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Comments and queries for the week of September 22

I am really looking forward to finding out the baby’s name and more of Amy and Ty’s relationship and romance since we did not see much of that last season [on Heartland] and to see how they cope as new parents. —Brooke

I knew Season 11 was going to be special, but you have laid out a season that goes far beyond special, it’s incredible. Ty and Amy as new parents … I can’t wait; Georgie’s role has really expanded which it should, she is very talented can’t wait to see her tackling this new role. Jack and Ty’s relationship should grow and Ty has matured and can’t wait to see him tackling fatherhood. Tim has always been a challenge to deal with but I love his character. You all have done a fantastic job and I know Season 11 hasn’t started yet, but I sure hope it leads to Season 12. Heartland is No. 1 in all our hearts. —James

Heartland has a real man at its centre: Jack. Someone who has such integrity, he didn’t just provide for his own family but sacrificed to silently take care of another for decades, asking for no credit or applause in return. A constant rock that is always there when the ones he loves need him—his backstory makes it clear he knew he had to be accountable and present, fair when he married Lyndy and they had a child. Trying to claim a guy bailing on his pregnant wife on a whim, putting himself in serious danger and actually losing significant income (without even getting into how he once behaved over Amy possibly having outside Heartland aspirations), is a “romantic hero” is bad PR spin at best, especially on a family show, where sadly too often lately family matters less and less. —Lauren

Thank you, Heather Conkie and Greg David for this insightful preview of what we can expect during the upcoming season of Heartland. There’s absolutely nothing else like it on television and it truly gets better every year. Every announcement that it has been renewed is a magnificent blessing for the fans who have been with the program since Day 1. —Nicholas

Reading this is very interesting, but just makes it more difficult to wait to see it in the U.S. As I have said before, all the production pictures, and talk about Season 11 on social media, this is going to be a very good and exciting season. I certainly hope that what goes on in Season 11 will draw a huge audience and lead to another season of the best TV show ever, at least for me. —Tony

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

 

 

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Alias Grace: Sarah Polley’s excellent Margaret Atwood adaptation comes to CBC

CBC has made it part of their mandate to focus on adapting more Canadian novels into television projects. They’ve already done it recently with Anne—Moira Walley-Beckett’s take on Anne of Green Gables, in production on Season 2 now—and Allan Hawco’s Caught, his adaptation of Lisa Moore’s novel.

Now the network goes all-in with Alias Grace, Margaret Atwood’s novel about a murderess in 1840s Canada. Debuting Monday at 9 p.m., the six-parter has been adapted by Sarah Polley and stars Sarah Gadon in the lead role of Grace Marks. The project ticks all the boxes of what’s top of mind in society—women’s rights and the immigrant story among them—and a hot genre in true crime. Alias Grace is based on the real-life case of domestic servant Grace Marks, an Irish immigrant who was imprisoned in Kingston Penitentiary for teaming with stable-hand James McDermott (played by Kerr Logan) and murdering their employer, Thomas Kinnear (Paul Gross) and his housekeeper, Nancy Montgomery (Anna Paquin). The book and the production introduce a fictional doctor, psychiatrist Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft), into the mix, who meets with Grace to discuss what she recalls of the crimes. Did Grace really commit the murders she was convicted of? And where does housemaid Mary Whitney (Rebecca Liddiard) fit into what happened?

“Adapting Alias Grace was like a boot camp for screenwriting,” Polley says during a media press day in Toronto. After buying the rights to the novel years ago, Polley initially thought Alias Grace would be a feature film. Those plans were scuttled because the book contained too many time jumps and changes in characters’ views and voices to make a movie feasible. A six-hour television series was perfect, giving her the opportunity to fit everything in. Once she had the scripts done, Polley began shopping them around; executive producer Noreen Halpern snapped it up for Halfire Entertainment after having a coffee with Polley.

“Sarah handed me the six scripts and I read them in one sitting,” Halpern recalls with a smile. “Once you start reading them, you can’t stop. The writing is so compelling.” Equally compelling is the colour palette devised by director-executive producer Mary Harron. Washed-out greys are the backdrop to scenes in the Kingston prison, dark grime on the ship from Ireland to Canada, rich browns in the prison governor’s office where Simon and Grace’s conversations take place, and golds seeping into Grace’s reflections of her happy days at the Kinnear farm.

“When she arrives in Toronto, which is supposed to be this promised land, it is a sea of mud,” Harron says. “When Grace sees the farm for the first time, it’s bathed in golden light. Even though terrible things happened at this farm, in her memory it was a beautiful place.”

What really makes Alias Grace hum is the cast. Gadon is spectacular as Grace and Holcroft is equally to task as Simon. In Sunday’s opening moments, Grace serves as narrator, describing her long prison term and the reason she was there in the first place.

“I think of all the things that have been written about me,” Grace says. “That I am an inhuman female demon. That I am an innocent victim of a blaggard forced against my will and in danger of my own life. That I was too ignorant to know how to act and to hang me would be judicial murder.” While she states each version of herself, Gadon twitches and teases her face to match each person the public views. With such skill in presenting the right face, who’s to say Grace isn’t playing the victim in her chats with Simon? Is she playing him for a fool, hoping he’ll help to have her pardoned?

“We have our own theories,” Gadon says with a smile. “Margaret Atwood was very, very against us sharing them with you. I will say that we all got so caught up in the whodunit aspect and the web of lies. What’s interesting is that the book is historical fiction but Margaret did take every piece of historical fact and weave it into the story, which makes it so difficult to make up your mind whether she did it or not.”

Look for more exclusive Alias Grace interviews with cast members Sarah Gadon, Kerr Logan and Rebecca Liddiard in the coming weeks.

Alias Grace airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

 

 

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The Nature of Things returns with stunning “The Wild Canadian Year”

It’s no secret that I love documentaries. No matter how jam-packed my days and nights are, I can always find time for another doc. The best is not only educational but beautifully filmed, impeccably scored and wholly entertaining. That’s certainly the case for “The Wild Canadian Year,” the five-part documentary kicking off the newest season of The Nature of Things on CBC.

Moving to Sundays at 8 p.m. this fall, “The Wild Canadian Year” is the perfect way to start the long-running series’ season. Filmed by award-winning documentary filmmakers Jeff and Sue Turner of River Road Films, “The Wild Canadian Year” turns cameras on this country’s wildlife during the four seasons (the fifth episode is a making of). It all begins Sunday with spring, as Arctic fox pups take their first steps and black bear cubs learn to climb trees after the long cold days of winter while female caribou make the dangerous trek to reach their calving grounds.

With 4K ultra-high definition providing the visuals and the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra the soundtrack, “The Wild Canadian Year” truly is a spectacle. I don’t have 4K in my home, but watching a screener of Episode 1, I can only imagine how incredible this project looks. My laptop’s retina screen captured amazing detail—droplets of water as part of a thunderous waterfall, the nostril flare of a seal, the feathers on a hummingbird—so the better the screen the more breathtaking this will appear.

A spectacular 75 stories were recorded in Canada’s provinces and territories for the series, beginning Sunday with a caribou herd in northern Quebec that treks far north while the area’s lakes and rivers are still frozen. The animals follow each other, creating a beaten path that expends far less energy than breaking new ground. That energy store is needed at a moment’s notice: the pack is constantly hunted by hungry wolves.

Fauna isn’t the only thing to be focused on in “The Wild Canadian Year.” The thundering Hay River is explored next, as thick ice plunges over a waterfall creating into the vicious tumult below. Then it’s to the boreal forest of the east where a truly fascinating thing is documented. Cameras show the rebirth of a tree frog, frozen solid during the winter months thanks and revived during the snow melt. The camera work is so detailed you can see cataracts of ice over each eyeball and its first breath of the new year.

“The Wild Canadian Year” is the stunning result of nature and technology combining for stellar storytelling set to a magnificent soundtrack. Don’t miss it.

The Nature of Things returns Sunday, Sept. 24, at 8 p.m. on CBC with “The Wild Canadian Year.”

Images courtesy of CBC.

 

 

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Heartland’s Heather Conkie teases Season 11 ahead of Sunday’s return

To borrow a horse saying—appropriate in this case—we’ve been champing at the bit for Season 11 of Heartland to return to CBC. This Sunday can’t come quickly enough thanks to last season’s final episodes. For those who need a refresher, Ty (Graham Wardle) returned from Mongolia in time to meet his new baby after Amy (Amber Marshall) gave birth. Mitch (Kevin McGarry) and Lou (Michelle Morgan) were on the outs after he saw her holding hands with Peter (Gabriel Hogan) and Georgie (Alisha Newton) and Adam (Kataem O’Connor) were rebuilding their friendship. Throw in Caleb (Kerry James) and Cassandra (Kaitlyn Leeb) tying the knot … let’s just say there is a lot of follow up on starting this Sunday.

Thankfully, Heather Conkie, Heartland‘s showrunner, was available to talk about last season and give us a sneak peek into a Season 11 that will see a refresh of the series and some new additions.

Before we get into some Season 11 tidbits, let’s do a post-mortem on Season 10. Perhaps the biggest story was Amy and Ty welcoming a baby into the world. That was the natural next step for this young couple but were you nervous or excited about adding a baby into the mix?
Heather Conkie: I think it was a mixture of both. We knew we might be painting ourselves into a corner, but it was the absolute natural next step. It felt right and we wanted their marriage to have other things to explore, so parenthood is a big theme this season. It also was connected with a little bit of experience. My own daughter was pregnant and I was going through that with her, so writing Amy’s pregnancy was very much a reflection of what I was going through in my own life. That helped us and continues to because my grandson is now a year old and I’m seeing what she’s going through as a mother. It’s really helped that perspective. We’re filming Episode 11 and 12 and the one wonderful thing about the pregnancy being over is that Amy can ride! We really missed writing that for her last year. Most riders ride into their pregnancy but we didn’t want to invite controversy because there are so many people who believe that it is dangerous. We had to go a whole year without being able to do the things that Amy does. This year is so great because we can have the Amy as we know her back. She can ride and she’s building her client base back up; her reputation as the miracle girl was missing in action.

I never realized how much the pregnancy would affect the storylines.
Usually the episodes centre around her and a horse story. We transferred a lot of that over to Georgie and had Amy working with horses because she could still do that. We had some wonderful scenes of Amy doing liberty work with horses. We also used dreams a lot and riding in dreams! [Laughs.]

The benefit of not being able to have Amy work with horses was that you were able to expand Georgie’s story a lot last season.
It really did allow us to explore trick riding more and all of the things Georgie came up to the plate to do.

Now, you didn’t make it easy on Amy and Ty. First, Ty was away in Mongolia for much of the season and then when he did come back, he was very sick. Were you surprised by the negative feedback you got having Ty gone for so long?
[Laughs.] We do like to put people through the wringer a little bit. No, we knew there would be a pushback but it also gave us the opportunity to go outside the box as well. The Mongolia footage and his storyline gave him an aura of a more romantic hero. When he came back he was grown up; it changed the character. And, quite honestly, when you have actors on a show for 10 seasons they need a break. Graham really wanted a break and we weren’t about to do anything drastic with the character. We love Graham Wardle and so do the fans, so it was a compromise to go a little outside the box a little bit and give him a break in the most creative way we could without getting rid of the character, which I never want to do. This is a family people have grown up with and losing a member of the family would be as harsh as if it was really happening to a member of someone’s family. People do need change and the character needed change. As a result of that, we’re writing a much more grown-up Ty.

We’re facing challenges most shows don’t get to. It requires a freshness and even if Graham had said he wanted to do all 18 episodes last year it still needed a freshness and we would have done something. In fact, this year, people are saying that the show feels completely fresh. I’m so pleased to hear that because we’re so close to it. There is a wonderful atmosphere on set. Everybody is thrilled to be back and because of the parenthood theme, it’s changed the dynamic, which is great.

When we pick up this Sunday, where are we at with Ty, Amy and the baby?
It’s fun because they’re in the loft right off the bat and are really squashed in there. [Laughs.] Ty is very protective and it’s a totally different side to him. He’s almost protective to a fault. It’s funny, actually.

Speaking of protective, we can’t forget Lou, who is never afraid to share her opinions about anything. 
She does. It’s a very good family dynamic. The twins that play the baby are adorable and it’s added a flavour before that we had with Katie as an infant. I had kind of forgotten the neat stuff that you can do.

Do we have a baby name yet?
We reveal it in the first five minutes of the first episode. We had a contest to name the baby and it’s incredible that the winner was the name I’ve been toying with for a long time.


There is a wonderful atmosphere on set. Everybody is thrilled to be back and because of the parenthood theme, it’s changed the dynamic, which is great.


Let’s talk about a rocky relationship: the trio of Lou, Mitch and Peter. What can you say about these three in Season 11?
Last season, Mitch read the wrong signal and up and left when he saw Lou holding hands with her ex. So, this year … let’s just say it’s reignited but it’s something that’s going to go on for a long time. It’s timing with these two. Anyone who has been through this knows it’s all about the timing between the ex and the new person. Plus, she’s got this crazy offshoot of Maggie’s in New York … they are in two separate worlds. There is a definite chemisty between the characters.

Peter plays a big role this year. Episode 2 is quite astounding. Gabriel Hogan gives a performance that I’ve never seen before because a ghost from Georgie’s past comes back and he has to help her deal with it. It’s just the most moving episode I’ve ever seen. And Alisha is incredible. She astounded everyone.

Speaking of performances, Shaun Johnston continues to knock it out of the park as Jack. There were some killer performances from him in Season 10.
Everybody forgets that he’s one of the characters who really is acting. He’s not that age, he doesn’t walk like that, he doesn’t talk like that … you just sink into the character and totally forget that it’s Shaun. He has some incredible scenes with Ty this year. Jack is a big father figure for Ty and has been. Last year, the scene between Jack and Ty before he went away to Mongolia … it was one of the most beautiful scenes ever because he was acting like Ty was going off to war. It was just beautiful and Shaun had a hand in writing some of the lines as well because he has such insight into the character.

Where are we at with Georgie and Adam’s relationship this year?
It’s a very strong friendship between them. He is still with Olivia. She’ll be 17 in storyland so she’s going through some complicated relationships this year. There is a fellow named Wyatt [Dempsey Bryk] who was only in one episode last season and he plays a larger part throughout the entire season. And we throw a new face into the mix halfway through, so lots going on in a very complicated love life! Georgie grows up a lot, and most of it is due to Episode 2.

Wow, a lot happening in the first two episodes!
Yeah, the first two episodes are key. Last season, Tim offered Caleb the job at the rodeo so he’s a partner. Caleb and Cass are very much involved this year as godparents.

What else can you say about this season?
There is a very wealthy family that becomes part of Georgie’s world. We’re taking her back to her roots as well as with Amy. Georgie gets a chance to be very involved with this very high-end show jumping horse right off the top in Episode 1, which has Olympic dreams. That’s the road we’re taking Georgie down, the equestrian show jumping world. She wanted to do it, and it’s such an interesting world. Georgie is on social media, and there are hate sites devoted to taking down people in this very competitive world and she becomes involved in that and dealing with people making up stories. We found this beautiful area that just begged us to use it, so we’re using it for this family. It’s a nice contrast to life at Heartland.

What about the new family? I know Kate Drummond is guest-starring this season; is she part of the family?
The family has their own private, cross-country jumping course. We do cross-country jumping and a fox hunt this season. This family has it all, including a very good-looking nephew who takes an interest in Georgie. Kate Drummond plays the mom and she appears in Episode 8.

Anything else you can tease about Season 11?
It’s a huge season for Tim. He starts looking to the future, some uncertainty and regrets of the past. He goes on quite the journey this year. I don’t want to say too much, but he’s doing an incredible job. We’ve given him a lot to do this year because he’s just so good. You’ll see a different side to Tim for sure.

Are you looking forward to Amy and Ty as parents? What are you hoping to see in Season 11? Let me know in the comments below!

Heartland returns Sunday, Sept. 24, at 7 p.m. on CBC.

 

 

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Photo gallery: Murdoch Mysteries Season 11 sneak peek

With the Season 11 premiere of Murdoch Mysteries just days away, CBC has released four images in advance of Monday’s new episode, “Up from Ashes.” Yes, we wish we had more pictures as well, but we’ll take whatever we can get!

No, the images do not reveal the fates of Inspector Brackenreid, Dr. Julia Ogden and Constables Crabtree, Jackson or Higgins—we’ll have to tune in on Monday for those reveals—there are still some pretty treats contained in this quartet.

In the first picture, Det. Murdoch sits in a chair in front of Miss Marsh (Tamzin Outhwaite). Is he out of jail, or just given a reprieve from his cell? Who, exactly, is Miss Marsh and why is she speaking to Murdoch? Is he pleading his case? Is she on his side, or against him?

In the second photo, Murdoch is giving serious side-eye to someone. It’s not apparent who.

The third image is a wide shot of Murdoch and Detective Watts. Murdoch is shackled, so we know he’s in police custody. Who is it he and Watts are looking at? It kind of looks like Councilman Williams, who got Murdoch into this mess in the first place.

In the final image, Murdoch is giving a wry smile to the man seen in Image No. 3. I’d guess it is indeed Councilman Williams; I recognize that stiff collar anywhere!

 

How excited are you for Monday’s Murdoch Mysteries return? Do you think anyone was killed in the Season 10 finale? Let me know in the comments below.

Murdoch Mysteries airs Mondays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of Christos Kalohoridis for CBC.

 

 

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