Everything about 21 Thunder, eh?

21 Thunder goes to war

Episode 6 of 21 Thunder opened on Monday night with action that set the tone for the next 44 minutes. If I were to describe the episode with one word: angst, and lots of it!

“War” focused on Junior Lolo (Emmanuel Kabongo), Nolan (RJ Fetherstonhaugh) and Lara (Eileen Li). And right off the top these three actors turned out fantastic performances. I was grieving with Junior, I was fearing for Lara and I was just as furious with Declan (Colm Feore) as Nolan was. 21 Thunder just keeps on getting better and better!

Last week, we saw Fatima (Gabrielle Graham) return from her visit with Gregoire, her face covered in bruises. This week we opened with Junior, intent on seeing Gregoire and was immediately attacked by Isaac Boka (Ryan Allen) who we now know was impersonating Gregoire. Junior learned from his brother’s imposter that his brother is dead, supposedly he succumbed to pneumonia—however, a quick look on IMDb shows Gregoire (Kareem Tristan Alleyne) appears for one episode. IF Gregoire is dead, then his identity and his belongings are nothing now, but for Isaac Boka they could be a life saver—but why then if he is in so much danger was his apartment unlocked when Junior arrived? I have to wonder then, who attacked Fatima and Sly (Thamela Mpumlwana) when Junior was playing in Boston? Why start a fire threatening Fatima?  Something still does not add up here.

Lara, charged by Declan to ensure the Thunder makes it to the European tournament, paid Desjardins (Trevor Hayes) his first installment to fix the upcoming road game against Boston. But Desjardin failed to show.  We saw Lara’s fear; Eileen Li’s portrayal made it palpable for viewers. The moment she contemplated pulling the fire alarm, you could sense the knot of dread coiling in her gut. Meanwhile, the effects of Lara’s  game fixing were felt far wider than she herself was aware. John Mangano Jr. (Bruce Ramsay) was seen squeezing Declan for a cut of the profits. As punishment for not ensuring the game’s outcome, Lara had to see to Desjardin’s punishment and she paid a visit to Desjardins accompanied by two of K’s (Kyle Mac) thugs.

Upon the team’s return to Montreal following their victory in Boston, Kevin greeted the team bus, under instruction to take Nolan to his father. This capitulation by Nolan, it seemed, was the last straw for Emma (Clark Backo) and she declared she was done with him. Nolan met with Declan, who then invoked his parental  influence over Nolan, and ordered him to toss the upcoming match against London. Nolan wanted no part of his father, but Declan played his trump card: he still has the video on K’s phone proving Nolan was present when Kevin took down the dealer in a deal gone bad.

Side stories updated this week: Davey Gunn (Ryan Pierce) found himself in serious financial straits due to his salary cut. Because of his injury, Davey was unable to fulfill his contractual obligations. Alex (Andres Joseph) was called up to Utah’s first team which means Nolan has lost an instrument of positive influence from his childhood. Albert (Conrad Pla) upon returning home, found out his wife Renata (Paula Rivera) had left him. Coach Christy Cook (Stephanie Bennett) began to carve a place for herself with the team, earning praise from a stoic Coach Rocas. Finally, Grace Cook, with help from her new friend Davey Gunn, changed her mind and did not enter the rehab facility. Instead, she agreed to fully commit herself to home therapy. I am really loving the interaction between Davey and Grace. Here Davey can be himself and Grace is treated with integrity rather than as an inconvenience.

Things to watch for next week:

  1. Will Nolan be Declan’s inside man on the field, tossing the game against London and his big chance in front of international scouts?
  2. Will we learn who started the fire at Fatima’s apartment?
  3. We are still waiting to see if anyone goes to police about the murder Kevin and Nolan are involved in.
  4. Will Coach Davey Gunn’s serious financial difficulties mean he will be the coach Lara targets to help fix the London match?

As an aside, much has been said about 21 Thunder‘s message of diversity and this episode takes racism head-on. During the match this week we saw Tran (Jonathan Kim) fouled and a Boston player telling the “Gook” to stay down. Following the match, this same player from Boston started a fight in the hallway, tossing more racial slurs at Tran. This was the first time the show overtly tackled racism and it was done seamlessly within the plotlines.

I do have to mention just one minor complaint. Why on earth would Lara be seen around Desjardins’ in her team warm ups? For a bright girl, that is not so bright.

“War” was an outstanding buildup for what I am sure will be explosive action in the final two episodes.

Related: Read our interview with RJ Fetherstonhaugh!

21 Thunder airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

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21 Thunder: RJ Fetherstonhaugh talks Nolan Gallard

On 21 Thunder, RJ Fetherstonhaugh plays Nolan Gallard, a gifted soccer player whose tortured past returns to haunt him. In reality, Fetherstonhaugh is an unabashed animal lover. I caught up with Fetherstonhaugh to talk about his character on CBC’s summer hit 21 Thunder, including some key backstory not shown to viewers.

Since 21 Thunder is based on the team members of an under 21 professional soccer team. Can you tell me a bit about the chemistry in the locker room?
RJ Fetherstonhaugh: Overall it is pretty relaxed and fun. Andres [Alex] wrote a bunch of those chants and stuff. And we would all just hang out, and go about the scenes the way they were written. Sometimes the boys would create, come up with their own ideas as we went along. Overall, the chemistry was really good. We had a lot of fun and it really reminded me a lot of what it was like when I played on on my own team.

How did you get the role of Nolan Gallard?
The role was cast out of Toronto and I was in Vancouver at the time, so I sent in a tape of just dialogue for the first audition. The second round they wanted to see a video of me playing soccer so I sent in a tape of me kicking the ball and juggling and dribbling and all that. Then they flew me out to Montreal and we did the audition. It was fun and pretty unique to anything I had done before, having the lead role. I did the audition in front of about 10 people and I guess they liked it and I got the job.

You mentioned these chants that the team would do for the show. Can you tell me a bit more about how they came to be?
Well, Andres actually wrote them. He would sit in his trailer, and one day he just said, ‘Hey guys, I came up with this idea,’ and he would just teach us. We would sit outside his trailer and rehearse them, and then go in the room and do them. So that was really unique. I grew up playing soccer and we never really had that, so this was a really cool experience.

Getting to shoot in Montreal; what was that like? Was this your first experience in Montreal?
I was there when I was 18 or 19, which was a crazy experience. I went there because my sister was living there, finishing up her schooling, and I stayed with her for a week during the summer. She didn’t have air conditioning in her apartment and I remember how ridiculously hot it was. This time around I didn’t get to see too much of the city but Montreal is such a fun, cultured city.

We lived at Sainte-Laurent/St. Catherines, so it was pretty loud when you have a 5 a.m. call time and partiers were still going at four in the morning, so it was annoying at times. But genuinely I love that city. I would love to go back. I cannot wait for the next time I can go back. The food is great, there are so many great spots. As much as you want to say no to the food you can’t. They know how to cook. If there is good food in a place, then you can be sure I am happy with it.

Your character, Nolan, intersects with several different storylines: the team, Emma, Declan and Kevin. Which storyline is the most challenging for you to play?
Emma [Clark Backo] I think. Working with Clark was incredible and our chemistry was good. But I think because the show was so quick; the scenes were so fast. That was the challenge overall. You also have to remember, Nolan doesn’t speak. Like, no dialogue. There is very … very … very little. People say things to him and he just sits there. I constantly asked the writers, ‘Do you want me to say something?’ and they would reply ‘No, we want you to be quiet.’ Nolan is a just a quiet, solemn kid. So not having a lot of dialogue also made it challenging. Working a scene that is just four lines back and forth and that is it. Or, someone else speaks and you just listen. That was tough.

Working with someone as experienced as Colm Feore, were you able to glean some pointers from him during your time shooting scenes with him?
Watching him and sitting with him, I think seeing how relaxed and comfortable he is on set, being able to create without worry or nerves, I think that is the lesson I will take from Colm. He made the set so fun and so comfortable. He made everyone feel like they were at home. That was a really awesome thing to see.

Finally, there is so much tension building between your character and Kevin/“Special K.” What was that like to create?
I wish we had time to go into the history of those two. I just felt like with the show, because there are so many storylines going on, there was a lot of information that we know that is not there for viewers which is a shame really. We didn’t get to dive into the fact that in the story, when my mother died, and my father was arrested, Kevin took me in. I lived with him. He took care of me. I ran drugs for him. I did things for him but he basically sheltered me and kept me out of foster homes. Then when he went to jail, that is when I was scouted for the soccer academy and I met Emma. Then I moved in moved with Emma and her family. But none of that was talked about.

My thanks to RJ for taking a few moments out of the day. Fans can look forward to seeing him playing Agent Thomas J. Church in The Predator, due out next year.

21 Thunder airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

 

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21 Thunder: Stephanie Bennett scores as Coach Christy Cook

Stephanie Bennett has scored a major role in Canadian primetime television portraying Assistant Coach Christy Cook on CBC’s summer series 21 Thunder. I recently spoke to Bennett over the phone about her character, what it is like behind the scenes of 21 Thunder and a pet project of hers back in Vancouver.

What personal goal did you set for yourself when you agreed to take on the role of Coach Christy Cook?
Stephanie Bennett: Christy is a very powerful character. She is very driven and ambitious. I have been very lucky to play a lot of characters like that, but this one was very different because she is a young woman in a man’s world, and she is taking on this leadership position. She really has to fight a number of things to get there, including her personal life. My goal was to just really demonstrate her strength as well as her vulnerability, and really make an impression for women taking leadership positions. I hope this character will inspire more women to take on these roles in the sports world.

The media has focused a great deal on the fact that Christy is breaking this ceiling in the world of men’s professional sports, but I want to know, now that we are learning more about her personal life, how do you reconcile Christy the professional coach with Christy in a relationship with the very flirtatious Davey Gunn (Ryan Pierce)—even though we are also beginning to see his own vulnerabilities behind this mask of his?
I think Christy definitely has an attraction to him and he is a lot of fun for her at a time when she is not having any fun in her life. But, I also think she knows what is most important to her and so she is struggling to stay focused. Davey can be a bit of a distraction and I think Christy is aware of that. I don’t think she has any expectations for this relationship. She is very level-headed. She knows what her goals are, what she needs to do to be successful with the team and that is the most important thing in her life at this time.

21 Thunder has a great underlying message about diversity; coming together as a team from many different ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds. How do you see people responding to this message given the current political climate?
Well honestly, I am so proud to be a Canadian right now. I just think [21 Thunder] is a beautiful representation of how multicultural and how accepting we are here in comparison to other places and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The show is also a great way to bring international fans together too since we have such a diverse cast that represent so many international regions and backgrounds. I think [21 Thunder] is truly “Canadian” of us. I think the fans really appreciate the diversity and find it a breath of fresh air in a world that is still struggling with such horrible racism.

You have been heavily involved with the program Project Limelight. Can you share a bit about the program and your involvement?
Project Limelight is a free performing arts program located in the downtown east side of Vancouver. Currently, we are working with about 30 kids aged 8 to 15 or 16 and the program provides them with free experience in the performing arts. The kids work for about six months rehearsing and preparing for their shows, working with costume designers and lighting. The kids come in multiple times during the week to rehearse and participate in workshops to improve their craft; skills including singing, dancing and acting. Many Vancouver professionals have come together to provide workshops. During my time with the project, I tend to do whatever needs doing, whether it is using my extensive acting or dance background or just feeding the kids when they arrive. Sometimes we just hang out if that is what the kids need too. It’s amazing because these kids are super committed because they are putting on a full production at the end of the program.

Can you share with me one of your most memorable moments on set with Team 21 Thunder?
On set, throughout the season, the boys all came up with chants that they wrote themselves and then they would perform them in the locker room or on the field. It was really cool to see that creative collaboration between the cast members and the rest of us would be there cheering them when they performed them. It brought an authenticity to the show that I really loved.

And finally, which storyline, other than your own, has you most intrigued?
I would say the Nolan [RJ Fetherstonhaugh] and Emma [Clark Backo] storyline. The young love between them and just how torn Nolan is because of his life and how much he loves Emma. This last week ended in a proposal so we don’t know but I think they do a beautiful job with their characters.

My thanks to Stephanie for taking the time to speak with me!

21 Thunder airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

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21 Thunder: Could this be Heaven, or Hell?

We all have our own way of defining hell, and sometimes we cannot help making decisions that put us there, which is evident throughout this week’s episode of 21 Thunder, “Heaven or Hell.”

Three main storylines played out during this episode: Lara’s (Eileen Li) involvement in the online betting ring, Junior Lolo’s (Emmanuel Kobongo) call up to the show and Nolan’s (RJ Fetherstonhaugh) existential crisis over his deadly involvement with Kevin’s gang.

First with the sports betting ring. Declan (Colm Feore)  got word about Lara and Zhen’s (Anthony Shim) game fixing success and ordered Special K (Kyle Mac) to insert himself on their little gig. However, Lara, now out of debt with her one-time involvement wanted out. Kevin and Zhen were not having any of that because let’s face it, you can’t have too much of a good thing. In some anxious moments, we watched as Lara prepared to bolt, tried to secure a refund from medical school on compassionate grounds, but apparently, once in the world of illegal betting, you are all in—and yes my heart was pounding during this sequence! Between Declan’s (Colm Feore) insistence to stay in his employ and Kevin stealing her cash, she is now trapped in the hell of her own creation. Declan, it seems, is going to use this little venture to help his son the only way he knows how: Lara is to ensure the U21’s qualify for a tournament with the Europeans, thus giving his son the exposure to make it big in footie.

There was also a good deal of turmoil surrounding Junior Lolo. The cold open saw him with his younger brother Sly (Thamela Mpumlwana) as they were evicted from their apartment, having used all of their cash to learn the whereabouts of their older brother Gregoire (Kareem Tristan Alleyne). And if being homeless wasn’t enough, it seemed Coach Rocas (Conrad Pla) had some big plans of his own. Rocas convinced  Coach Shields (Randy Thomas) of the premiere team to call up Junior instead of Nolan, Rocas hoped to ride on Junior’s naive coattails should scouts from the European League take note of his skills. Scoring the game-winning goal in New York, they did indeed take notice of Junior and presented an offer. But Coach Mike had already warned Junior of Rocas’ plot to sell Lolo to a big European club. Resolved to remain in Montreal, Junior ignored Rocas’ pleas and instead called Coach out for the dishonourable man that he is. Meanwhile, Junior’s new love interest Fatima (Gabrielle Graham) went on her own search for big brother Gregoire, and unfortunately for her, found him. He is evidently not the lovable, kind soul the boys remember from their youth. Poor Junior, here he is in the blush of early love, faced with the knowledge that his brother he so desperately wishes to find, has beaten his girlfriend.

Finally, we returned to Nolan, whose guilt was starting to get the best of him after spotting his victim’s mother canvassing for information regarding the death of her son. Distraught, Nolan turned to of all people, his father for advice: “Just bury it.” Expected for a family dinner at Emma’s (Clark Backo) to celebrate her completion of the MCATs, Nolan instead sought out his comfort zone and hung out with his team mates. Here he learned Alex (Andres Joseph) had tried to kiss Emma while tripping on some molly. Despite his anger, or because of it, the episode closed with Nolan apologizing to Emma for missing dinner, followed by a very confused yet impassioned proposal of marriage—Nolan, you did that wrong. Don’t you know you need 1,000 yellow daisies when you propose?

In other minor developments, we learned Grace Cook is in need of 24-hour rehabilitative care. Begrudgingly, she agreed to go to that “shit hole rehab” when her care proved too much for Christy (Stephanie Bennett) and Peter to manage. Additionally, Christy is faced with fending off rude comments directed at her through her contractual social media presence. As her budding friendship with Marie (Kimberly Laferriere) continued to tread lightly,  Marie asked Christy to be a bridesmaid at her wedding to first-string footballer Damien (Lucas Chartier-Dessert). We also saw Assistant Coach Davey Gunn ( Ryan Pierce) injured in the match against New York.

This week we were left wondering:

  1. What the hell is up with Gregoire?
  2. How will Lara fix the next game? Or will she?
  3. Will some good Samaritan come forward with information that will lead police to Nolan and Kevin?
  4. How will Coach Gunn’s injuries affect his contractual obligations to the club and the tax debt he is carrying?
  5. Will Emma say yes?

This was another superb installment by the cast and crew of 21 Thunder. I suppose all there is to do now is keep watching and wait to hear if CBC will renew it for Season 2!

21 Thunder airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

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21 Thunder: Fixed

I knew, prior to 21 Thunder‘s debut, there would be a lot of action on the soccer pitch as well as off. I envisioned the sexy times between players and girlfriends (and perhaps fans), a little painkiller addiction and coaching scuffles thrown in for good measure.

But 21 Thunder has been so much more than that. It’s a complex interweaving of stories where some are kind of what I expected. Others have been a total shock, like Guy, the thrice-mortgaged referee who, at the beginning of Monday’s new episode “Fixed,” opened his front door to reveal an envelope full of cash on his stoop. The story, involving Thunder’s team intern Lara Yun, was a total departure from my expectations for 21 Thunder. I watch a lot of television, and I didn’t see the angle coming.

I chuckled when I tuned to the debut episode and was presented with Nolan’s gang member past. At the time it seemed cheesy and over-the-top, an unnecessary character trait added to a guy that seemed engaging enough. I was wrong about that too; that backstory was integral to what’s quickly turned out to be one hell of a back and forth between Nolan and Declan. Colm Feore is a damned national treasure and can do nothing wrong in my book, but RJ Fetherstonhaugh has been a revelation in the scenes he shares with Feore as son and father attempt to outwit the other in their prison visits.

This week’s scene at the prison between Declan and Nolan was particularly good. With Emma there to meet Declan, Nolan’s papa took the time to reminisce on his son’s childhood, connecting her with the elder Gallard and infuriating the younger one because of the guilt he feels over his mother’s death.

The drama hasn’t strayed too far from the pitch, however. “Fixed,” featured the Thunder matched up against the worst team in the league. Coach Rocas explained that meant the Vancouver team would be playing loose and with nothing to lose: a dangerous combination. Adding to the tension? The first-team coach was in attendance looking to poach talent. The match didn’t start out well; it appeared Guy was living up to the bribe when he nailed goalie Alex on a little-known—and almost never called—penalty. That, of course, lead to a Vancouver goal and a 3-0 hole by halftime. After Rocas and Nolan were tossed, it left Davey Gunn running the show. And, with some major help from Christy and Junior Lolo, it seemed the Thunder would win. Until that is, Guy blew the whistle ending game play just as Junior was closing in for this game-tying goal. Lara may have said this was a one and done game, but having $75,000 sitting in front of you is a sufficient enticement to keep the payoffs coming, especially with a desperate K pulling Declan into the whole mess.

The loss didn’t sit well with Christy, and she was going over game tape when a drunk Davey showed up at her home. He was looking for a roll in the hay but Christy’s mom had other plans: whiskey. Christy appreciated Davey tossing back booze and talking soccer with her mom; her mouth may have told him their night together was a one-time thing but her eyes were saying something else. (I wish more time was spent showing Davey and Mom getting drunk.) Christy followed up with Ana, expressing her concerns about Guy’s refereeing. Ana dismissed the allegations and doled out some advice: Christy needed to be more “active with the brand on social media.”

Finally, we got a little more insight into Junior’s brother, Gregoire. According to Mr. Bamba, he is “a very bad man.” At least, that’s what he told Fatima when she confronted Bamba and accused him of defrauding Junior of the $10,000. Turns out Bamba did find Gregoire and was the worse for it. He handed back the remaining $500 of that cash and told Fatima he was washing his hands of the whole thing.

I said off the top how pleasantly surprised I’ve been with 21 Thunder‘s first season. The writing is taut and the characters are anything but cookie-cutter; 21 Thunder has turned into my sleeper hit of the summer.

21 Thunder airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

 

 

 

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