All posts by A.R. Wilson

A.R. Wilson has been interviewing actors, writers and musicians for over 20 years. In addition to TV-Eh, her work has appeared in Curve, ROCKRGRL, and Sound On Sight. A native of Detroit, she grew up watching Mr. Dressup and The Friendly Giant on CBC, which led to a lifelong love of Canadian television. Her perpetual New Year's resolution is to become fluent in French.

Coroner: Adriana Maggs and Adrienne Mitchell on “surreal, resilient” Season 4

Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan) has been through a lot over the last three seasons of CBC’s Coroner. Her husband suddenly died; she discovered she killed her little sister in a freak childhood accident; her on-again, off-again boyfriend Liam (Éric Bruneau) also unexpectedly died; and her mother Peggy (Jennifer Dale), who abandoned the family decades ago, reappeared out of the blue. Oh, and there was also the pandemic. 

Given those events, it wasn’t surprising to find Jenny hiding in a camper van, having temporarily given up autopsies for the peace and quiet of gardening in last week’s Season 4 premiere. What was surprising, however, was that the episode managed to poignantly portray the impact of cumulative grief—Jenny’s voicemail to Liam felt heartbreakingly real—while still conveying a fragile sense of hope and strength. (Yes, I got misty at the end of the instalment when Jenny’s fledgling plants were knocked to the floor and she picked them up with a brave, “It’s fine; it’s OK.” )

The opportunity to explore resilience in the face of trauma was one of the main reasons new showrunner Adriana Maggs, who took over for creator and executive producer Morwyn Brebner, was excited to join the series. 

“Just because you’re going through a pandemic doesn’t mean that you’re going to stop being a coroner and people aren’t going to get killed and you’re not going to have to figure these mysteries out,” says Maggs. “It’s like the fridge magnet [that says], ‘It’s not about waiting for the rain to stop, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.’ As tacky as that is, there’s some wisdom in it.”

Executive producer and director Adrienne Mitchell says writer/director Maggs—whose other credits include films Grown Up Movie Star and Goalie and TV shows Pretty Hard Cases, The Hardy Boys and Rookie Blue—was able to pick up the threads of previous seasons and weave them into something new for the fourth season.

“Morwyn brought such a great sense of humour and kind of a sense of absurd to things, and I think that Adriana is such a great writer and artist to embrace that and bring her own individual stamp to it.”

To get us ready for this Thursday’s new episode, “Cutting Corners,” which sees Jenny returning to work and McAvoy (Roger Cross) and Malik (Andy McQween) drifting apart after the events at the pharmacy, we spoke with Maggs and Mitchell about seamlessly switching showrunners, Serinda Swan’s directorial debut, and what viewers can expect in Season 4.

Adriana, I’ve seen your writing credit pop up on my TV screen many times over the years, and, as a lifelong Detroit Red Wings fan, I really loved your film Goalie, so I was very excited to learn you were becoming the new showrunner for Coroner. How did you become involved with the series? 
Adriana Maggs: I really lucked into it, honestly. I hadn’t been on the show at all, and I guess Morwyn [Brebner] was needing to kind of step back and, and my very good friend Noelle Carbone had been on the show forever. She’s an EP on the show, but she has very small children, so she was like, ‘Bring Adriana on.’ And I [assume] Adrienne thought that was okay.

Adrienne Mitchell: Oh my god, yes, I’m so excited. I have had the pleasure of working with Adriana on development projects, and we’ve always really just hit it off. It’s always been so exciting to see how Adriana just seizes material and just dives into all sorts of realms that you’re not used to going but they still feel very familiar and relatable. She has such a fresh voice, and we’ve been so fortunate to have her on board for Season 4. When your name started circulating, we just seized it.

Maggs: We were kind of working on something in development when Coroner took off. So Coroner broke us apart and then reunited us.

What was it like taking over showrunning duties midstream? What’s involved in a handover like that?
Maggs: I worked very closely with Morwyn on the season arc. I wasn’t ready to let her go. I mean, there are horror stories of showrunners coming on and the show just kind of fundamentally letting audiences down and it just not ringing true and not being the same. I did still have Adrienne for the most part, and I inherited most of the writers’ room. So I was very, very fortunate, and, hopefully, it will seem seamless. 

A lot of big things happened during the finale of Season 3, including Liam’s death and Jenny’s mother Peggy coming back into her life. Adrienne, what were some of the reasons for those story decisions, and how were you hoping they would further Jenny’s story going into Season 4?
Mitchell: Noelle Carbone wrote Episode 9 and Morwyn wrote Episode 10, and I directed both of the episodes, so I got to work with both of them on this, and I think that their intention was that Jenny’s not really going to turn full circle around what happened to her unless she has a sort of emotional dance playing out with her mother. Because even though we could understand on one level that her mother left because she couldn’t handle the fact that her own daughter killed her other daughter, we don’t understand why she had left for so long. And I think that there is something about that long absence. We just thought, ‘What would it be like in Season 4 for Jenny to deal with this company, this presence in her life now that [her mother] is with her?’ [To have her issues with her mother be] something very lively, something that was not in the past but something that has come to confront her in the present. 

And we felt that the relationship with Liam sort of ran its course. We thought that it would be more interesting for her to not have this support system of a boyfriend to deal with her mother, that she was really going to have to navigate her mother herself without a support system, how it would make her more vulnerable, but it might make her have to reach further into herself to deal with it. Those were some of the reasons why we set it up the way we did.

And so taking over in Season 4, Adriana, what were your first thoughts on how to approach Jenny’s story going forward?
Maggs: I think when you have so much trauma going on, at a certain point you’re going to have to look at your primal wound, look at what went wrong in the first place. We talked about the inner child or the primal wound, and it’s this relationship that we’re trying to fix. [Jenny’s] mother is not there, and whatever sense of self-worth that she’s struggling with, she’s trying to fix it on everyone and everything, but it’s this core emptiness. And now it’s coming back, and she has a chance to kind of deal with that.

I was ready to explore the resilience of spirit. I think we have incredibly important things going on in society today, but also, there’s a tendency to lean a little bit into one’s own victimhood, and it wasn’t the way I was raised or brought up. What I love is when life is just kind of really humbling you and you are resilient and brave in the face of it. So it’s like, ‘Oh my god, how much trauma can this poor woman take?’ But I’m like, ‘No, it’s an opportunity to show strength.’ Every single day, Jenny faces people who have it worse. They really do, because even though Jenny loses a lot, she has love. She has so much love, and she has opportunities and second chances. And so I think I wanted to explore her toughness and her heart and how she can continue to bring hope to other people, even though she’s not necessarily in a super great place herself.

And how will that play out for Jenny over the course of the season?
Maggs: One of the things I loved so much over the last few seasons is the kind of internalized, I’m not gonna say supernatural, but the mysterious kind of figure that Jenny needs to get to the bottom of and explore. So I was like, ‘Well, we’re doing that because I love that so much.’ So her mother does trigger that. There’s a mystery that she needs to solve before things with her mother can get better. And her work very much has to do with navigating her relationship with the woman who abandoned her so many years ago and having to rebuild herself, so Jenny gets to go down really fun roads this year while she’s struggling with that … but it’s not a terribly dark, sad, maudlin season. Everyone’s dealing with a pandemic, everybody’s kind of emerging from this really strange situation and kind of dipping their big toe back into life, and then we’ve got to go back in, and then we come back out. We want Jenny’s journey, her experience with her mother to mirror that kind of shaky legs, ‘I don’t know how to do this, I forget how to do this, but I’m gonna do it’ [vibe]. So we kind of play around with that the whole season. Even some of the cases deal with things that have happened over the past year, some of the more political things like stress with the police, repealing abortion, anti-Asian hate, big corporations and pharmaceutical companies.

Mitchell: Yeah, and there’s a lot of wellness cults that are coming out of the pandemic, and we really sort of deep dive into that, which I’m so excited I was able to do the culminating episode on that, and it’s something that Adriana and team have planted from the beginning of the season. There is this whole presence of a cult that has its own arc throughout the season, and it’s very, very apropos to what’s going on right now, with conspiracy theories, and misinformation, and selling information that has no basis in fact but has a kind of sense of forward momentum that everybody wants to get out of this sort of Doomsday, yet it has all sorts of entrapment issues and a nefarious side. Those are some of the really interesting things that this season is dealing with. 

And just to hearken on one thing that Adriana is picking up on, which she has done, is when she refers to sort of those internal moments that what we’ve done in Seasons 1,2, and 3. We sort of externalized mysteries through Jenny’s visions of pieces from her past. In Season 1, it was the black dog, Season 2 it was visions of her deceased sister, and Season 3, those visions kind of took a concrete form with the appearance of her mother. And Adriana sort of pulled another element out of that and worked it through Season 4. She’s found a way to visualize a part of Jenny’s psyche that leads her to unraveling a mystery, but she’s done it in a really cool, unique way. 

Maggs: It’s weird. It gets really weird. 

Let’s talk about McAvoy a little bit. He went through a big cancer scare last season, and in last week’s premiere, he had a surprising–and dangerous–reaction to learning that he was in remission and his surgery was a success. What’s going on with him?
Maggs: One of our writers had gone through cancer, and one of the things she said is how you don’t trust [remission], but yet you want to distance yourself so much from [the disease], and I thought that was really interesting. It’s like McAvoy does not want anyone in his life that sees him as that person that had cancer, that person that was attacked, or suffered, or that was weak. And so that leads him to a person from his past who saw him as strong who didn’t know him through this kind of thing, and there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye and he gets in trouble. And it’s fun. 

Mitchell: Out of feeling like he’s cheated death, he now puts himself in a really, really dangerous situation, which creates a whole bunch of other reverberations for him. So he’s dealing with some of his wounds, the old trauma in a very new way as a result of how he’s moving through the world. So that really has consequences for the whole season.

What else can we look forward to?
Mitchell: Oh, how about River [Kiley May] and Dennis [Jon De Leon]? 

Oh, I love them. 
Maggs: They have some significant stories this year, particularly in Episode 10. I don’t know if I can say what they do, but it’s hilarious. There’s so much fun from these two, whose relationship is developed in the lab. It’s Season 4, and it’s time for us to go home with them and kind of see what they do and who they are, so 9 and 10 really kind of sink into that pair. 

Mitchell: What I really love, and what Adriana and team have done so well, is Dennis and River could be in the middle of like a really gruesome autopsy and they’re dealing with their relationship, like, ‘What’s the next step? Is the next step meeting your parents, or is the next step meeting my family? I don’t have my parents, I have a ‘fam’ family, but you have your biological family. And what area would we move into if we did move out? Well, my family lives in the suburbs, I live downtown, and I don’t want to leave my downtown.’ [They deal with] these really important life issues as they’re working, and it’s funny, and it’s beautiful, and you see something growing and evolving within.

Maggs: We’re exploring kind of how the queer community—and I don’t know how universal this is— but Toronto gets so expensive and living downtown gets more and more expensive, but moving to the suburbs is sometimes not that appealing to marginalized people because that’s not where their chosen family resides. So we play with that a lot, and it’s one of my favourite things that we get to explore. 

Mitchell: And I can’t wait for you to get through the season and land on Episode 11 and 12 because there’s a twist that you will not see coming and in a space where Jenny and Peggy land that is so surreal that it just about knocked me out, I just about fell on the ground, I was so blown away by it. And this is after three seasons. I just can’t wait for people to see it. 

Adrienne, I wanted to talk a little bit about your creative process as lead director for the series. What are some of the things you do to set a visual tone each season? 
Mitchell: I will say that this season, I worked quite differently. I only directed one episode this season because, like Morwyn, I sort of wanted to pass the baton and step away, and actually Ruba Nadda directed the first two episodes and Adriana did some really amazing, amazing additional directing. All that beautiful work that you see of Jenny inside her station wagon truck, dealing with all the emotional fallout, it’s all directed by this talented gal, Adriana.

But the first three seasons, it’s really all about feel. I like to get really inside of the intention of the writer and find a way to visualize it. So any things I’m offering up as I read material is like, ‘Is this what you’re trying to do? Could it be realized this way? Would this be on point to what you’re doing? This might be a better way to realize it, just because it may lend itself more from what you’re trying to work with on the page to the screen.’ So I kind of approach things that way, and I think very visually. With Morwyn, often I would read the scripts, and I would just pull images from the Internet, from anything that would come at me when I was reading, or even things that are not on the page, just images that would come in my sort of subconscious or in my sort of surreal realm of my psyche, and I would throw all those images on a board—even moving clips from films—and I would just show her I’d say, ‘OK, here’s where I’m thinking this is going,’ and she would say ‘Yes’ to this and ‘Maybe not so much’ to that and then it that would become the sort of visual palette of the episode, and we would construct it over the season.

So it’s like I would try to sort of map out what the visual image systems are. So for example—and Adriana you could talk about your screens because you added that [theme to the season]—today, we’re all so into virtual reality, we’re in it. We’re always watching things, we’re not feeling people, we’re watching things through screens. And so that was one of the image systems that we were working through in the season, and I was very much working through that in a kind of climactic way in Episode 8, which I directed. 

Maggs: Yeah, we were [all about] screens and gardens this whole season. I’ve never worked with a director who has felt as visual as Adrienne, and even though you did step back this year, something that you have always done on all your shows is, you treat a television show like you’re an auteur director. And you could step back this year because that pattern has been established now. And you also expect the directors that come on to do that as well, and it’s really inspiring and it’s beautiful. And it also means that sometimes you’ll be writing, and Adrienne will come into the office and go, ‘Skull on a stick!’ It’s just infectious, and it’s like you get so excited, and it’s such a wonderful way to work.

Serinda Swan directed Episode 6 this season. How did that come about?
Maggs: She has been around the industry so long, I would’ve been surprised if she couldn’t direct. She’s just so invested in her character, but also in the scripts and also in other people’s characters. And I just think she was obviously interested in doing it, and it was time. 

Mitchell: Yeah, working with her on the set, she was always very keen on how things were being shot and asked him lots of questions about our approach visually and what was exciting us, and I think she really did find the sort of visual approach to Coroner very exciting and unique and wanted to embrace that and was really interested in exploring that side of herself. I think she just really got it when we were doing blockings and would explain, ‘Well, you know, we’re not actually at that angle, we’re at this angle because we’re trying to create more suspense, we don’t want to show all the angles.’ So she really leaned into that and, even as an actor, she really leaned into that as we were working through the visual system. So I think she just reached a time where she started directing some of her own shorts, and she just really thought, ‘Hey, I’m really up for doing something like this.’

Maggs: We waited until we had an episode where—she’s not written down, she has a significant story in the episode she directs—but we kept it all in a courtroom setting so that her storyline is almost a bottle. [That meant that filming on one day] would be tough, but the other days would be better. But she knocked it out of the park. Honestly, I’ve never seen anyone work so hard. There were websites that she loved that would pull stills from movies, and she would surround herself in images, and her storyboards are still up in the office that she was in, and they’re beautiful. Her visual presentation was really amazing.

If you had to sum up Season 4 using just three words, what would they be?
Mitchell: I would say kinetic, surreal, and sometimes blindsiding.

Maggs: Surreal, human, brave and resilient, tough, strong.

Coroner airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Preview: Coroner returns with fresh bodies, renewed energy for Season 4

Coroner may be a crime/medical procedural, but its primary focus has always been on Jenny Cooper’s (Serinda Swan) personal mental health journey as she struggles with grief, childhood trauma and anxiety. That journey takes a turn—and the series gets an infusion of energy—in Season 4, kicking off Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBC. 

In “Emerge,” written by new showrunner Adriana Maggs (Pretty Hard Cases), Jenny is still reeling from the shocking loss of Liam (Eric Bruneau) in the Season 3 finale. On a sabbatical from work, she’s holed up in an Airbnb trailer on a rural farm, growing a garden and trying to take a break from all things death-related. She keeps in close contact with Ross (Ehrem Kassam), who is at home caring for Gordon (Nicholas Campbell) with the help of her recently resurfaced mom Peggy (Jennifer Dale), but is clearly in no hurry to return to the chaos of her life. 

Back in Toronto, Detective McAvoy (Roger Cross) is facing the opposite situation. After taking four months off to recover from his spinal surgery, he’s back at work and eager to prove he’s up to the job, especially to his partner Malik (Andy McQueen) and girlfriend Kirima (Sarah Podemski). Meanwhile, at the coroner’s office, rulebook-thumping replacement coroner Dr. Elijah Thompson (Thom Allison) is making life difficult for Jenny’s staff, who can’t wait for her to come back.

Just as we can count on Jenny having a new hairstyle each season (spoiler: it’s longer now), we know that a new case—probably one in the quiet community she’s seeking refuge in—will soon have her conducting post-mortems again. However, things are not quite business as usual once Jenny gets her groove back; altered relationship dynamics and fresh faces bring new vitality and direction to the series. 

Liam’s death upends Jenny’s healing process in unexpected ways, letting the writers and Swan dig into the confusing layers of compounded grief and survivor’s guilt, subjects TV procedurals rarely make time for. In addition, both Dale and Allison turn in great performances as they shake up Jenny’s world at home and at work; and McAvoy’s reaction to his health scare provides some early twists, adding new shades to his partnership with Malik and giving Cross more opportunities to shine. Overall, the series feels refreshed and like it has a lot more to say, which is quite an accomplishment for a fourth-year drama about death.

Coroner airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Image courtesy of CBC.

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Jann: Charlie Kerr on meeting Jann Arden, playing Dark Cupid, and Nate and Jann’s relationship

When Jann Arden met Charlie Kerr at a dinner party in Vancouver last year, she immediately wanted him to play Nate, the younger boyfriend of her fictional self, on the third season of CTV’s Jann. However, the pair almost didn’t cross paths that night.

Arden was staying at a cottage owned by Kerr’s father on Bowen Island, B.C., and Kerr—who fronts alt-rock band Hotel Mira and has appeared on TV shows such as iZombie, The Magicians and Supernatural—says he was worried the iconic singer-songwriter would think he was just “another actor-musician … with ulterior motives to collaborate with her” if he turned up at a dinner they had both been invited to. So he initially declined to go. In the end, a friend convinced him to attend the gathering, but he “purposely wore ratty clothing” so it wouldn’t look like he was trying to impress anybody.

Little did Kerr know, Arden was already impressed with him. 

“I sat down and [Jann] already knew who I was and started talking about music,” Kerr says. “I had a song that was doing well on the radio at the time and we were kind of relating to each other on that. And then the subject of her TV show came up, and she started talking about this character Nate, and I think she even said [he was] ‘kind of somebody a bit like you,’ and I was like, ‘Well, I’m an actor; I’d love to audition.’”

Soon after their encounter, Arden began championing Kerr to play Nate. In response, the Vancouver native started an intense workout regimen to change his appearance because, as he explains, the character is “a star in an action TV show, and I have the body of a 13-year old girl.” 

Following a lengthy audition and network approval process, Kerr finally landed the part. “Between going to that dinner and filming, I think it was like seven months,” he says.

Last week, Nate made his debut on the show. Matched with Jann through a celebrity dating app, the TV star—who plays a fantasy action hero called Dark Cupid—at first, appears to have little in common with her. For one thing, he’s a younger man—to the horror of Nora (Deborah Grover), who protests both his age and gender. For another, he’s grounded and isn’t into relationship drama, which makes him wary of Jann’s over-the-top antics when they run into Cynthia (Sharon Taylor) on their first date. But despite this rough start, the episode ends with Nate making pancakes in Jann’s kitchen after spending the night, indicating there might be hope for this odd couple after all.

We spoke to Kerr, who is currently recording new music with Hotel Mira, about what viewers can expect from Nate in coming episodes. 

You have a lot going on creatively. You’re the lead singer-songwriter for Hotel Mira, a band that’s having a lot of success, you’re a screenwriter, and now you’ve also got an important new role on Jann. Can you tell me a bit about how you got into acting and how you juggle it with your other creative endeavours?
Charlie Kerr: I’ve always kind of just loved all of it, and kind of spent my whole life in my dad’s basement writing songs or writing sketches or performing however I could. There was a really long time where I wasn’t any good at any of it, but I was still very passionate. I don’t see too much difference in all of it, it’s all just storytelling, and I’ve been lucky that they really haven’t gotten in the way of each other very many times. I’ve been acting professionally for most of my life, and at the first concert I ever played, I was 10 years old. So my main job and focus have always been wanting to be creative and express and perform. I think it’s just how I feel the most comfortable. It’s kind of like that cliché of belonging on a stage and not feeling like I belong in too many other places.

When I read that Jann would be dating an action star that she meets on a celebrity dating app, I thought the character would be somewhat silly or over-the-top. But Nate is serious and no-nonsense. How did you approach playing him?
CK: I know quite a lot of people kind of like him, who have been on and off sets and want to be treated like they’re normal and kind of want a break from all the glitz and glamour and stuff. That was the main thing that I was thinking about, that Nate is so well known for this part that is nothing like him, and he just wants people to love him for him and show that he’s not just one thing, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. I think that’s a pretty human quality. One of my other favourite things about Nate is he means really well, and sometimes he’s being insulting and doesn’t know it. Being a movie star, being pampered on set, whatever it is, leads to kind of a lack of awareness. Those are the main things about Nate that I wanted to portray: He means well, he’s very loving, but he has a very strange life that’s led to a bit of lack of awareness.

When we spoke to co-creators Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier, they mentioned that they had to age you because Nate is supposed to be 38 and you’re several years younger than that. What did that involve?
CK: I think my body transforming was a big part of it. I also grew out a beard, and my hair’s super long. I look pretty different than I usually look. And trying to have that maturity wherever I could as well in the performance. One thing I’ve noticed about people growing up and getting to a certain age, is they don’t sweat the small stuff as much. If you’re playing someone younger, everything’s the end of the world. You’re incredibly dramatic at every single moment of conflict, and I think a way to kind of play maturity is to understand that some things aren’t that important and roll with the punches a bit, so I tried to do that as well. 

It’s common to see relationships between older men and younger women in movies and on TV shows, but it’s still rare to see the reverse. Did it excite you to be a part of an onscreen pairing that bucks that trend?
CK: It’s one of my absolute favourite things about it because it’s an age gap that no one would blink an eye at if the genders were reversed. If Larry David had a girlfriend on his show that was a similar age gap, it wouldn’t even be a plot point, and to be a part of something going the other direction and making people think and pointing out the hypocrisy of that was really appealing. It’s really exciting to me to be a part of anything that makes people think or challenges something.

When Nate goes on his first date with Jann, he sees some red flags that initially make him think he doesn’t want to see her again, but then he stays the night. What made him change his mind?
CK: [Jann’s] honesty, authenticity. He mentions how sick of anything vapid he is at this point. So when Jann gets real with him about what she’s going through, I think that’s what really hooks him, and I can relate to that. I think we’ve all fallen in love with or become more interested in somebody once they’re vulnerable with us. 

What was it like to work with Jann Arden?
CK: I think the entire thing was just a dream come true. I never thought I’d get to be a part of an ensemble comedy, especially one this strong. Jann championed me from the beginning. I owe her a lot. But the entire cast and crew is just remarkably fun to work with. I couldn’t believe my job was going to work to make people laugh. That’s so absurdly cool. And she’s so talented and she’s such an awesome leader, and she has kind of hand-picked and curated who she works with in a way where you always feel safe, you always feel taken care of, and honestly, I just loved being a fly on the wall on that set because everyone was so goddamn funny.

Speaking of funny, Nate stars in a fantasy TV series called Dark Cupid, and there were several campy scenes from the show included in last week’s episode. Were those as fun to film as they were to watch?
CK: That was an absolute joy, and it was something I was pretty nervous about because I had the whole body language and voice kind of picked out, and I didn’t know if other people would find it as funny as I did. And the first thing we did was a big table read on Zoom and my first lines are as Dark Cupid, so I started doing the voice and the breathing and stuff and everybody was cracking up, and it was the first time I was able to breathe and be like, ‘OK, I’m probably not gonna get fired.’ So doing that and people digging it, it was such a joy. It was kind of like getting to be in a Marvel thing or a superhero thing. 

From talking to Jennica and Leah, I know that Nate plays a major role in the rest of the season. What can you preview about his journey in upcoming episodes?
CK: He really integrates with the rest of the cast, and I think we get to see just more and more of how human he is and how he enjoys the simple things. I got to work with Patrick [Gilmore] for an entire episode and that dynamic’s really, really fun. I think just as time goes on, you get to see how much of a goofball he is, you get to see the best parts of Jann that appeal to him, why they’re an unlikely match. 

Do you have a favourite episode coming up?
CK: This week’s episode, 305, is a lot of fun. It has a lot of rad, funny moments. And the finale is really cool. Getting to be a part of something with Tegan and Sara was—I never got to meet them—but being involved with them whatsoever was incredibly exciting because The Con was one of my favourite records growing up, so that was a bit of a starstruck moment for me, and an honour. 

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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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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Jann: Tenaj Williams on Trey’s calming influence and joining the Season 3 cast

If not for the pandemic, Tenaj Williams wouldn’t be playing Trey on the third season of Jann. In fact, he likely wouldn’t be acting on television at all. 

Until 2020, the Calgary-based actor and singer was happily ensconced in the theatre world, performing in various musicals and plays around the country. But when COVID-19 shut down theatres, he decided to make the jump to film and television, landing small parts in Wynonna Earp, Big Sky and the Hallmark movie Meet Me at Christmas

When Williams nabbed a role in Jann, airing Mondays at 7 p.m. ET on CTV, he assumed it would be small as well. But he soon found out that Trey, Jann’s (Jann Arden) new personal assistant, is no bit part. On the contrary, the calm, nurturing former nanny will be a major, season-long presence as he works to bring order to Jann’s chaotic universe and develops a strong bond with her mom Nora (Deborah Grover). 

“The part was much larger than I thought it was going to be,” Williams says.  

During a phone interview from Calgary, Williams told us how he approached playing Trey and explained why he loved joining Jann’s Season 3 cast. 

What was your audition process for Jann like?
Tenaj Williams: Typically now with COVID, it’s all self-tapes, and I actually really like that. I like that I can control the environment I’m in and my level of anxiety and stress. The way I’ve devised to tell if my self-tapes are good or not is, I always watch back my self-tape before I submit it, and if I find myself distracted by things like ‘Why do you look like that?’ or ‘What are you doing with your teeth?’ or ‘What are you doing with your mouth?’ then it’s not a good take. But if at the end of the take I find that I’m just smiling the whole time, that means I was [in the moment] as a viewer and then I’m like, ‘Oh, yeah, that must be a good take.’

With Jann, I sent off the tape, and I knew who Jann was, and I had seen commercials of the show, but I had never actually watched the show before. And then I got shortlisted for it, but I’d been shortlisted for things before, and I know not to get my hopes up for anything. So I continued on with my life, no big deal. I didn’t tell anybody anything, because I didn’t want to be like, ‘Hey, I’m shortlisted, and then I didn’t get the part. So I just pretended like life as usual, and then I got an email from my agent saying, ‘We’re just waiting for network approval,’ and I didn’t really know what that was. I assumed that it could still fall through, so I didn’t want to get my hopes up for that either. And then I got the job, and I was super excited, but I for sure didn’t understand the magnitude of what I was doing. I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll be in one or two episodes, which will be cool,’ you know what I mean? And it wasn’t until I got my script maybe like a week later and I did a fitting that was two and a half hours, and I was like, ‘How many costumes do I have?’ and I looked through the script and I’m like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m in all the scenes, I’m in every episode.’ And then I was invited to a table read, which that’s never happened to me before, and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, this is actually a big part,’ and that’s when I got excited.

Trey is a very calm, collected guy who loves astrology. How did you approach playing him?
TW: Honestly, first I watched all the episodes of this show, all of them. And it didn’t take me long to do it, either. I really enjoyed the show. When the first season ended, I thought I was like two episodes in, but I’d finished the whole season. And the same thing happened with the second season. And I kind of pieced together Trey from Jann, who has very chaotic energy, and that’s an understatement. I thought, if she’s looking for a personal assistant, I’m imagining she needs the opposite of what she is. You could play it really crazy and really high energy and matching that kind of energy, but I thought it might be more interesting if he comes in and juxtaposes that kind of energy. So I tried to bring him into a more Zen-like place. So that was my main focus, I thought that’s what she would benefit from, someone to balance her off. 

And I’m not much into astrology personally, but I did look into a little bit and I talked to a few friends who are into it, and I looked into my own sign—I’m an Aquarius—and I thought, ‘Oh, these are actually quite accurate.’ 

As you mentioned, Jann’s world is pretty chaotic. How is poor Trey going to handle that as the season goes on?
TW: Well, what I will say without giving any spoilers away is, he says in the first episode that he really likes a challenge, and I think that he finds it. I think he finds not only a challenge in Jann but in the people that live in Jann’s house that he’s now surrounded by. So he has a very ridiculously destroyed version of Cale [Elena Juatco], and I think he finds that very fascinating in a terrifying way, and you also have the energy of Nora. I think he’s attracted to the different situations there and the different energies and what that means. I think the challenge of bringing that all together is really exciting. 

When we recently spoke with Jann Arden, she told us that Trey develops a strong relationship with Nora. What can you tell us about that?
TW: Something about Nora triggers something in his past that he’s dealt with himself. He sees something in Nora that he wants to nurture. He wants to take care of this person, and I think he finds a really good friend in Nora, and I really, really love their relationship. I think that Nora is looking for a friend just as much as Trey is looking to take care of this type of person. Because she’s around Jann’s chaotic energy a lot, and she’s also been, not kicked out by Max, but kind of seeing that we need a change, and I think she’s looking for some stability. I think that Trey provides that for her in a way.

I imagine it’s not always easy to join an established TV show. What was your first day on set like?
TW: It was crazy, honestly. It was crazy that I had binged these two seasons and then I did this Zoom reading where I got to see all the faces that I got to see on screen, where we went over the whole season. I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I can’t believe it.’ And they were all such professionals. I cannot rave highly enough about the group of actors that they have brought together, beautiful human souls who genuinely want to make the work so good. There are no egos or anything like that, everybody was so welcoming and warm. 

The first day, I was wildly nervous, I didn’t really know what to expect, and my first scene was a two-hander with Jann, and I was like, ‘Of course it is. Of course, my very first day is with the star of the show in a scene that’s just the two of us.’ And so I freaked out and thought, ‘OK, don’t mess up any of your lines because if you mess up even one line, they’re going to kick you to the curb.’ 

And I was standing there and Jann was with me—and our first time really meeting was on set, the first scene we were doing—and we were just having a very casual conversation, and we just stood there for a second and it was quiet, and Jann just turns to me and is like, ‘So, are you nervous?’ And I thought, ‘How do I answer this question?’ and I was like, ‘You know what? Yeah, I am. I’m very nervous.’ And she just looks at me and said, ‘Oh, thank God, me, too.’ And that actually really helped things. 

Did you ever find yourself cracking up at some of Jann’s one-liners and antics while shooting?
TW: I would like to tell you that I got to the point where I was like, ‘Oh, I’m a professional, I don’t laugh anymore, I don’t break,’ but that never was the case. I was always breaking, I was always ruining scenes. It’s [Jann’s] show, and if she wants to try something completely different…she’ll just go on the most hilarious tangents, and I’m like, ‘Please don’t zoom the camera into my face, please don’t zoom the camera into my face.’ I just couldn’t keep it together. 

What was the best thing about joining the cast this season?
TW: The biggest thing was, honestly, it felt like I was part of something so great. I was just so proud of the work. I was laughing out loud constantly while we were doing the work. The script was so funny, everybody was so funny, we had such good chemistry as a cast, they welcomed me in so much, that it just felt like I was playing around. I mean, it’s crazy to me that I’m in a sitcom with Jann Arden and a bunch of other really talented people. I got paid to just literally play with the funnest, wonderfullest people. I tried not to take that for granted.

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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