Everything about Featured, eh?

Comments and queries for the week of March 22

I have been looking forward to Jann Arden doing comedy for a long time. Her bits during concerts, etc., are absolutely gut busting. I still think she should try her hand at being a stand up comedian. —Byron

She did a couple episodes of Workin’ Moms, as the mother of one of the leads. She was amazing. So happy for her!! —Chris

Really looking forward to Jann’s TV show. I’ve had a crush for her since forever. —Steve


I didn’t see the premiere of [The Big Downsize], I only found the show after a mention in The Chronicle Herald. Neither my husband or myself enjoyed Episode 2; in most series you get a lead up to help you understand the whats and whys of the program. All we saw was someone packing away stuff with no suggestions for recycling, donating, selling, etc. Definitely won’t PVR this show. —Susan

Got a question or comment about Canadian TV? Email greg.david@tv-eh.com or via Twitter @tv_eh.

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Damon Vignale’s The Murders brings Jessica Lucas back to Canadian TV

Damon Vignale has been a writer and producer on some of the most ambitious and exciting television series on Canadian television. Blackstone, 19-2, Motive, Ghost Wars and The Bletchley Circle: San Francisco … he’s worked on all of them.

Now Vignale is back with a television project all his own: The Murders. Set in Vancouver, the eight-part thrill ride—bowing Monday at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Citytv—stars Jessica Lucas as Kate Jameson, a rookie homicide detective whose mistake on Day 1 leads to tragedy. Aside from alienating herself from at least one co-worker, Kate and her partner, Det. Mike Huntley (Lochlan Munro), are chasing a killer who uses music in a deadly way. Along for the ride are Dylan Bruce as Detective Nolan Wells, Terry Chen as Staff Sergeant Bill Chen and Luvia Petersen as Detective Meg Harris.

We spoke to Damon Vignale about The Murders‘ origin story and where it goes from Week 1.

I love the fact that The Murders doesn’t shy away from showing the Vancouver skyline. I love the storytelling. 
Damon Vignale: Thank you. Yeah, it’s very exciting to be shooting a crime drama in Vancouver. I was always a big fan of Da Vinci’s Inquest. Motive was definitely a show that has been a highlight of my career and it’s shot in Vancouver. So when I was developing a crime drama and Muse came on board, them being a Montreal company, I thought, ‘OK, I guess we’re going to be shooting on the east coast,’ and they essentially asked, ‘Well, where do you want to shoot it?’ Of course that was a no-brainer. I just said in Vancouver and they really supported that. My original pilot was always based in Vancouver, it was just great that an eastern production company wanted to kind of stick with the original vision, so that’s great.

Take me back to the beginning. The Murders is based on an idea by you. Is this been something that you’ve been thinking about for a while? Tell me the origin story.
DV: Often when you’re going out for writing gigs, most producers don’t want to read shows that you’ve written on, they want to read original material. They want to know, ‘Hey, what’s your voice?’ I hadn’t had anything written for a while because I’d been really lucky going from show to show. I had a little time off after Motive and I actually had just watched Marcella. I was really inspired by that and wanted to write something with a female lead and I liked the idea of a serial killer.

At the time, I was really interested, separately, in the song ‘Long Black Veil,’ a song that has been recorded by over a hundred artists, and it fell into a genre called murder ballads. I’ve been researching murder ballads and what they are and how they came out of folk music. Before that, the early settlers that came to America would bring these crime stories and they’re all a part of what eventually became the genre of murder ballads, and ‘Long Black Veil’ fit into that. So the idea kind of grew out of that song. What if the detectives came across a murder and the victim’s life tied directly to an old murder ballad? That seemed interesting to me. That’s really kind of what the seed of where I started exploring. There is one case in the show that kind of bookends the season. But each episode in between, they have songs involved but they’re not necessarily murder ballads; they more play to the theme of the episode.

Is that the reason why the logo is kind an equalizer? The bar’s moving up and down and changing to blood?
DV: Yeah! Here’s the reason for that. In pitching the show, one of the things that I thought would be interesting, always looking for ways to separate yourself from other shows and bring something interesting to the mix, is I thought if the show were to play over five seasons, it would be great to, in each season, explore one of the five senses. So in the first season, sound … music. In different cases, it plays a part in the show and that’s why that equalizer is in there, it’s a subtle reference. I don’t know if we’re necessarily pitching the show on the five senses, but in developing Season 2 I am looking at the sense of touch.

You said off the top, when it came to developing this you were trying to figure out what your voice is. So what is your voice? What’s your strength? Is it dialogue? Is it atmosphere? Is it setting a scene?
DV: It’s kind of hard to reflect on yourself. I think, certainly, crime drama, and I tend to lean toward the darker side of things. And so when I’m putting a room together, I purposefully put writers in the room that are really strong on the lighter, comedic side of things because you obviously need both in the show. But I have no problem getting into—Blackstone would be a perfect example—a show where you lift the rug up and show the dirt underneath. I tend to like that kind of stuff. It’s fun to write.

Let’s talk a little bit about Jessica Lucas. She’s fantastic as Kate. How did she get involved in the process? 
DV: I’m bi-racial, my mother’s black, my father’s white, and so when I wrote the show I thought, ‘I would like to have a character that was bi-racial.’ For me, without getting too personal, it’s sometimes weird being in that gray area where you’re not black, you’re not white, you’re kind of in the middle and you kind of see things a little differently. I thought it would be fun to do things with issues that are going on today. So in starting there, I was already looking for a certain actor, an actress who fit into that and Jessica was really top of my list. We just felt that she was right for the role and when we reached out to her and she read the material, the conversations were really good and she felt good about it.

This first episode, it really starts and ends with a bang, literally. Can you talk a little bit about this journey for Kate as she moves forward into these following seven episodes?
DV: I would say that would be a part of being inspired by Marcella. I really like that the character Marcella had all of the issues that she was dealing with in her policing. There’s a case that comes back into our story from Kate’s past. [We’re] just piling all this stuff on this character.

The Murders airs Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Rogers Media.

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Citytv’s Hudson & Rex takes a bite out of crime

An age-old adage says that you should never work with kids or animals in the entertainment business. But for actor John Reardon, it’s been a dream being part of Hudson & Rex … and a case of coincidence or maybe fate.

“My wife and I, we just had a little boy named Hudson,” Reardon says with a laugh from St. John’s. “He was probably about 10 months old when I first received the script.” The actor, a Halifax native who has appeared in shows like Arctic Air, Continuum and Van Helsing, stars alongside a German Shepherd named Diesel vom Burgimwald.

Debuting Monday at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Citytv, Hudson & Rex follows the partnership between Major Crimes detective Charlie Hudson (Reardon) and his partner, Rex (Diesel vom Burgimwald), a canine with heightened senses. Based on the Austrian drama Inspector Rex, the drama also stars Mayko Nguyen, Kevin Hanchard and Justin Kelly. In the premiere, Rex proves himself as a member of the Major Crimes team when he tails a kidnapper. We spoke to Reardon during a break in production.

How has production on Season 1 been going so far?
John Reardon: It’s been going great. We are just finished up our twelfth episode right now of 16. We had a nice long break over Christmas and I got to go back and see my folks in Halifax. We’ve been having a great time filming in St John’s. We’ve shot a lot of the famous locations here, like Signal Hill and along the row houses. And we’ve been really lucky with some amazing locations, the landscape here is really unique and beautiful. We’ve been braving the winter elements, as well.

I think you also ran in that little park just by the Terry Fox statue as well, in Episode 1.
JR: That’s right. That was actually one of our very first locations. Episode 1 was actually the third episode that we shot. But yeah, it was one of our first locations down there, it was beautiful.

The classic adage is not to work with kids and not to work with animals. Despite that, here you are with a canine co-star. How did Hudson & Rex all come about? 
JR: I got a script … my wife and I, we just had a little boy named Hudson. He was probably about 10 months old when I first received the script. And my wife and I had just bought a place in L.A. We’d been living at Venice Beach for a lot of years and then we bought a place more in the suburbs when Hudson was born. We were in the process of moving the bags into our house, we had been there for I think maybe two days when I got the script. And I remember my wife read the script first because I had to run out and do a few errands and I came back and she said, ‘I think you have to do this show because your character’s name is Charlie Hudson.’ There was definitely a little bit of—I don’t know if serendipity’s the right word— but it definitely got my attention and then I read the script and I loved it.

And yeah as you say, people say working with animals definitely can be a challenge but that actually was a huge plus for me, because I love dogs, I grew up with them. But I’m just so impressed with what he’s capable of doing and what the trainers are capable of having him do. He keeps you on your toes a little bit because, you know, he’s a dog and he will sometimes do things that you just completely don’t expect. It makes it fun, it makes it a lot of fun.

Can Diesel only work a certain number of hours and then you have to shut things down, or he has to take a break? 
JR: I’m not sure what the restriction is. They make sure that he has plenty of rest during the day. There are actually three dogs, so they make sure that Izzy or Ico, who are the other two dogs who are actually his nephews. They will come in at times to make sure that he is having breaks, that he’s not on set for too long. That he’s getting rest, and often times they’ll do a lot of the more stunt type stuff, just to protect him to make sure because he has been trained the most thoroughly. They’re very careful about that, they take really good care of him and we very often see him in his downtime having a little nap over in his trailer. [Laughs.]

He’s got a better life than the actors.
JR: Yeah, he lives well.

What I found very interesting and very different, is that the show just starts with the crime, and you don’t learn about how Rex and Hudson got together until midway through the episode. I enjoyed the wait.
JR: That’s exactly what I think the writers were going for, something where the action kicks off right away, and the relationship component of the story I think is much more interesting once you do know the characters a little bit. It’s kind of nice that we get into the story, we see the characters working together at the police station and Rex, and then as you get to know us you start to get the backstory and people care about it. We like to have a large component of action and then a large component of the relationship stuff, which we call action with heart.

I was also surprised at how quickly we’re introduced to the rest of the team. Again, I was expecting that the focus was going to be Charlie and Rex when the reality is in the first episode they spend very little time together.
JR: It’s really a show about a team and everybody has their strengths and brings something unique to the team. You see all the people that you’re going to start to get to know and have them be together and see their relationships from the start.

The showrunner for Hudson & Rex is Ken Cuperus. I know him mainly from children’s programming. What’s he been like to work with?
JR: He’s great, I love working with Ken. One of the things I love is he’s very collaborative and he likes to get to know us actors, and he watches us on set to see how we interact with each other. And then he will often write to that a little bit, so he likes to find little things in our relationship that we have in real life. Not a lot, but he will just add little things here and there. And it’s nice because then you’re like, ‘Oh this character has more and more of me in it each time I read the script.’ And he’s a great a writer and mixes action and more of the relationship stuff really well.

Going through this guest cast, you’ve got Greg Bryk and Jeremy Ratchford and Tamara Duarte in Episode 1, I know that Lauren Lee Smith is in an episode later, as well as Anastasia Phillips, Tony Nappo and Kristin Booth. This is a who’s who of Canadian talent that’s dropping by to play in your sandbox.
JR: Every single episode, every single character, we were so fortunate to have these great actors come in. First of all I feel very thankful to have the opportunity to work with them. And then it’s just fun because we have been based on the West Coast for so long, I haven’t had an opportunity to work with a lot of these actors. I know them so well but I hadn’t had a chance to work with them personally because so many of them come from Toronto. It’s great to meet the actor behind the characters, and the great thing too is that all the actors that come in are obviously very talented but they’re great people.

Hudson & Rex airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Citytv.

Images courtesy of Rogers Media.

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Preview: Fire Masters grills up tasty vittles on the road to $10,000

I like to fancy myself a bit of an expert on grilling. Thanks to Ted Reader, I’ve mastered cedar plank salmon, grilled vegetables and to-die-for burgers. But I simply don’t have the skill needed to compete in Food Network Canada’s latest culinary competition.

Fire Masters—bowing Thursday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on the specialty network—pits three chefs against one another in a sweaty, hot and smoky test to see who can tame the fire and walk away with $10,000.

At the helm of this spark-filled challenge is professional chef, writer, restaurateur, world traveller and—currently running a private chef service and consulting company in the Cayman Islands—Barrie, Ont., native Dylan Benoit. The bearded, pony-tailed chef introduces the three chefs ready to do battle in three rounds and, as done on Chopped, one is eliminated until a sole chef is left standing. Unlike Chopped, however, the final competitor goes head-to-head with one of the episode’s judges. In the case of Thursday’s debut, that means Connie DeSousa, Ray Lampe or Hugh Mangum.

The first challenge tasks the trio with creating a dish that reflects who they are. This is a tactic used to great effect on Top Chef Canada because it not only shows off a chef’s skills but their influences as well. With just 30 minutes on the clock, Fire Masters becomes an orgy of flashing stainless steel, glowing embers and egos. After a visit and taste by the judges, one chef is cut from the competition.

In the second challenge, the remaining two are asked to prepare fish, with the Round 1 winner getting an advantage. If this all sounds a little of Top Chef Canada, I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I zipped to the end of the screener to see if it was made by the same production company. It’s from Architect Films (Home to Win, Great Canadian Cottages), but Fire Masters sure has a lot of Top Chef Canada‘s DNA. And, since it’s a proven formula, why not go for it?

The departure of that formula is, of course, having the Round 2 winner face off against one of the judges. And, in Thursday’s first episode, the battle is fun as heck to watch. I won’t give away the results, but you like cooking over flames and the competition of Top Chef Canada, you’re going to like these budding Fire Masters.

Fire Masters airs Thursdays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.

Image courtesy of Food Network Canada.

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Jann Arden is unabashedly herself—sort of—on new CTV comedy Jann

When CTV hosted journalists on the Calgary set of its new comedy Jann in October, series star Jann Arden noted that she was just 17 days into her acting career. The Juno Award-winning singer-songwriter has oodles of experience in front of live crowds and has flashed her wicked wit on shows like The Social, but acting in front of a camera—and being No. 1 on the call sheet—is new. And nerve-wracking.

“I’m scared the entire time,” Arden admits during a press conference with the show’s cast and creators. “I think you have to do things in life that scare you.”

Showrunner Jennica Harper (Cardinal, Motive) confesses that she had last-second jitters about her star’s ability to crossover to television as well.

“We obviously were thrilled to be jumping into this project and also knew that it was going to live or die by Jann,” says Harper. “This is who people were going to be coming to see. And so on Day 1, there was sort of a moment where we were all like, ‘Oh, my god….”

“Can she f–king act?” Arden cuts in, causing the room to erupt in laughter.

Once everyone regains their composure, Harper continues, nodding toward Arden, “Then there was the answer, and it was ‘Oh, my god, she’s fantastic.’ It’s gonna be great.”

As that exchange proves, no one had anything to worry about. Arden has natural comedic timing, and as one of the day’s scenes—which journalists were invited to watch on monitors—later demonstrated, she also has impressive dramatic chops.

In Jann, which premieres on Wednesday, March 20, at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, Arden plays a largely fictionalized version of herself. She’s a recording artist who, unlike the real-life Calgary native, is a bit of a has-been, forced to rent out her beautiful country house to Airbnb guests who are more famous than she is. Her sweet but hapless long-time manager Todd (Jason Blicker) is endlessly supportive and books her all the gigs he can, but the payments are inconsistent at best—unless you’re looking to stock up on cheese wheels.  

On the home front, younger, more responsible sister Max (Zoie Palmer) is raising three kids and caring for their mother Nora (Deborah Grover), but her surprise fourth pregnancy shakes things up and soon mom is moving in with Jann. Meanwhile, Jann’s ex-girlfriend (Sharon Taylor) is moving on with another woman, and a younger, hipper music manager (Elena Juatco) is trying to push Todd out of the picture and resurrect Jann’s career—situations that are skillfully mined for laughs and cringe-inducing moments of second-hand embarrassment throughout the season’s six-episode run.

Harper and series co-creator Leah Gauthier (Motive), who set up their writer’s room in Arden’s kitchen, readily acknowledge shows like Episodes and Curb Your Enthusiasm—where Matt LeBlanc and Larry David played extreme versions of themselves—were heavy influences. And fictional Jann is certainly a narcissist who seems allergic to introspection and good decision making. However, she has a good heart and always manages to remain likable.

“You’re still rooting for her even though she’s making the wrong decisions,” says Gauthier.

And Jann also has a softer centre than those aforementioned shows, which is most evident in the tender and realistic way it deals with Nora’s dementia. Arden’s real-life mother, Joan Richards, suffered from Alzheimer’s and passed away in December, just weeks after filming wrapped. Arden wrote about her mom’s struggle with the disease in her best-selling 2017 memoir Feeding My Mother, and some of those experiences appear in the series.

Following the press conference, Arden returns to set to film a scene with Grover that involves an increasingly confused Nora wandering out to the car to find her missing purse and Jann realizing that something may really be wrong with her mom. The pair performed the scene over and over and over again, some takes ending stoically and some ending with Jann in tears. It is here that Arden and fictional Jann seem to merge, and the moment is quietly devastating.

Part of the blending between real and fiction may be related to Grover’s resemblance to Arden’s mother.

“I think she felt I had the right feeling, a certain sensibility, and that seemed to work for her vision of her mom,” Grover says.

As for any emotional toll that filming such scenes may take on her, Arden is matter-of-fact about it.

“I don’t mind tackling the hard stuff,” she says. “That’s life. It’s not a beer commercial, you’re not running down the beach all the time.”

Besides, Arden says living with her mother’s disease made her a better person—something that one presumes might happen to fictional Jann as well.

“It’s a devastating disease, but I don’t think I’ve ever been a better version of myself because of my mom’s illness,” she says. “You know, she put me in a position where I got sober after a lot of years and didn’t hide behind a lot of stuff. I’ve changed so many things about my health and well-being and got out of a really shitty relationship that went on far too long. And I think it gives you a lot of bravery because my mom is like, ‘You gotta be where you are.’”

It also helps to be who you are.

“I’ve made a living being myself, and just being unique to myself,” Arden continues. “That’s how I’ve made my money. That’s as simple as it is. I’m not the best singer, I’m not the best actor, I’m not the best anything. I do what I do, and it’s indigenous to me. So yeah, it’s great for me to have people see that, to have women see someone like me on television that’s not 5’10” and 100 pounds. There are lots of scenes where I’m in f–king boxer shorts and my hair is in a weird ponytail and people laugh before I even open my mouth, and I’m like, ‘Well, that’s reassuring.’

“Just be yourself.”

Or a version of yourself.

Jann airs Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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