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.
The relationship between Pretty Hard Cases’ Sam Wazowski (Meredith MacNeill) and Kelly Duff (Adrienne C. Moore) has faced some major challenges over the past two seasons. During Season 1, the detective duo had to learn how to work together despite their odd couple dynamic. In Season 2, they overcame a series of personal misunderstandings to forge a true friendship—even though it resulted in them being separated on the job.
At the start of Season 3—kicking off Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem—Sam, demoted to street cop, and Kelly, working undercover, have been apart for eight months. But worry not. Just a few minutes into the premiere episode, “Always A Bridesmaid,” written by series creators Tassie Cameron and Sherry White, the pair enjoys a glorious reunion that showcases the fabulous chemistry between series leads MacNeill and Moore. There is screaming and jumping. There are secret handshakes and goofy butt pats. And, of course, there is banter.
But while Sam and Kelly are back together and stronger than ever, they still have to prove themselves to new Unit Commander Gloria Ballard (Wendy Crewson) before they’ll regain access to the OCE’s top cases—such as discovering the source of a deadly new drug that’s hit the streets of Toronto, or tracking down last season’s still at large villain Adeline French (Charlotte Sullivan). They also have to navigate their new romantic relationships, with Sam making another go of things with ex-husband Steve (Trevor Hayes) and Kelly testing the waters with fellow detective Nathan (Daren A. Herbert).
During a recent chat with MacNeill and Moore, we found out more about Sam and Kelly’s upcoming adventures and why the actors sometimes feel like “naughty children” on set.
Sam and Kelly’s friendship has grown a lot over the past two seasons. How will it evolve in Season 3? Adrienne C. Moore: I think like any friendship, in Season 2, we had that tension that I think long-standing and long-term relationships must have in order to kind of jump that hurdle that they can get to a point where they know each other’s thoughts, they know what each other is thinking before they even say. And I think that was one of the balances that we tried to strike and establish this theory that they had a hard time getting to know each other, they went through the thick of it, and now they’re just like, they can read each other’s thoughts. They know how to support each other as friends, and they know what they need from each other in friendship.
Meredith MacNeill: Yeah, and then because of that, because that friendship has taken the next layer, they tend to add other things into their life. You see them involve each other in the other aspects of their life, which was interesting. So like, when we got the scripts, I was like, ‘Oh, this is your family.’
Both of your characters are in very different places with their personal lives than they were in previous seasons. Kelly is making a go of it with Nathan, and Sam is back with her ex-husband Steve, which may or may not be a good thing. MM: I feel that for Sam—and for Meredith MacNeill—there’s something about being in your 40s and admitting what it’s truly like to start over and all the mess and glory that comes with that. So I love the way Tassie and Sherry write. Yes, I’m back with my ex-husband, but it takes it to this level that I think will be extremely relatable, that just because you’ve made a decision and you’re like, ‘I’m gonna go for this,’ it doesn’t automatically mean that once you make the decision, everything’s fine. When the scripts would come in, and we work on scenes. I was like, ‘Oh gosh, I really know this relationship. I know these people. These are people I have in my life.’
ACM: I think for Kelly, she’s shown a lot with being vulnerable and open in relationships. And not to give any spoilers, but there’s already some physical tension in the beginning between her and Nathan, and so through the course of the season, you discover how Kelly is really embracing being vulnerable. She knows she has a good thing with Nathan, but she’s still scared. And I think a lot of people when they get in relationships, become afraid of losing their own identity and their own individuality. And so she learned how to balance that, how to be in a relationship with a partner but yet still have her own identity. And I’ve loved that Nathan supports that for her.
You’ve got a new unit commander this season, played by Wendy Crewson. MM and ACM: Woo!
How was it working with her? MM: She’s it. That’s it. She comes on set, you know you’re lucky, and you just stand there and hope you can keep up. That’s what you do.
ACM: Wendy was working on another show also at the same time. She came in every day, on point, knew these chunky, chunky dialogue lines and was killing it. I was like, ‘OK, I can learn from her.’
Pretty Hard Cases effortlessly blends comedy and drama, and many scenes can be played either way. How do you decide which way you’re going to take a scene? Are you given a lot of freedom to improvise, or is it all on the page? MM: I think because we’re both theatre-based, we’re pretty comfortable with both. I respect the work completely and the author of scripts, that’s just standard. And then also with theatre, you’ll learn really quickly to play in the moment, be in the moment, throw all your work away, and what’s happening isn’t to me, it’s what’s happening between the two characters. So I find what happens in the show is—because we get along and we want to have so much fun—sometimes I feel like we’re naughty children, but professional naughty children. We adore the writing by Sherry and Tassie, we’re respectful to that. But as soon as we can, we’re like, ‘Can we play? Can we go, can we go?’ And then they’ll give us some goes, and so it kind of balances out and then, in the end, it’s really great.
As you said, you get along well and love working together. What have you learned from each other as actors over the last three seasons? MM: I know that we get [each other] pumped. Like, if it’s a 16-hour day, we kind of look at each other, kind of give each other a soft high-five, and go in and kill it. We know we got it.
ACM: I know that if she has a lot of dialogue to carry, or I have a lot of dialogue, what I love is that we can just kind of look at each other and I know where she’s at, she knows where I’m at, and I know what she needs, she knows what I need.
MM: And we get there really quick.
ACM: Yeah, we provide that for each other, and it’s like when you have those days, when you work every day and you’re doing 12-16 hour days like that, it’s good to look over and see your partner in crime. You’re going through it with someone that you trust.
Pretty Hard Cases airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on CBC and CBC Gem.
While the holidays are tied to traditions, the way we celebrate is malleable. Relocating, work, friendships, romances, children, breakups and the loss of loved ones can all change what we do—and how we feel—each December.
That sense of flux is at the heart of Jann: Alone For The Holidays, a Yuletide special that proves there’s more than one way to enjoy Christmas. It’s a theme series star Jann Arden has experienced in her own life.
“My parents are both gone,” says Arden. “So I think a lot of the traditions that were kind of wrapped around their legs, unfortunately, aren’t here anymore. I mean, I loved having dinner with my family.”
But this Christmas, the singer-songwriter-actor-author-animal rights advocate is packing her favourite vegan turkey cutlets—“Frozen in my suitcase; I’m not kidding you!”—and heading to England to spend time with friends. “I’ll be in Dorset, very close to Swanage, in a 250-year-old stone cottage, near castles,” she says.
The series Jann is also doing things a bit differently this year. It’s been more than a year since the show’s third season ended, and while CTV hasn’t officially pulled the plug on the project, it also hasn’t greenlit another season.
Arden says CTV has “been behind the show the whole way through,” but the broadcaster is “really trying to contemplate a cost-effective way to move forward” with the series in a TV era dominated by streaming networks and binge-watching, so “they gave us this opportunity to do the Christmas show.”
In the special, airing as back-to-back episodes on Saturday, December 9 at 9 p.m. on CTV, CTV.ca and the CTV app, Jann comes home for Christmas to discover her entire family is celebrating out of town. The only one still around is her assistant Trey (Tenaj Williams), who is trying to recharge his batteries with some alone time.
Feeling abandoned, Jann declares it “the worst Christmas ever” until Trey starts pulling out boxes full of old decorations—and memories. This prompts a series of vignettes where Jann reminisces about good, bad and humiliating moments from holidays past featuring her niece Charley (Alexa Rose Steele), on-again, off-again girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor), former manager Todd (Jason Blicker), and mom Nora (Deborah Grover). Her manager Cale (Elena Juatco) also appears in the special’s opening Christmas concert sequence, which showcases both Arden’s cozy-sweater vocals and her laugh-out-loud physical comedy talents.
“I think flashbacks allowed me these fantastic opportunities to shine a light on one cast member at a time and to kind of unveil a little more depth into their relationship,” says Arden. “Like, I think the scene that I have with Cale starts off a little bit acerbic and tongue-in-cheek; Cale is just being Cale and running the business. But then when we have the opportunity to kind of say our goodbyes in the hallway, it’s like, ‘Wow, they’re being nice to each other. Where could that go, and what does that mean?’ So I think it was nice to be able to look at these relationships in a little different light.”
Jann’s flashback with Nora, which plays like a blooper reel from The Great Canadian Baking Show, was another highlight for Arden. “I had the best time,” she says. “Deborah is the heart of our show, and I think we hang so much of the heartfelt emotional payoff of Nora with [her], and she never fails to just really show people what her acting chops are. We all look up to her.”
Fans can also look forward to celebrity guest appearances by Bryan Adams and Michael Bublé, who is still as lovesick for Jann as he was in the Thanksgiving-themed Season 3 finale.
“May I say that this was his story idea?” Arden says of Bublé’s storyline. “We’re like, ‘What do you want to do on the show?’ And this was last season, and he says, ‘I want to be the unrequited love. I want to love Jann, and she doesn’t love me.’ This was all his doing. So when we were doing the Christmas special, he literally phoned Leah [Gauthier], one of our co-creators, and he said, ‘Can I be in this thing? Like, I know I’m on tour right now, but I could do something online.’”
Meanwhile, Adams carved time out of his Canadian tour schedule to drop by the set. “He’s got a new Christmas song out this year called ‘Let’s Get Christmas Going,’” Arden explains. “I’ve heard it on the radio already, and he wrote it for his daughters. He showed up and said, ‘I don’t know the words, so you guys have to write these out for me, so we were scrambling writing them out on the back of wrapping paper, and there’s a lot of f—ing words in that song … but he was absolutely such a pro. He was kind to everybody, and he did the song, and we couldn’t believe it.”
The special isn’t just about music and memories. Modelled after UK Christmas specials that offer holiday cheer while moving plotlines forward between seasons, there are some major storyline resolutions—such as revealing whether Jann chose to stay with Nate or to get back together with Cynthia and help raise her baby. There’s also a life-changing surprise at the end that lifts Jann’s holiday spirits. In short, it’s the sort of show that could serve as a bookend for the series or provide the impetus for a fourth season.
“We were very purposeful about that,” Arden says. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern, and we’re all kind of holding our breaths and crossing our fingers and we’ll see what happens. But, for now, we were able to do some problem-solving and put out a few fires that we left hanging after Season 3.”
Arden is also chuffed CTV will be rebroadcasting the episodes on Christmas Eve at 10 p.m. “That’s pretty damn great to be in people’s homes, whether they’re with their families and sitting down having meals, the excitement of kids running around the house, and Santa’s coming,” she says. “We’re hoping it has legs. Like, year after year, for people to go, ‘Oh, god, that crazy special again.’”
Jann: Alone For The Holidays airs Friday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m. ET on CTV, CTV.ca and the CTV app. Encore presentation Saturday, Dec. 24 at 10 p.m. ET on CTV.
“Fashion and beauty should be for everybody and every body.”
That’s the tagline and premise of Fashion Dis, a new makeover series airing Wednesdays on AMI-tv. Hosted by Toronto-based blogger and multiple sclerosis advocate Ardra Shephard, the ground-breaking show solves style challenges faced by disabled people—who have often been ignored by the fashion and beauty industries—and helps them achieve the look they’ve always wanted.
Each transformation is guided by the show’s innovative team of glam experts and culminates in an empowering, high-fashion photoshoot that lets the participants strut their stuff.
“The idea to include a photoshoot element was so important to me because I wanted the images to live beyond the show,” says Shephard, who came up with the idea for the series based on the fashion frustrations she faced after being diagnosed with MS. “I wanted the participants to be able to share them on social media, knowing how important that representation is.”
Last week’s premiere featured Melissa, a short-statured woman who was tired of being called “cute” and wanted to embrace her sexy side. Her makeover included a change from blonde to fiery red hair, a form-fitting black dress, and dramatic high heels—something she’d previously been unable to find in her size. This week, viewers will meet Claire, a para-athlete who feels trapped in her baggy clothing and longs for a look that reflects who she really is.
We spoke with Ardra Shephard about creating Fashion Dis and why she feels the series is so important for the disabled community.
Where did the concept for Fashion Dis come from? Ardra Shephard: The concept came completely from my own experience. I was not born with a disability. I developed multiple sclerosis in my early 20s, and multiple sclerosis is a progressive illness, so I acquired varying degrees of disability over the years. For many years, my symptoms were invisible, but when they started to become noticeable in my 30s, I started to need a cane and then a walker, which we now call a rollator. I was really traumatized by that, partly because of what was happening to my body but also what really surprised me was the assault I felt on my sense of self and my identity, how I felt like these devices made me stand out in a bad way, made me look less attractive. I scoured the Internet for images of people that looked cool using mobilities, I looked for mobility aids that looked cool, and it took a long, long time to find those. So I was hiding my mobilities in photos, and I really felt diminished by these things that are actually tools that help us get through our day. A lot of these things are stigmatized so much. Phrases like ‘end up in a wheelchair’ are very common in the MS community. No one talks about being afraid to lose the ability to walk, we phrase it as ‘I don’t want to end up in a wheelchair.’ So we stigmatize the very thing that actually helps us live and keep moving.
It was really just going through that struggle and then finally just realizing that I couldn’t let that narrative continue to play in my head. I felt like if there aren’t images of people who look like me—who are young and care about style and fashion and about living life—then I’m gonna put them out there. So I hired a photographer who had shot for Vogue, I hired a stylist, and I hired a makeup artist, and I did a photoshoot and I included my mobilities in them, and then I posted them on social media—and this was probably two years before [actor and fellow MS advocate] Selma Blair’s red carpet cane reveal—and [the photos] really resonated. Then I was commissioned to write an article for xoJane, which is now InStyle, to talk about this very thing. So I recruited two girlfriends that also have MS and did the same thing for them: I paid for them to have their makeup done, I styled them and did a photo shoot. And the feelings they got from sharing those pictures were so powerful that I felt like things needed to change.
In 2017, when I was first started going down this road, there were zero— I’m talking zero—images of stylish, disabled people available on the Internet, and in such a short time, there are now tens of thousands. I, of course, don’t take credit for everything that’s happening in this movement, but I’m very proud to be a leader in that space and to be a part of it. Because what I was looking for [back then] is still not available in mainstream media, but it’s certainly on social media.
I love that each episode centres around a photoshoot and creating empowering images of each participant instead of delving into their backstory or dwelling on their disability. It’s fun and uplifting. AS: Every detail of this show was very intentional. We have seen disability stories in media before, but they are almost always with a sad soundtrack and a hospital-themed origin story. And in my own experience, strangers regularly feel entitled to ask me, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ or ‘What happened to you?’ That’s not an acceptable icebreaker, and when it happens to you all the time, you can start to feel like disability is the only identity that you’re entitled to. Somehow we think that if somebody is visibly disabled that they owe us an explanation, and yet for somebody who doesn’t have an apparent disability, we would never think to ask a random stranger such personal questions. It’s kind of staggering to me. It’s really nobody’s business what anybody’s health situation is. All we needed to know was, what’s the fashion obstacle and how can we address that? [One of our producers] put it perfectly when she said, ‘If I’m struggling to find clothes because I’m overweight, you don’t need to know why I gained weight to know that I have a struggle finding clothes that fit.’
Was it easy to find participants for the show? AS: Yes. We put out a casting call and we had an overwhelming response, which was really exciting because I feel like people just got what we were trying to do from the start. And, also, it really showed that there is an appetite for this kind of content and this kind of representation. There were so many people just putting their hands up and saying, ‘Yes, please. I want to see myself here.’ So the real challenge was, with only six episodes, how do we show enough diversity? I mean, there are a million ways to be disabled and there are a million ways to be human, so how do we show as much of that as possible? And when you’re the only one doing something, there’s an added pressure to make sure everybody feels seen and I think we did a good job, but we definitely need more seasons to explore that more. And in the bigger picture, we just need more content like this across the board.
How did you go about assembling the members of the makeover team? What were you looking for? AS: We were looking for [experts with] experience with disability, a sensitivity and an understanding, and also a willingness and an open openness to learn. Some of our cast are disabled and some are not, but everybody involved is very open and receptive to learning and doing the best job possible at doing right by the disability community.
One of the reasons the show’s participants face style challenges is the lack of adaptive clothing and beauty options on the mainstream market. How did you go about sourcing some of the clothing items and products used in the show? Was it a struggle or are things starting to improve? AS: It’s definitely both. Our wardrobe specialist, Izzy Camilleri, is an A-list designer who has been working in the adaptive clothing world for years now and at some sacrifice to her because she was designing for A-list celebrities. I think it’s fair to say—she talks about this in her TED Talk—that some of her business dropped off when she switched to doing adapted fashion, but it’s something she’s very passionate about. She’s the first, I think, in Canada and a real trailblazer. So it was really fantastic for us to have her; she’s such an authority figure in this space. But there are other companies and businesses and designers that are starting to work in this space. Even in the last two years, the options have really exploded. So a lot of it for me was just being in the community and knowing some of the players already and being able to facilitate those connections as we went into the show. And then the rest was doing our homework and finding those businesses that are catering to this community and then doing it in a stylish way. For us, everything had to be functional, but it also had to look good.
The first episode featured Melissa, and, this week, we meet Claire. Who else is going to get a makeover this season? AS: We also have a writer-broadcaster, and she came to us with a prosthetic leg that has a floral fabric covering that was just so beautiful, and the rest of her look didn’t look as cool as her prosthesis. For us, that was about bringing the rest of her look up to match her prosthetic leg. And Tai was really cool, a 17-year-old kid who’s just a product of this generation that is already embracing diversity and leaning into what’s different. He was so confident and already stylish and interested in fashion and potentially modelling, but he’s got calluses on his hands from wheeling his chair and wanted to find good-looking gloves and also pants that are appropriate for seated body types. The rise needs to be different, and you need a seam in the back that isn’t irritating when you’re sitting all day. And then there’s Marya, a powerchair user who also has dexterity issues. So [we needed to find] tools to help her apply her own makeup, because she loves makeup but doesn’t want her mom to have to do it for her all the time. Giving her a little bit of independence for that is really exciting.
What do you hope viewers will get out of Fashion Dis? AS: I think there will be two categories of viewers. For the disability community, I want that audience to feel elevated and celebrated and cool and beautiful. I also want them to be aware of the kinds of brands and innovations that are being designed specifically with them in mind. For the rest of the world, I think it’s an opportunity to get to know some people with disabilities. Globally, I think we don’t do well by disabled people. So many of our spaces are so inaccessible and there are so many systemic problems. I mean, nobody wants to make a show that’s calling out all the shitty ways we treat people with a disability, but I think when you get to know people with disabilities and you start to care about them, that’s when you want to do better by them. I think this show is an invitation to get to know some of the cool kids with disabilities and care about them. It’s about normalizing and introducing and thinking about disability in a different way.
Fashion Dis airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on AMI-tv. Episodes can also be streamed on AMI.ca and the AMI-tv app.
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.
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.