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, Sound On Sight and Digital Journal. 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: Showrunner Morwyn Brebner and director Adrienne Mitchell on bringing “real” Jenny Cooper to TV

There’s something a little different about Jenny Cooper (Serinda Swan), the lead character of CBC’s new drama series, Coroner. Like most crime procedural protagonists, Cooper—the creation of British novelist M.R. Hall—is troubled and going through some tough times, most notably, the sudden death of her hard-gambling and secretly destitute husband.

But instead of engaging in Scandinavian thriller-style brooding like fellow book-turned-TV crime-solvers John Cardinal and Kurt Wallander, Cooper simply gets down to business. Yes, she sucks down anti-anxiety pills and suffers the occasional crying spell in her car, but she shakes it off and keeps going, every step forward a tiny act of defiance. Her superpower is just getting up each morning and doing what needs to be done with as much humour and grace as possible—even when that involves investigating gruesome crime scenes. And that makes her feel refreshingly real.

That realness of character was what made series executive producer and lead director Adrienne Mitchell want to adapt Hall’s The Coroner book series into a TV show. It’s also what enticed showrunner Morywn Brebner, who worked with Mitchell on CBC’s Bellevue, to sign on to the series.

“We were really searching for a series of novels that had a strong female lead who was unpredictable, who was authentic, with a sense of humour,” says Mitchell.

Brebner adds, “[Jenny’s] anxiety, and her fearlessness, and humour, and her deep, deep intelligence—which is really beautifully embodied by Serinda—made me feel like there was something about this woman that was like the woman you wanna be. So flawed, but so committed to living her life the way she feels she needs to.”

To get us ready for Monday’s new episode, “Scattered,” which is the first of a two-part instalment, Mitchell and Brebner gave us a call from Toronto to tell us more about what makes Jenny Cooper special and how they went about adapting Coroner for the small screen.

First of all, how did Coroner come about? I know that you two have worked together in the past.
Adrienne Mitchell: At Back Alley [Film Productions], Janis Lundman and I are the principals, and we were really searching for a series of novels that had a strong female lead who was unpredictable, who was authentic, with a sense of humour. And who was placed in a world that had a very strong investigational line but also a very strong character line that sort of dipped in and out of her work and family. We came across the very talented M.R. Hall’s books and were really were struck by the character Jenny Cooper, who just stood out to us on so many levels, being someone who was full of incredible intelligence but also full of her own theories and going about it in ways that will blow up in her face and also doing it in such a way that she was strangely self-aware. It was just such a fun read to explore her character.

And we were so fortunate to work with Morwyn on Bellvue. I got to know her since I was the lead director, and Morwyn’s voice is a really amazing, unique voice, not only in our country but I think in North America. I thought she would be amazing for this. Janis and I were just praying and hoping that she liked the novels.

Morwyn Brebner: I really liked working with Back Alley on Bellvue, and I really wasn’t looking for anything to do, and I certainly wasn’t looking for anything in the sort of crime realm. But then I read the books myself and was really drawn to the character for the reasons that Adrienne was saying and because she seemed like a real woman to me. Her anxiety and her fearlessness and humour and her deep, deep intelligence—which is really beautifully embodied by Serinda—it made me feel like there was something about this woman that was like the woman you wanna be. So flawed, but so committed to living her life the way she feels she needs to. It’s a really beautiful quality in a woman. She’s not afraid of things. She’s drawn to do the things she needs to do, and it’s really amazing.

One thing I particularly enjoy about the series is just what you said, that Jenny feels real. Unlike a lot of characters in crime procedurals, she doesn’t have any super abilities and she isn’t mopey. While she has anxiety and other issues, she is getting out of bed and showing up every day, choosing to be present. Just like a lot of women I know. 
AM: What you’ve just said there is the best thing and is a cornerstone of this series. She gets up after getting beaten up, and she just keeps getting up. She’ll have an anxiety attack, she’ll wrap her Ativan in wrapping paper during inquests and then pop the pill. She’s got this incredible fight in her and just keeps going. Morwyn and I have talked about this, and we love that she doesn’t dwell and wallow.

MB: For me, what’s really interesting is that a lot of the ways we deal with women who are complex in shows, is we re-traumatize them. That becomes their narrative, exploring the character through re-traumatization, which isn’t quite something that we do with male characters. What I love about Jenny is that that’s not actually her arc. It’s a going through and it’s a moving forward. We used to talk about the quality of her suddenness, which was that she would just do things. And that action and forward living is really exciting to see in a female character. I really love her because she does feel like, as you say, a woman you would know.

I also appreciate the way you deal with Jenny’s grief in the series. It ebbs and flows, recedes and then reappears in new ways. I thought that was an important quality in a series that revolves around death. Is that something you were actively trying to portray?
MB: Her husband doesn’t die in the books, actually. And the impulse to do that, for me, was that I was having trouble fitting the husband into the storyline and then I felt somehow the decision to kill the husband really made the story snap into focus for me. You know, in a Disney movie, you kill the parents so the kids can have an adventure? It was a little like that. And I was trying to figure out how to fully move the show from the books into our world. That was the decision that actually made it happen, and after I did that, I felt that the show really came alive.

AM: Grief is not a linear thing, and we trying to really service that in this series and explore that. Grief comes and goes, and it may trigger something else in your life that’s unresolved, and then that grief merges into something else. So I really tried to explore all the dimensions. Grief is not one thing. It’s active. It can manifest in so many ways. So what you’re seeing is something that we really wanted to work with.

MB: Grief is something that feels within you and lives without you, and that’s the process. You’ll come to see that it’s very integral to the series.

What are some of the other changes you made from the novels?
MB: The relationship with her son, which is beautiful, we’ve altered. M.R. has been very generous about that. The character of Alison [played by Tamara Podemski] is in the book, and we love that character so much, and the character of McAvoy [played by Roger Cross] is in the book, but he’s in one of the books in a different way.

It was really saying, ‘How do we take this beautiful spirit and the beautiful character in these books and make her a really Canadian character, a Toronto character and let her live in a way that feels like she’s really part of our world and really representing for us?’

And how did you go about taking a British story and a British character and making them feel, as you say, “really Canadian”?
MB: That’s a really interesting question. I feel in an adaptation, you try to retain the essence of something, but the specifics of the show are very Canadian. Everything is set very specifically. Everyone speaks specifically.

AM: And all of the cases come from things that have happened in Canada and are inspired by them. The research, the coroner research, the pathologist research, we had consultants who would share things that were happening here in Toronto. We have such a diverse city, which we love, and that’s really reflected in the casting and in the stories. So it just happened kind of organically.

MB: Yeah, I think in order to adapt something, you have to put it into your own perspective and you have to put yourself into it and you have to, you know, have skin in the game. I feel that it was a very organic process, but I do feel like in the end, the transmutation happened while retaining the strength of the source material.

AM: I think our show is a bit more urban, in a bigger city. I think the M.R. Hall version was more English villagey, that small town vibe. So we’re in a much bigger urban environment. One of the biggest changes, too, is that our place of work is quite a big institution. It’s a state-of-the-art facility.

MB: Our coroner’s office in Toronto is the most advanced facility in North America. In the book, it’s much more sort of ad hoc and dusty, and it has a real charm, but it’s very different. We wanted to represent the reality of our situation here. And in the book, she’s a lawyer, because a coroner is a lawyer there, and here, she’s a doctor because that’s the way it is in Ontario.

Adrienne, as the lead director for the show, what sort of look did you want to bring to the series?
AM: I think the juxtapositions in Toronto are fascinating. The city is growing exponentially. There are so many condos and buildings being built. So, one of the things we were looking at visually was the contrast of that versus nature being moved out, people being moved out, the tension of living in that type of environment, where there is constant change and people being squeezed out. Visually, I don’t think Parkdale gets featured a lot in any of the Toronto shows I’ve seen. Parkdale, where there’s so much gentrification going on, where’s there are so many colliding communities.

It’s also very important for us to have geography, locations that inform [Jenny] as the coroner. The coroner is all about looking at the world and how bad shit happens. It’s not so much about her perspective and not so much about convicting a criminal. It’s, ‘How do I prevent this from happening again?’ And, in that way, we need to see the environment of where the death occurred and visually from her perspective, what that looks like.  We also wanted to visually explore something about her personal relationship with death, and we love these moments when she has a little prayer that she says to the dead, and we’re working with all sorts of interesting lenses to really establish her personal connection to the dead and that they’re not just a body, that there is something there, that she has to try to find the truth in the situation to sort of give them peace.

This week’s episode is the kick-off of a two-parter. What hints can you give us about it, and why did this particular story require two parts?.
AM: It needs two parts because it takes Jenny into a really personal relationship with a character whose life is going to be greatly endangered if she doesn’t get to the root of the problem.

MB: And it leads Jenny to make a decision that has strong, strong implications for the rest of the season. These two episodes are just so exciting.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Coroner: Éric Bruneau on Liam’s “demons” and his first English-language role

When the world rang in 2019 a couple of weeks ago, we wouldn’t be surprised if actor Éric Bruneau was a little reluctant to let 2018 go–it was a momentous year for him.

In June, Bruneau and his partner Kim Lévesque-Lizotte welcomed their first child, a baby girl. In addition, the Quebec native was cast in his first English-language TV series, landing the role of enigmatic handyman Liam Bouchard opposite Serinda Swan’s Jenny Cooper in the new Morwyn Brebner-created CBC crime drama, Coroner.

Bruneau, who already has an absolutely bustling TV, film, and theatre career in Montreal, says he wasn’t actively trying to score English-speaking roles, but Coroner executive producer and lead director Adrienne Mitchell saw his work on another project and asked him to submit a self-tape. Soon, he was shooting in Toronto.

In last week’s series premiere, viewers learned that Liam is a military veteran who feels an instant connection to Jenny. But Bruneau said there’s much more to come for his character.

“He’s a little bit cocky, but he’s fun sometimes and he’s romantic,” he says. “I hope people are going to get into his journey in the show. He’s a great guy. I know he’s mysterious, but they’re going to learn to love him, I hope.”

To get us ready for Monday’s new episode, “Bunny,” Bruneau–whose other credits include films Laurence Anyways and The Reign of Beauty as well as TV series Blue Moon, Le Jeu and Trop–recently phoned us to tell us more about Liam and his first experience working in English.

I understand that Coroner is your first English-language TV series. Were you looking to break into more English roles?
Éric Bruneau: I’m not on a mission for playing in English. I really appreciate the experience and I’d like to do it again, but it always depends on the project. In Montreal, I’m working a lot in French. So it’s more about the director and the character and the stories and the experience. But yeah, I’d like to work again in English if the project and the character are great. But now I have a baby, and to be moving your family, the project needs to be good.

Did you find any challenges to working in English?
EB: Well, I worked with a dialect coach, so I had a little bit of the accenting on my mind, but at some point, you just need to hit your mark and be attentive as much as possible and be with the other actors. There was not that much of a difference. What I really appreciate and what I like is that nobody knew my work, so it was like when I finished my film theatre school. I was green and with new people and acting with new actors. I really love that because I’m working a lot in Montreal, so being with new directors and new actors and new producers, it’s good. Artistically, it was great. It was challenging.

Let’s talk about your character, Liam Bouchard. He’s a bit mysterious in the first episode. All we really know is that he’s a Canadian Army vet and he has a strong attraction to Jenny. What else will we find out about him?
EB:  He has a dark side. He has something that he’s trying to avoid. So when he connects with Jenny, he sees something in her. When we were building the character with Adrienne, I met some veteran people who were like Navy SEALs but in Canada to prepare for the role, and I met this guy who told me, ‘My nightmares are worse than yours.’ He’s a sniper. And I thought, OK, this is going to be the key for my character. It’s a thing where he’s having post-traumatic episodes. So we tried to build something around what he saw when he was over there, and how he felt when he was in Afghanistan. We’re going to see how he’s going to deal with his own demons as we see the series.

I like the scene in Episode 1, where Liam and Jenny compare their physical scars. I thought it was an interesting way of echoing their inner trauma. 
EB: Totally. Because it’s fast with them. They both see in each other that they have to deal with some ghosts. This is where they connect.

What about Coroner sets it apart from other shows?
EB: Well, first of all, it’s Serinda’s show, and I hope people are going to love what she’s doing with the character. And what Roger [Cross] did, too, because I think they have a great relationship. After that, it’s always about human beings. In the trailer, it says, ‘Every body has a story,’ but everybody has demons. So I love the dark things about the characters, actually.

I really like the darker, psychological aspects of the show.
Yeah, it’s about these people spending every day with dead people and trying to be…alive. There’s something in them that responds to being in their day-to-day job, being with dead people, trying to find out what’s happening, and trying to stay alive. So, for me, it was beautiful to see these characters fighting for themselves.

You’re also in a great French-language comedy called Trop, which has been renewed for a third season. Have you started filming yet?
EB: No, we’re filming in two months.

Can you say anything about what’s coming up for your character, Marc-Antoine, in the new season? 
EB: I can’t say anything yet, but we can talk about it in a couple months if you want! [Laughs.]

We’re chatting during the first week of 2019. Did you make any big New Year’s resolutions? 
EB: Be the best of me, that’s my resolution. Because, sometimes, you get tired and you accept being a little less. But since having my kid, I’m like, no, no, I need to be the best of me always. For her, with her.

Coroner airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Burden of Truth: Kristin Kreuk and Peter Mooney preview “dangerous” Season 2

The first season of CBC’s Burden of Truth was a pleasant surprise. At first glance, the series—with its vague title and legal theme—had the unfortunate outer markings of a bland procedural, a sort of brown paper bag among more colourful “Peak TV” offerings.

But in a wonderful sidestep, the series eschewed a plot-focused case-of-the-week format in favour of a single, serialized case that took its time and built its characters. Moreover, its environmental storyline involving big-time corporate lawyer Joanna Hanley (Kristin Kreuk) and a mysterious illness affecting high school girls in her hometown of Millwood, Manitoba, exonerated its seemingly punchless title. As the suffering of the girls became impossible to ignore, the weight of Joanna’s conscience—which her lawyer-boss father David Hanley (Alex Carter) proudly proclaimed she didn’t have—became heavier and heavier. This moral awakening led her to defect from her dad’s big-city law firm and help small-town lawyer Billy Crawford (Peter Mooney) investigate the cause of the girls’ illness. It also led her to discover that her father once preyed upon an underage girl, resulting in the birth of her sister Luna (Star Slade). This helped her to win the case but forced her to change her name.

The burden of truth, indeed.

In the show’s Season 2 premiere, which airs Wednesday at 8 p.m. on CBC, that burden still looms large. Now working at a high-pressure corporate law firm in Winnipeg and using the last name “Chang,” Joanna is trying to distance herself from both her father’s shadow and the Millwood case. However, the events of Season 1 won’t be easy to shake off.

“I think Brad Simpson, who created the show, really wanted to be sure that we stayed with the lives of these people and to really instill that these cases don’t just end and that’s it,” Kreuk explains during a phone interview from Toronto. “There’s a lot of complexity and also a lot of horrible things happened, so they have to deal with the balance of that.”

For Joanna, that means having to deal with Millwood-related aftershocks—be they in the form of a visit from her estranged father or in the form of an unwanted Case of the Year award—while she is struggling to rein in her difficult new client, a hacker-turned-political activist (Varun Saranga). For the people of Millwood, that means finding a way to rebuild their lives after the closure of Matheson Steel, the source of the environmental contamination that made the girls ill.

While the series is admirably willing to delve into the aftermath of Season 1, Mooney assures viewers that there are plenty of fresh storylines and threats lurking about in Season 2.

“I think the danger in the second season is so much more immediate,” he says. “The onus in the first season was chipping away at these girls’ lives in a really tragic way, and this season is just as dangerous. But that danger is not a future danger, but a danger that’s present and right there in every day of the season.”

One major source of danger is Joanna’s new case, which involves hacktivists, shadowy corporations and Internet privacy.

“When the hacktivist stuff happens, it’s hard for her,” Kreuk says. “Not just because she doesn’t understand the Internet and she doesn’t understand privacy, but because she’s dealing with young people who are really emotional and really intense, and that’s really tough for her. I think, practically, that puts her into a space where her life is on the line and so are the lives of her clients.”

To make matters worse, the case forces Joanna to confront parts of her personality she would rather keep hidden.

“When people attack Joanna’s privacy, it starts to get into emotional profiling and the darkest parts of your psychodynamics that you don’t want to look at and you don’t want anyone else to see,” Kreuk says.

Meanwhile, back in Millwood, Matheson Steel victims Molly (Sara Thompson) and Taylor (Anwen O’Driscoll) are trying to physically and emotionally heal after their ordeal, while Luna remains troubled by the crime David Hanley committed against her mother (Jessica Matten). The town is also reeling from the closure of the mill—an event that is driving up unemployment and increasing tensions. This causes Billy to retreat to the outskirts of town, but his tranquil existence is interrupted when his impulsive younger brother (Andrew Chown) suddenly turns up.

“Billy got away pretty clear in Season 1,” Mooney says. “Anything from his past that he’d rather have avoided, he was able to avoid in that season. But in Season 2, it comes crashing back into his life and we meet his brother Shane, who brings us back into his history, and it’s tricky history. There’s a lot going on. We see a lot of different sides of Billy beyond the side that he usually puts forward.”

If all of this sounds like a Season 1-style slow-burn instead of the “immediate” danger Mooney spoke of, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. There is an early-season twist that turns everything on its head, and Kreuk says the fallout will challenge viewers and push them to “think about their place in Canada, or in the world, in a more nuanced way.”

Mooney concurs, adding, “We tell a really difficult story this season, and I think it’s really well told. I’m really proud of it.”

Burden of Truth airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco: Showrunner Michael MacLennan on the finale, how the show is a “hidden sequel” to Bomb Girls, and the chances of Season 2

The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco is all about second chances. The codebreakers in the show get a second shot at using their smarts after post-Second World War society tosses them aside. And the series itself is living a second life, recovered from a scrapheap in the UK and relocated to North America for a fresh round of episodes. But the series also represents an unexpected second chance for showrunner and executive producer Michael MacLennan.

Back in 2013, Bomb Girls, the beloved war drama that MacLennan co-created with Adrienne Mitchell, was abruptly cancelled by Global TV and Shaw Media after its second season. The move touched off a passionate campaign by fans to save the show, but all that came of that was a TV-movie that was, according to MacLennan, “shaping up to be horrible.” So he left the project and went through what he describes as a “very difficult time.”

“I was really just questioning,” he says. “I think I was disappointed because I loved the show. I loved working with all the people I had, but I also felt like I had so much more story to tell.”

There was just a sense of injustice to the situation. “That show never should have been cancelled,” he says. “And it was.”

However, as the entertainment industry mantra goes, the show must go on—even if it’s a different show. So MacLennan picked himself up and went on to write and produce for a string of other successful TV series, including Bitten, The Fosters and This Life, thinking he’d forever left behind all those untold Bomb Girls stories.

But then came The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco. The series was a spin-off to a British show that had also been prematurely scrapped after its second season, and it was in need of an experienced showrunner to guide its production in Vancouver.

“I think they thought of me because of Bomb Girls,” MacLennan explains. “And rather than feeling like I was retreading old tricks, it was exciting to me to think that I might return to that well and continue exploring some things and characters and ideas that I had been prevented from doing.”

Bletchley ended its first season tonight with “In for a Pound,” written by MacLennan and Laura Good. In the final hour, Millie (Rachael Stirling), Iris (Crystal Balint), and Hailey (Chanelle Peloso) worked together to save Jean (Julie Graham) from Russian agents and to recover Iris’ prototype codebreaking machine from a former cryptologist turned Russian spy. The episode also included some intriguing threads to be explored in a potential Season 2, such as the government mole who tipped off the Russians about the prototype and Hailey’s poignant confession of love for Jean.

We asked MacLennan—who won the 2018 Writers Guild of Canada Showrunner Award—to help us unpack some of the events in tonight’s finale, tell us more about the connections between BC: SF and Bomb Girls, and let us know how things are looking for a second season. 

When I first learned you were going to be showrunning The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, I thought that was really interesting because of your connection to Bomb Girls. Bomb Girls explored the lives of women during the war effort, while Bletchley deals with the flip side, with the way women were tossed aside afterwards. Was that something you wanted to explore?
Michael MacLennan: Yes, you’re onto something big there. Thematically, there’s the idea of these women who are underappreciated, underestimated, in a kind of hidden in plain sight sort of situation. And that they are both trying to do good in the wider world. One you could say is trying to fight Hitler, and one is trying to find justice for the victims of these crimes, but the parallel strand is that they are looking to empower themselves. So when I came to the project, I said that I wanted to emphasize those themes.

For me, the project needed three things that were different from what I had seen in the original series: more diversity, more character, and more of a total variety. And [Omnifilm Entertainment and World Productions] were all for that. So it was in the character that I kind of amplified those themes that were still of interest to me, and I felt that now I had another vehicle to kind of tell those stories. And it’s [set] 10 years later, but a lot of the research was very similar. It’s similar terrain in terms of the sort of proto-feminism movement and the ways that women were carving out futures for themselves. It was really quite similar, and I just wanted to continue to tell that.

So, in a way, it is a hidden sequel to Bomb Girls.

How did you go about planning your mystery blocks for the season?
MM: It was a lot of things. We wanted a range of worlds. It was almost like a graph or a cryptographic puzzle in itself. We wanted different communities, we wanted different feelings for the audience, so that, for example, in the first block, we had sort of an inner city, downtown vibe, the second is a suburban kind of feel, and the fourth being a little bit more an international vibe to it. And, of course, we could only do four, so we had tons of other ideas that we just couldn’t get to in the first season.

The other thing that I thought about was who was the final über-villain of sorts. And when you’re doing a two-hour mystery, you need a lot of layers to the onion to pull back. So it was like we didn’t want all of the bad guys to be men, for example, and we didn’t want all the victims to be women.

The other thing I thought about was in each block, who carried the heart of it. And with four lead characters and four mysteries, I traded them out. The first one was Millie, the second was Iris and her marriage, the third was Hailey, and the fourth was Jean. So there was kind of a trading of who has skin in the game. And this is part of the value of a short season, is that before we started shooting, we had written the first six and outlined the last two, so we were able to have a bird’s eye view of the whole season before we started filming. And I think that that made for a better show.

When I spoke with Rachael Stirling and Julie Graham, they both emphasized how much they enjoyed the collaborative relationship they had with you. Was that sort of working arrangement at all unusual for you?
MM: I would say yes and no. It is not unusual in that I always have an open door policy with actors. Every actor who comes on one of my shows, whether a day player or a lead, I phone them and welcome them to the show. I talk to them specifically about why they got the job, and I let them know that I’m there to answer any questions that they might have and be of assistance to them. Partly, it’s because I come from a theatre background and, unlike a lot of writers, I’m not afraid of actors. I respect them. I think part of what I love about my job is watching actors do their thing, whether it’s in editing or on sets or in facilitating their creative process in advance of their performance. But it also helps me to make sure that on the day, as we say, when we’re filming, we’ve talked about it in advance. I have to be honest, it makes more work for me. However, for a lot of actors, it’s not part of their process to really engage too much on that, but for some it really is, and I have to be willing to engage on that. It makes the work better. So that’s the part that is not unusual.

I think the part that is a bit additional, and therefore a little unusual was that I was very upfront with Julie and Rachael. I’ve lived in England, I’ve written other British characters. I was nominated for a Governor General’s Award—which is Canada’s Pulitzer—for a play in which almost all the characters were British. But I’m not British. So if there’s anything in this that doesn’t feel real, if I’m not writing the dialogue right, if there is a different phrase you might use, I want to hear it. Because the worst thing would be for an audience back in the UK to feel like, ‘Eeew, we don’t talk like that.’ So I really, on top of my normal open door policy, I was really wanting their input on the characters and, specifically, the dialogue of their characters to make sure it read true. And I think it was unusual for them to have that level of openness. They said that normally when they make a British show, and certainly it was the case with the Bletchley shows, the writer is not ever on set. They never meet the writer. So it’s a very different way of making television.

I have to say that Hailey’s storyline was one of my favourites this season. There was just something so touching about her trying to figure herself out.
MM: Hailey is obviously a descendant of Betty [Ali Liebert, Bomb Girls] in terms of archetypes. It’s a different story, she’s a different person, but there’s similar life experience, a similar hidden [element].

I didn’t want there to be a big coming out moment. Partially because there wasn’t the language. There’s actually an anachronism in the third block, and it’s the word ‘homosexual.’ It didn’t exist yet. And it’s hard for us to get our heads around that. They called themselves ‘homophiles,’ and there’s another time when we use that word. But the point being that language is such a powerful component of our identity, and when you don’t have language, you don’t have a toe-hold to climb the mountain of your identity. So it’s consciously cryptic, but she doesn’t have to do a lot of heavy lifting because the person closest to her, a sort of parent to her in the shape of Iris, already knows.

I appreciated that Hailey’s struggle was with language and not necessarily with coming out, something that was also reflected in that lovely scene with Jean in the finale. 
MM: The ending between Jean and Hailey, where Jean’s response is very cryptic. It needs to be unpacked a bit more in the second season. But the essential dialogue was, ‘You know I love you,’ and then Jean says something like, ‘I do.’ But there’s a big pause there, and she’s managing a lot of emotions and so forth. That was a real direct answer to me of a different conversation at a different bar where a different piece of music was being played that was disastrous. And I’m thinking of Bomb Girls, where Betty kind of made a move on Kate [Charlotte Hegele], and that went so terribly wrong. Hailey has had the benefit of a bit more time, and I think maybe handled things a bit better than Betty did, but we as a culture and as a society have had the benefit of a bit more time with the war and the benefit of 12 more years. So much has happened.

There’s a big line of thinking that feminism would not have been able to take hold if not for the war. Even though it happened, arguably, a generation later, the seeds of it were planted in the war. But before the war, on both sides of the Atlantic, women did not have the opportunity to socialize beyond a very narrowly prescribed circle. And so, suddenly, women from different classes and different parts of the country, and—whether its England or the United States or Canada—people were sharing their stories, they were talking to each other, and in so doing, a tremendous, tremendous power was built up. I think that what we saw at the end of Episode 8 was a kind of result of two women who had gone through the war, had learned a lot, had come to know each other through the previous eight episodes, and so that that kind of coming out didn’t need to be experienced as a crisis.

Please tell me there are plans for a second season?
MM: Yes, but this is where I feel I return to the awful times of Bomb Girls after its second season. But the reviews have been respectable, and the ratings have been very good. For BritBox [in the U.S.], it has been a very good call for them to have made this their first series.

We’ve been asked to put together some ideas about what we would do for a second season, so I’ve put together six good ideas that we can choose from. Hopefully, we’ll know soon. I’m on tenterhooks. Certainly, all the actors want to come back. It was a really fine time. It was really the best professional experience of my career so far.

Images courtesy of Omnifilm Entertainment.

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The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco: Writer Laura Good on the spin-off’s origin story and the Season 1 finale

When The Bletchley Circle was cancelled in 2014, millions of viewers were heartbroken. Not only did the series provide a fresh twist on the British mystery genre by focusing on four sleuthing women in the 1950s, but it also unearthed the fascinating history of female codebreakers during the Second World War. Its premature demise seemed like a wasted opportunity.

Writer Laura Good was one of the viewers disappointed by Bletchley‘s end. However, unlike most fans, she was in a position to do something about it. As then-script development manager for Omnifilm Entertainment, she saw a lot of untapped potential in the show’s concept and pitched the idea of a series spin-off set in North America. Her idea led to the creation of The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco, which will broadcast its Season 1 finale, “In for a Pound,” written by Good and showrunner Michael MacLennan, on Citytv Friday night at 8 p.m. ET.

To help prepare us for the big night, we asked Good—whose other credits include CBC’s Burden of Truth and the upcoming Citytv series The Murders—to tell us more about BC:SF‘s origin story and to give viewers a few hints about the “ambitious” finale.

First, can you explain a little bit about what a script development manager does for a production company?
Laura Good: It differs from company to company, but in my work with Omni it meant endlessly pitching series ideas to the development team, writing short pitch packages to hopefully woo a writer into taking over the project, reading books and scripts and recommending them to the team, and supporting writers and showrunners to develop pitches, bibles, and scripts all the way through funded development with broadcasters.

I was so excited to learn that The Bletchley Circle was getting a spin-off. What was it about the original show that made you want to resurrect it? 
LG: When I first saw The Bletchley Circle, it got me thinking: if thousands of women had played such a vital role in WWII and yet we’d never heard of them until the Official Secrets Act was lifted, is it possible that the same thing was happening over here as well—that women were cracking codes in the U.S. and Canada—and we just don’t know about it yet? I dug into the history of WWII codebreaking and found evidence that women had contributed to key codebreaking achievements during WWII, but their stories had been lost due to the secrecy of the war effort. At the time that we started developing the show, all that we knew of these stories were footnotes, whispers, and a small handful of notable codebreakers, but I thought, ‘Even if there were only three women breaking code during the war, that’s enough for a TV show.’ Eventually, more research would come out and I discovered that over 10,000 women were, in fact, part of the Signal Intelligence Service during in America during that time, and I have to admit, I felt pretty vindicated for my leap of faith.

From a producing standpoint, the spinoff made so much sense—taking a beloved show and transplanting it west of the Atlantic to bring a new side of the conflict to light that we really hadn’t explored yet on this side of the pond. I was intrigued by these stories and felt like the world should know about these women, whose work shaped Allied victory and, as a result, the Western world we all live in today.

When working on the treatment, did you always plan to transplant some original Bletchley characters to San Francisco? How did you decide on Millie (Rachael Stirling) and Jean (Julie Graham)?
LG: We always hoped to bring over some of the original characters in order to honour the roots of the show and the viewers who were already in love with the series. It was established in the first series that Millie travelled the world after the war, so the runway had already been paved for this kind of crossover. Millie and Jean had a deep friendship and history on screen, as do Rachael and Julie, so it felt like a natural progression for the story and the characters. At every juncture, we tried to really serve the story and make the most authentic decisions, building off of what had been established by [writers] Guy Burt and Jake Lushington in the first series.

The first table read, hearing Rachael and Julie reading their first lines—it felt like magic.

Was it at all difficult to sell World Productions, who made the original show, on reviving the series in a new location? 
Working with World Productions was a dream from the word go. I had prepared two versions of the show to pitch them on our first call, and I only got through the first pitch before they were sold. They sent over outlines they had developed for future episodes of the original series, and we married them into what became the series pitch document that helped sell the show. Jake has excellent instincts and had a significant hand in shaping the San Francisco series from beginning to end—and always with enthusiasm and style.

The characters in the spin-off are a bit more diverse in terms of race and sexual orientation. Was that a stated goal from the outset?
LG: This was something that the Omnifilm team decided early on that we wanted to bring to the story. We knew there were some important stories that needed to be featured in a North American perspective of WWII codebreaking. Black women were doing incredible work as mathematicians at the time, helping to turn the tide in the war, and leaving an indelible mark on science and computing.

We also found records of the incredibly complex situation that Nisei codebreakers found themselves in as the few remaining Japanese-Americans on the west coast, breaking code for the Americans, against the Japanese fleet, while their families were interned by the very country they were fighting for. It’s worth stopping here to really think about the significance of that experience for a moment. We felt that if we were painting a picture of the United States and Canada at the time, this story had to be included.

The queer element dovetails with some interesting history in codebreaking—there were few disqualifying factors for women in signal intelligence, but being outed as a lesbian was one of them.

I think everyone on the creative team was excited to get to add new stories and perspectives in the San Francisco series, but these are also very realistic, relevant representations of who was there, doing the work, at the time that American women were cracking codes in the west, and so I don’t know how you tell this story without these characters. It was a very organic process and a stated intention from the beginning.

Can you give readers a preview of what they can expect in the last episode? Last we saw, poor Jean had been abducted by the Soviets. Is everything going to get wrapped up or will there be threads left over for another season?
LG: Episode 8 sees the women coming together and using each of their skills in concert in a way that we haven’t seen before. It’s the most ambitious episode yet, and it’s hard to say much more without spoiling, but suffice to say lives will be forever altered, characters will change in ways that they can’t take back, and I think there’s room for new bonds to be made and even broken between characters in the future.

What about The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco makes you most proud?
LG: Two things. One is the way the cast and crew really put their hearts into the show. It was an ambitious and challenging project to bring to life, but over and over, I saw people really showing up in a big way for each other, and they were passionate about telling these stories. I had an incredible time working with people who were proud of their work, who loved what they were doing, and who put that love into the show.

The other thing that stands out for me was a moment while we were filming block three, [Episode 5, “Not Cricket,” and Episode 6, “Iron in War”]. I was sitting behind the monitor when a set dresser walked up to me and whispered, ‘Is Hailey my people?’ I looked at her and knew she was queer, and it made me immensely proud to say, ‘Yeah girl. She’s canon now.’ I feel that way about all the characters on the show. That’s the nature of The Bletchley Circle, that some people will be able to watch it and feel seen in a way that maybe doesn’t happen as often as they’d like. But here is a place they can.

The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco airs Fridays at 8 p.m. ET on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Omnifilm Entertainment.

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