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.

This Life writer Alison Lea Bingeman breaks down “Perfect Day”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 202, “Perfect Day.”   

Would you live your life differently if you knew you were running out of time? That’s one of the overarching themes of CBC family drama This Life, and it was a major focus of this week’s episode, “Perfect Day,” written by Alison Lea Bingeman.

“For me, what was so fun about writing the episode was asking, ‘How do we have fun when we allow ourselves to go out and kind of unwind a little bit?'” says Bingeman.

“Perfect Day” follows Natalie as she embarks on a day-long adventure with her friend Tia, who is also battling cancer. It also features big twists for Maggie, who shocks her family by announcing her marriage to Raza, and Matthew, who has a confrontation with David that forces him to face some uncomfortable truths about himself.

As part of our continuing series of interviews with This Life writers, Bingeman—whose other TV credits include Bomb Girls and 19-2—joins us via phone from Los Angeles to tell us more about the episode.

What themes did you want to explore when writing “Perfect Day”?
Alison Lea Bingeman: I think that what is really, for me, the foundation of the show is ‘What do you do with your life when you know your time could be limited?’ I think the theme of the first part of the season in particular is ‘How do we live with hope and live life to its fullest?’ and the idea of don’t put off to tomorrow what you should do today.  I think that’s really what Natalie is about. And certainly that’s the theme of Episode 2.

We’re all so concerned about getting stuff done and doing the right things and being the right person, but what about just going out and kind of unleashing a little bit? That’s what I really, really enjoyed about writing this episode, was [Natalie and Tia] being out there on those paddle boards on the water.

Was the biker’s funeral as much fun to write as it was to watch? 
I had so much fun. I actually pitched it, and everybody was like, ‘Yeah!’ We had a total gas with it.

A big moment in the episode was Maggie’s announcement that she and Raza got married. How did the writers decide that move made the most sense for her? 
That answer is twofold. One is that Maggie is a very spontaneous woman and she kind of dives in head first. She saw a situation where she lost the rent from her brother, and she had to give up her apartment, and then the situation with Raza came up and she was like ‘Why don’t we kill two birds with one stone?’ That’s the outward reason, but the reason beneath that—that maybe she’s not even aware of when she does it—is she has a longing for a certain love and affection. She kind of wants to have a husband and have a family, and this is sort of her version of being conventional . . . So it’s really sort of a deep need and deep impulse that she’s acting out on in a backhanded way.

This Life 202

What will Maggie’s decision to marry Raza mean for her the rest of the season?
I think the flip decision she made is going to come back and she’s going to have to face it on some level. There will be unintended consequences for her, let’s put it that way. Not that she’s going to get punished for this, but she will eventually come to see, ‘Oh, OK. That’s what I did, that’s what this means. I had no idea.’

Matthew and David had some very revealing scenes in this episode. Tell me about their confrontation. 
I think that Matthew is angry because he’s getting rejected, and he’s living with the consequences of his actions, with his affair. And really in the simplest terms, when he comes to give David a piece of his mind, in a way he’s giving it to himself. But it flips on him because David isn’t going to just stand up to him and be the bad guy. He’s like ‘Come on in, have a drink. This must be hard.’ And David turns out to be a real human being. But Matthew can’t sustain that with him, he’s locked down. That’s why the dustup happens at the end of that scene.

What we were looking for in that exchange was that Matthew goes back to a place of unacceptance of David and, therefore, of himself. He’s really tied up with self-judgment, but he can’t do it himself, he can only do it through David. That’s why that scene was so important, and that’s why it was so lovely to write.

After seeing David, Matthew told Nicole he wants to fight for their marriage. Is this a turning point for him? 
He’s in lockdown, but in a way he’s able to see by looking at his sister’s relationship—and what David was in that relationship—he doesn’t want to be that guy. That makes him go on his knees with Nicole, and it makes him realize how much he wants this marriage. And he wants to be forgiven—even though he can’t forgive himself.

But can Nicole forgive him? 
I think he’s going to have to go through a few more hoops.

Romy wants to live with Oliver when her mother dies, and Oliver was considering it until Maggie—of all people—told him he may not be up to such a big responsibility. Is that the end of the matter? 
All of our characters kind of come to realizations, and then they sort of fade back again from it, because it is may be a difficult realization. With Oliver, he wants to see himself as heroic, like the great uncle for Romy, and that sense that he can’t be that for her is going to be difficult. But it’s not over, that’s all I can tell you. It’s not over.

The last scene of Natalie watching family videos of David and the kids was very poignant. What do you think was going through her head at that moment? 
I think when we end relationships, to get through them, we make the other guy the bad guy. She saw at that moment that there was real affection, there was real love. And it’s a real bittersweet moment for her.

Do you have a particular character you feel you write or understand better than the others?
I love Natalie. I’m a mom and I’ve raised two boys who are similar in age to Caleb, so I really relate to her. But I would also say that I relate a lot to Maggie, because I was a rebellious young woman, so I totally get who she is and where she comes from and why she does the things that she does. And I love David. I actually love them all.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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This Life’s “Perfect Day” brings adventure … and surprises

Natalie may have started experiencing side effects from her cancer drug in This Life‘s Season 2 premiere, but she’s feeling energetic enough for an adventurous day out in Sunday’s new episode, “Perfect Day.” Meanwhile, Maggie gathers the family for a housewarming party that takes a surprising turn, and Matthew’s plans to take Abby out for the day hit a snag.

Here’s a sneak peek of what’s coming.

Natalie and her friend, Tia, put the “fun” in funeral
Don’t ask. Just enjoy.

Maggie is full of surprises
Last week, Maggie moved into Raza’s apartment to save money. However, her housewarming party is not quite what her family expected—especially her mother.

Emma’s encounter with David puts Matthew on the warpath
David tries to win over Emma, angering Matthew and setting up a confrontation where big truths are revealed. Tip of the cap to Rick Roberts and Louis Ferreira for their nuanced portrayals of two men on the outside of their families looking for a way back in.

Romy follows up with Oliver
Romy continues to make plans for her future without Natalie, but can Oliver step up the way she wants? This Life showrunner Joseph Kay teased that Oliver would have a bigger storyline in Season 2. Let’s hope it involves a lot of uncle-niece bonding with Romy, because Kristopher Turner and Julia Scarlett Dan are consistently great in their scenes together.

The cat Natalie found is sticking around
And he gets a name.

Kudos to This Life‘s focus on Montreal musicians
This Life‘s music is a series highlight. Not only is Monogrenade’s “Ce soir” perfectly placed in this episode, but it’s landed on the top of my Spotify playlist. Great work by music supervisor Delphine Measroch, Joseph Kay, et al.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

Image courtesy of CBC.

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This Life’s Lauren Lee Smith previews Maggie’s “Crazy” Season 2

Maggie Lawson is the free spirit of CBC’s This Life. Immature and impulsive, she frequently frustrates her siblings and parents with her life choices—despite her best intentions. Case in point, when she outed Matthew’s (Rick Roberts) affair to Nicole (Marianne Farley) last season, causing a major brother-sister fallout.

“She wants to help,” Lauren Lee Smith says of her character. “She wants to be the person who comes through for everybody, but things never seem to work out in her favour, which in turn gets the rest of her family pretty upset with her.”

At the end of the Season 2 premiere, Maggie appeared to take a step toward responsibility by moving into an apartment with new friend Raza (Hamza Raq). But Smith says things take a “crazy” turn in this week’s episode, “Perfect Day,” though she can’t be specific.

“It’s so hard not to be able to give more away,” she laughs.

Joining us by phone, Vancouver native Smith—who recently nabbed a Leo Award for This Life—tells us more about Maggie’s new living arrangements, her rift with Matthew and what to expect in coming episodes.

Congratulations on winning the 2016 Leo Award for Best Supporting Performance by a Female in a Dramatic Series for Maggie. 
Thank you. I was very surprised and very excited for that. I just absolutely adore this character and I love working on the show, so to get rewarded for that as well is like, ‘Oh, my God!’ It’s crazy. It’s pretty great.

Maggie and Matthew had a falling out last season after she told Nicole he had an affair.  They were still at odds in the premiere. Are they ever going to make up?
I still stand by Maggie’s choice. I think Maggie was totally in the right for doing what she did and calling out Matthew. I think that he needed to be called out, and I think the truth needed to come out . . . Matthew wasn’t going to do it by himself. He needed Maggie’s push to get the truth out there, but we’re definitely going to see that cross into Season 2. They have not worked things out. When we’re first introduced to Season 2, they are still very much at odds, and the tensions are definitely still high between the two of them. I think they just approach life from two very different corners. And as the season progresses, we sort of see how they work that out, because ultimately the Lawson family is very close.

In the premiere, Maggie is experiencing a money crunch and decides to move in with Raza, a customer she meets at work. How is that going to work out for her?
Maggie is a very crafty person and she does know how to twist things and make things work in her favour when she needs to. So she meets one of her customers and they sort of devise this plan to help him and also in turn make Maggie’s life a little bit easier. And how they go about that is completely irresponsible and crazy and that’s basically what we see in Season 2. It carries throughout the rest of the season, and that’s basically Maggie’s big story point for the duration of the season.

this-life-202-2

So while it looks like a step toward stability for her, it may not be?
Yeah. When we left off in Season 1, Maggie very much still had a lot of growing up to do, and she still has a lot of evolving to do as a grown-up and her choices are still not completely thought through. I think toward the end of Season 2 we maybe start to see a little bit of her realizing that and realizing that she needs to take a good, hard look at herself. But starting with Episode 2 and heading toward the end of the season, it’s a big fumbling Maggie mess. It’s very fun to watch and very fun to portray. There are a lot of firsts for Maggie in Season 2, which are very difficult and heartbreaking and comedic.

Last week, Nicole accused Maggie of not understanding intimacy. Is that going to be a major part of Maggie’s journey this season?
It is. It’s definitely a major indication of what’s to come for Maggie. And there’s a point this season where Maggie realizes, ‘OK, maybe I do need to take a look at my life and my choices and relationships and look at them from a perspective other than just my own.’ And I think that’s a theme for Maggie throughout Season 2, right up until the very end.

How will Natalie react to Maggie’s choices this season?
I think that Maggie and Natalie have a very co-dependent, very strong, very beautiful and honest relationship—well, honest in Maggie’s terms—and I think they really do rely on each other for certain very different things. But it’s difficult sometimes for Natalie to put up with Maggie’s choices. We know everything that Natalie is going through, and she’s dealing with a load, not only with her diagnosis, but with the drug trial, and her three children, and her ex-husband, and the list goes on and on. So I think her exasperation and impatience with Maggie is also very apparent in Season 2—for very good reason!

What else can you tell us about Season 2?
Oh, gosh, there are so many surprises in Season 2, I don’t even know where to begin. I feel like every episode there’s something that the audience is going to be like, ‘Whoa, whoa, what just happened?’ Even me reading the scripts, that’s how I felt.

But I think Episode 209 is probably going to be the most shocking episode yet. That’s kind of all I think I can say at this point. But even reading the script, I had to read it three times and sort of go, ‘Wait, what just happened here?’ . . . I think the audience is going to be in for a very interesting, emotional, fun ride during Season 2.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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This Life showrunner Joseph Kay breaks down the Season 2 premiere

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have watched This Life’s Season 2 premiere, “Stay Positive.”

CBC drama This Life kicked off its second season Sunday night with “Stay Postive,” an episode that delivered equal parts hope and angst. While Natalie (Torri Higginson) was relieved to experience side effects that could indicate she’s receiving the real drug over a placebo in her drug trial, she was also blindsided by a contentious meeting with her ex-husband David (Louis Ferreira) over their children’s future. Meanwhile, Matthew (Rick Roberts) grew closer to his son but struggled with his separation from Nicole (Marianne Farley), and Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith) made living arrangements with her new friend Raza (Hamza Haq)—a move that may or may not bring more stability to her life.

Throughout Season 2, we’ll be chatting with This Life writers about the major themes and plot points of each episode. This week, series showrunner Joseph Kay joins us to break down the premiere—which he penned—and provide some behind-the-scenes insights.

Last season, you were a first-time showrunner. Was your approach any different the second time around? 
Joseph Kay: We were able to play to our strengths more in the second season than we were in the first. I was happy with the first season, too, but you learn what you like and you learn where you think the show really lives, and I was able to focus on that.

And just getting to know the actors is a really big one. We’re on set all the time and we develop relationships with the actors and their characters and that informs the way we wrote the second season in a really big way.

As a showrunner, what kind of environment do you try to create in your writers’ room? 
It’s just really important to me that it’s an unbelievably safe place, that it’s not competitive and that nobody is vying to win anything, that everybody feels totally safe to come up with whatever possibly lame idea—myself included—that they have. It’s a no assholes rule. It should just be a safe place, and I really think it is. It’s a very, very hard show to write because there is plot in the show, but the plot is primarily emotional. So our job is to get into the heads of these people and to know what they’re feeling and to navigate sometimes very slight movements of emotion and make that dramatic, and it’s really hard. So it only works if everybody is having a good time and everybody feels safe to draw from their own lives and experiences. And I have a really great group of writers. I’m really, really lucky.

This Life is filmed in Montreal. What’s it like shooting there as opposed to someplace like Toronto?
Shooting in Montreal is fantastic, it’s a very film-friendly city. Our local crews are incredible. We have a much smaller crew than I’m accustomed to in television compared to shooting in Toronto, but then we get a lot of value. I’m really proud of the look of the show, and I’m really proud of the subtle ways I feel the city works itself into the show.

The show is shot entirely on location, no studios, no sets, and that is a real production challenge. Again, it’s a show about how people feel and we can’t tell it all in Natalie’s house. We have to move around. It just needs that dimension of different parts of the city. We sometimes make four location moves in one day, so we can shoot one scene in a restaurant or one scene in a cafe or wherever, and the crew is amazing and the city is very accommodating to that sort of thing. Although, one thing is that it is a very noisy city!

The Season 1 premiere began with Natalie learning she was dying of cancer, but the Season 2 premiere starts with Natalie ziplining, taking a literal and figurative leap into hopefulness. Was that a purposeful contrast?
Yes. The pilot begins in such a way that it tells you all hope is lost, essentially. I think that’s amazing and so brave and that was really exciting. But it was really important for us to find a way to pivot into hope, and as we were writing the back part of the first season we decided we were going to introduce this idea of a drug trial, and we wanted there to be hope. We never want to, and we never will betray the central conceit of the show. The information that’s introduced to her in that first scene, we’re not backing away from that. But we just loved the idea of framing the season with hope and how you might sometimes talk yourself into having hope, whether it’s realistic or unrealistic.

Natalie’s ex-husband, David, is challenging her custody plans for the kids. How is that going to play out?
Her fight with her husband is real and very important for her. If you look at the first episode of the show, other than the information her doctor gives her, the first thing that we dramatize with Natalie is her sister telling her she hasn’t lived her life well. We bring back the husband to let her examine her own choices in her life, to let her examine that question and make sense of it. We want her to dig deep into who she is and the choices that she’s made and to go on the journey with her. We’re really going on two journeys. We’re going on the health journey and all the inherent stakes that come with that, and we’re also going on this very involved personal journey with Natalie in her life and the choices that she’s made and the person she is and what she wants to change before it’s too late.

So many characters are in flux in this episode. Matthew’s marriage to Nicole is crumbling, Maggie is trying to figure out where to live and Oliver is trying to rebuild. Everyone is looking for a place to land.
I think we always sort of looked at it as, ‘How can we tell the story of an extended family that reflects the reality of the way that our lives are always changing and realigning?’ As soon as we knew what we were doing with Matthew and Nicole, for example, we really loved the notion of taking this marriage and ripping it apart and watching it come back together or continue to fall apart on a really micro level. We don’t race through any of the steps, not with Natalie’s cancer, and we don’t race through the steps with them. It doesn’t go from rage to forgiveness or rage to it’s over and get a new partner for him or for her. I think that’s the way the world works. The thing that you think gives your life permanency isn’t that in five years, and you look back and think ‘How did everything change so much?’

In terms of everybody being in flux, I think this idea of hope hopefully trickles down to all the characters, maybe not literally in every sense but thematically.

This Life David
Can David (Louis Ferreira) be trusted? 

Teens can be tricky to write well, but This Life does a great job placing Natalie’s kids in real and relatable situations. In this episode, I loved that Romy stole one of her mom’s cancer pills for the most Romy of reasons: to examine it in the science lab. What’s the key to writing believable teen characters?
The writers have their own approach to all of those characters and we have our ways to make it feel like it’s really believable. I mean, I think everyone has a special dial-in with Romy for some reason. She’s a really unique girl and we have lots of ideas for her that we don’t do but that we get really excited about and try to really gently land in the places she’d be. We just work really hard to keep her scenarios believable. I think one thing is that we don’t think, ‘What do we want to do with Romy?’ We don’t do that with any of the characters, particularly the kids. We look at it more as ‘What would Romy do in this situation?’ We just really try to follow her, and that’s an easy thing to say, but it’s a hard thing to execute.

What can you tease about upcoming episodes?
Natalie continues to go through the trial, and we try to unpack the relationship she’s had with her husband. Matthew tries to put his marriage back together the best he can, and there’s lots of complications for those two. Oliver plays a much bigger role in the second season than he did in the first. He tries to start his life over again. He came to Montreal to see his sister, but he stays to start his life over. We pay a lot of attention to him and the choices he’s making. And Maggie has an interesting journey.

Yes, she’s got a big episode next week.
Yeah. Without spoiling that, Maggie is introduced as a character with her own very specific set of values, which we think are entirely valid. We never wanted to say that Maggie’s singular values aren’t valid, we think that they are. But we wanted to find ways to mess with her. I’m really excited about her story. She’s managed to get to this point in her life by taking everything lightly, and we wanted to put her in a situation that she ultimately couldn’t take lightly, and I think that works in interesting ways for her.

And Natalie’s kids go on very specific journeys into the world. One of the benefits of framing the season with hope is that we’re allowing them a sort of breath. They’re not walking around all the time thinking that their mother is dying. By opening up hope a little bit we’ve allowed the kids to not have to spend all their time focusing on that and instead react to where their lives are right now and see where that takes them in the world.

I have one last character to ask about. Please tell me the cat Natalie found will be a series regular. He’s cute.
The cat is going to stick around.

I was afraid he may have made outrageous contract demands and we wouldn’t see more of him.
He’s not expensive, but he is time-consuming. When I wrote it I didn’t even think about that. You see dogs a lot on TV, and I know dogs can sit on demand, but I didn’t even think cats could do that, but they can. This one was really good. He jumped into Torri’s arms at the end of the episode totally spontaneously.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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This Life opens Season 2 with hope and conflict

This Life is often compared to Parenthood. It’s an apt association, as both shows blend melancholy and humour in a similarly touching fashion. But it’s also fitting because This Life, which is an adaptation of popular Radio-Canada series Nouvelle adresse, has faced the same uphill battle for ratings that Parenthood and other superb family dramas like Friday Night Nights always seem to face in a crowded TV landscape. It wasn’t a given that CBC would bring the Lawson family back for a second season, but, thankfully, it did.

Hopefully, more viewers will give this gem a chance in Season 2. Based on the first few screeners, we can promise it’s worth your time. Here are a few non-spoilery details about This Life‘s second season premiere, “Stay Positive,” written by showrunner Joseph Kay.

Natalie embraces hope
While the Season 1 premiere began with Natalie receiving devastating news, Season 2 begins in a much more hopeful place as Natalie undergoes a drug trial that could buy her time. But is she receiving the real drug or a placebo?

Can David be trusted?
Natalie’s wayward ex-husband, David, showed up on her doorstep at the end of Season 1, asking to resume his fatherly duties. Expect the tensions between the former couple to immediately escalate as David’s motives remain unclear.

School’s out for the summer
The Lawson kids are on summer break and each of them is dealing with their mother’s illness in very different ways. Look for Caleb to explore his freedom, Emma to ponder her employment options and Romy to make surprising plans for her future.

Matthew and Nicole and Maggie … and Natalie
Maggie told Nicole about Matthew’s affair and son last season, resulting in a broken marriage and a brother-sister blowout. All three parties are still dealing with the fallout as Season 2 begins, and the situation could bleed over into Natalie’s looming custody battle with David.

The ensemble cast is top notch
Beginning with the sublime Torri Higginson and continuing with Rick Roberts, Lauren Lee Smith, Kristopher Turner and throughout, This Life features an immensely likeable cast you look forward to spending time with each week.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

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