiere, and Nate, who first appears in Episode 304. Why did you decide to expand the cast?
JH: I would say I’m not sure we should be adding a lot of characters to the cast in one sense because we have a lot of people that are great performers, and as it is, some of them don’t get a lot of time, and we’re constantly trying to juggle making sure we see enough of the people we already love. However, we did really feel like Jann needs help in her life, so we needed somebody coming in. And we talked about different forms of what kind of person that could be, but we ultimately landed on some kind of personal assistant. She doesn’t want management, but she clearly needs somebody to help keep her life together, and so that’s where Trey came in. And I think the main thing we wanted with Trey was somebody who was obviously a rational, mature person to do two things: to offset Jann’s instinctively bad choices and then also somebody who had a warmth and sort of a caring nature because we wanted to establish somebody who could be a friend and maybe even long-term a bit of a help to Nora along the way. So those are the two dynamics we really cared about with that character. 

LG: We knew early on that Jann was probably going to attempt to get back out in the dating world, and then we’d decided that she might dabble with men. And then Jann and I were actually away, we were on Bowen Island here in Vancouver, and we went to a property, and the owner of it had a son who was around who was an actor, and Jann immediately took a liking to Charlie Kerr, and she said to me, ‘This guy could potentially be my boyfriend on the show.’ I said, ‘OK, we’ll have to field a bunch of comments about this age gap, but I see how this could actually be quite hilarious, and I like the little reversal with the older lady vibe.’ So there was a bunch of auditioning with Charlie, and he was a perfect fit. He kind of plays it a bit serious, which is perfect for Jann’s out-of-control energy. He’s sort of stoic. So that’s how we found him, we found Charlie Kerr on an island. 

JH: [His character Nate] doesn’t put up with bullshit and games. He’s just not interested. He’s super mature for his age. 

LG: Yeah, he’s sober and celibate. He comes in saying, ‘Im sober and celibate, and I’m not putting up with your craziness.’ 

JH: We also played the character a bit older than the actor. I’ll just say that right up front. We actually took pains to flag his age in the episode where we meet him because we kind of felt it was pushing it a little bit. 

LG: We’re like, ‘Grow a beard! That’ll do it.’ 

So we have Nate coming up in the next episode. What can you tease about the rest of the season?
JH: Well, you should know that Leah and I have become huge spoiler proponents. 

LG: Yes. Love the spoilers. 

JH: In this world, there’s so much great TV to watch that we actually sort of feel like anything that we can do that is going to pique somebody’s interest into taking a look, we’re open to. There’s a couple of things the network has asked us not to spoil, but for the most part, we’re open books at this point. 

Oh, wow, spoil away!
JH: OK, well one thing I think is exciting is a couple’s weekend away with Jann and her new boyfriend Nate and Max and Dave, who are very excited to be away from the kids and have no responsibilities for a while. And Cale is going to have a storyline where she tries to confront her fear of failure by purposely failing.

LG: And Elena gets to sing, she’s an incredible singer. 

JH: Yep, Cale sings. We finally got Elena Juatco singing on our show. We have I think a really fun story about questioning the idea of gender reveal parties. Jann and Nate go to basically a rich couple who run a gender reveal business and are kind of put on the spot, and Jann has to kind of take a stand against gender reveal parties. And Leah, do you want to [talk about Episode 307]?

LG: It involves some aggressive bird watching that ends up in some dumpster diving, and there’s a mystery to unfold. They also have to attend a funeral. Somebody dies. 

JH: That’s right. Somebody who we’ve already met this season dies. Woo, look at us! We’re getting good at this. 

LG: And then the season finale, obviously, has Michael Bublé, and he did such an incredible job. He came so well prepared. It’s a big role. He’s very collaborative. He was in it to win it, so that was a fun day on set. And also we had Michael Bublé re-record a very specific club track from my youth, so we’re talking like 1997. It’s Ginuwine’s “Pony,” but sung by a crooner. So imagine that: The song that Magic Mike made famous, Michael Bublé is going to make even more famous. You can call him Magic Mike going forward. 

Do you already have ideas for Season 4?
JH: There has not been an official pick-up, but Jann, Leah, and I have done our early talk-through of story ideas for what we would want to do in Season 4. We have a kind of proposal to CTV for what we would like to do, and we’re ready to hit the ground running. 

LG: There’s an aggressive cliff-hanger at the end of this season

JH: Yes, there’s a real question hanging in the air, so we really want to answer that. 

Jann airs Mondays at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, CTV.ca and CTV app.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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