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Top Chef Canada: Chris Nuttall-Smith teases Season 9

Chris Nuttall-Smith is still pinching himself that he’s a resident judge on Top Chef Canada.

“This is a competition that resonates with people not just in Canada but around the world,” the food journalist and critic says. “Working hard, on the fly, under so much pressure. It’s a competition and a format that’s so fun to do. I’m so happy to get the call saying, ‘Hey, we’re doing another season.'”

Returning Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada, the newest season of Top Chef Canada features familiar faces in chef, cookbook author and host Eden Grinshpan; chef and owner of The McEwan Group, head judge Mark McEwan; and fellow resident judges in restaurateur Janet Zuccarini and food writer and personality Mijune Pak.

Not so familiar? The impact the pandemic had on production. Where past seasons saw the competitors scramble out of vans and into McEwan’s eponymous high-end grocery store to shop for products, Season 9 has the ingredients trucked into the studio for a timed shop by the professional chefs. And the classic Restaurant Wars challenge has been scuttled in favour of Takeout Wars.

As always, it’s the professional chefs—and the food they create—that are the stars of Top Chef Canada. In Monday’s debut, we’re introduced to the 11 facing off against one another. The cast includes Kym Nguyen, who identifies as non-binary and whips up killer British-Asian fare; Indigenous chefs Siobhan Detkavich and Stéphane Levac, who bring their roots to their recipes; and Erica and Josh Karbelnik, who are married.

“This season really reflects Canada, who we are as a nation and what our culinary culture is,” Nuttall-Smith says. “More people are finding opportunities, carving out niches, are having a chance to show what they can do. And, as a judge, it makes the food way more interesting.”

That’s evident in Monday’s opening minutes when the competitors are tasked with creating a plate that represents their brand. Everything put forward is unique, authentic and—as evidenced by Grinshpan and McEwan’s reactions—for the most part tasty. That’s not to say there aren’t duds, but this season’s chefs are really bringing it. That’s to be expected, especially with $100,000 and a Lexus RX Hybrid Electric SUV handed to the winner. And, despite the fact not every dish presented to him is a home run, Nuttall-Smith enters each Elimination Challenge meal feeling the same emotion: hope.

“My perspective, as a restaurant critic and a food writer is that every dish and every chef starts at 100 per cent,” he explains. “I look at it as ‘You’re the best chef in the world, and let’s see how it goes.’ A lot of times that really pays off, and other times it doesn’t. But my expectation is always, ‘This is gonna be great.'”

Top Chef Canada airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Food Network Canada.

Images courtesy of Corus Entertainment.

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CBC Gem’s Something Undone a genuine scare-fest

I like my horror/scary projects to be atmospheric. A jump scare is OK, but I prefer a general feeling of unease coupled with a tinge of a slow burn. It’s why I love Something Undone.

Debuting Friday on CBC Gem, Something Undone—created by and starring Madison Walsh and Michael Musi—manages what I thought was unthinkable: a genuinely spooky piece of work encapsulated in a six-episode web series.

And, it was written, produced and filmed during the pandemic. Created through funding from CBC’s Creative Relief Fund, which provided $2 million in development and production funding to a diverse range of original Canadian projects in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CBC’s hook was projects had to be produced under strict COVID-19 guidelines.

“Mike and I started brainstorming,” says Walsh during a recent call. “We thought, ‘What can you maintain the quality and enjoyment of with restrictions on visuals? If we can’t have that many actors, what can we do? If we could only have one location, what could we do?’ That’s when we started to think about sound.” The result is Something Undone.

In the first episode we meet Jo (Walsh), a foley artist and her partner, Farid (Musi), who are the successful hosts of a Canadian true crime podcast. After her mother passes away Jo returns to her small Ontario town to sort through her mother’s things while continuing her foley work on the podcast. With Farid in Newfoundland and only available over the phone, a sense of desolation, loneliness, and unease begins to permeate Jo’s life. A disturbing sound Farid hears in one of Jo’s tracks leads her on a creepy, spooky path. Did the house, or something in it, cause her mother’s death?

“I was doing research about sound and learned that we, as human beings, perceive sound so realistically that we can make them up and hear them almost as if they were actually there,” Musi says. “I think that’s why watching a horror movie in our home is such an amazing experience. It doesn’t end when the movie ends. It stays with us.”

With strict safety guidelines in place early in 2020, Walsh and Musi headed off to write Something Undone in a spot many would consider a scary setting: a cottage in the middle of nowhere with no heat. There, they wrote for 10 days, fleshing out what they had established in the pilot into one big chunk and then found ways to break it up into six episodes with a cliffhanger for each.

And while you can certainly watch Something Undone on your TV via the CBC Gem app—the colour palette, visuals and set decoration are wonderful—watching it with headphones on my laptop revealed a whole other level to the horror. Every little creak and clatter can be heard.

“We spoke to our sound designer and he spent extra time really juicing the sound for direction and to make that audio experience with your headset,” Walsh says. “Because it is sound-based, yeah, go for your headphones.”

Something Undone debuts Friday on CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of 4AM Film Studios.

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Second Jen ends after three seasons on Omni

Jen and Mo have said goodbye. After three seasons on Omni, Second Jen will not be back for a fourth.

“It is bittersweet for us to announce that this has been the last season of Second Jen,” co-creators, co-executive producers and stars Amanda Joy and Samantha Wan, and showrunner Carly Heffernan posted on social media following the show’s Sunday season finale. “Thank you to everyone who has supported us. Thank you for the love and laughter over the years.”

“We leave Jen and Mo in a place that feels good; where they’ve grown, and learned, and come into their own,” the post continued. “We are so happy to have shared their journey with all of you. In many ways, their story has echoed our own.”

Read the rest of the post.

Over the course of three seasons, Second Jen centred on best friends Jen (Wan) and Mo (Joy) who banded together to tackle life’s ups-and-downs in Toronto.

Nominated for Best Comedy at the 2019 Canadian Screen Awards, the Season 3 cast included Nile Séguin, Janet Lo, Timothy Lai, Richard Tse, Tina Jung, Isabel Kanaan and Andrew Bushell. Guest stars included Andrew Phung, Ken Hall, Deb McGrath, Kathryn Greenwood, Ann Pornel, Rodrigo Fernandez-Stoll and Kathleen Phillips.

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CBC Gem’s The Communist’s Daughter a funny peek at the 80s in all its excess

My formative years were spent in the 1980s. Though I didn’t know it at the time, the 80s celebrated consumerism and excess. I was, however, aware of the media’s portrayal of Communism—and the Soviet Union, specifically—during that decade through movies like Rocky IV, Red Dawn and then-WWF wrestlers Nikolai Volkoff and Boris Zhukov. And I was aware of how it all came to a head in 1989 when the Berlin Wall tumbled, signifying the fall of Communism in Eastern Europe.

That time, and the tumult that came with it, is explored in the new web series The Communist’s Daughter. Available now on CBC Gem, the eight first-season episodes are the creation of head writer and director Leah Cameron (Coroner), who has first-hand knowledge of the subject matter.

The Communist’s Daughter is loosely based on Cameron’s childhood: her father was a Communist during the 1980s. As a result, the family car was a Lada, Soviet Life magazine was delivered to the door, and family vacations were to Cuba to support the economy. In the first episode, viewers are introduced to Dunyasha McDougald (Sofia Banzhaf), a 15-year-old living in Toronto in 1989. Happily upholding the beliefs of her father Ian (Aaron Poole) and mother Carol (Jessica Holmes), Dunyasha finds her support of Communism challenged by her first day at high school when she meets Jasmine (Nadine Bhabha) and Marc (Kolton Stewart). (Look for Chris Locke, George Stroumboulopoulos and Neema Nazeri in funny supporting roles.)

It’s been a long road for The Communist’s Daughter. I first spoke to Cameron back in 2018, when she applied to the Independent Production Fund to produce the series. Now, with the debut close at hand, how did she tackle writing the web series?

“By the time I got to shooting the [IPF] teaser, I had a sense of, tonally, what I wanted the show to feel like in terms of comedy and casting,” Cameron says. “I had originally conceived of it as a half-hour comedy, so it was more a process of refining some of the characters and paring things down.” The first TV episode was broken down and served as Episodes 1 and 2 of the web series and a rough season outline followed. Cameron knew she wanted The Communist’s Daughter to be serialized and take place over time, using the frame of Ian running for a local election and Dunyasha beginning her school year in September and the fall of the Berlin Wall in November of 1989.

“It’s a time when the family’s values couldn’t be more out of sync with what’s going on,” she says. “The Reagan 80s are a super-consumerist time, a super-conservative time and a time when I, growing up, said that my dad was a Communist and everybody thought that meant he was an evil person.”

Executive producer Lauren Corber—her LoCo Motion Pictures are behind Detention Adventure and How to Buy a Baby—is always looking for stories that speak to her, an audience for a project and if a creator is bringing something new to the table. She found all three in The Communist’s Daughter.

“Leah and [producer] Natalie Novak did an excellent job with their proof of concept video,” Corber says. “I had worked with Natalie before and was excited to work with her again. Leah came to the project with such a passion for the story. It was just undeniable that she would bring something special to the production.”

The Communist’s Daughter is available now on CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of Conor Fisher for Pinko Productions Inc.

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CBC’s Burden of Truth comes to an end after four seasons

In what is becoming a sad several weeks for Canadian TV, it has been announced that Season 4 of CBC’s legal drama Burden of Truth will be its last.

“After four incredible seasons, we’re bringing our Burden of Truth story to its conclusion in tonight’s series finale,” a statement read on the show’s official Facebook page. “We are so proud of the stories we’ve been able to tell each season, especially those related to social justice. We’re also tremendously appreciative of the support we’ve received from our fans worldwide, and are particularly grateful to the communities in Winnipeg and Selkirk, Manitoba, for being so welcoming to our crew.”

“We’re incredibly proud of Burden of Truth and are honoured that the show resonated with so many viewers worldwide,” executive producers Ilana Frank, ICF Films, Linda Pope, and Kyle Irving, Eagle Vision said in a statement. “When we began this season, we knew our story was coming to its natural end with a meaningful conclusion for Joanna, Billy, and the entire cast of characters. We’re thankful to the communities in Winnipeg and Selkirk, Manitoba, where we filmed our show, and our tremendous cast, helmed by Kristin Kreuk and Peter Mooney, for bringing ground-breaking stories to life. We also appreciate the steadfast support of our production partners at eOne, as well as our broadcasters CBC and The CW, on four tremendous seasons of Burden of Truth.”

Created by Brad Simpson, Burden of Truth stars Kristin Kreuk as Joanna Chang, Peter Mooney (Rookie BlueSaving Hope) as Billy Crawford, Star Slade (Frontier, Emerald Code) as law student Luna Spence, Meegwun Fairbrother (Mohawk GirlsHemlock Grove) as Police Chief Owen Beckbie, and Anwen O’Driscoll (Emerald CodeFlint) as new Millwood police recruit, Officer Taylor Matheson.

The legal drama follows Joanna Chang, a ruthless, big-city lawyer who returns to her small hometown in Millwood for a case that will change her life forever.

In the fourth season, a mining company reopened a dormant mine outside Millwood. Joanna and Billy, lawyers and new parents, stepped in to protect a local woman’s home from certain destruction. When the mine swiftly retaliates, Joanna is forced to confront a long-buried secret from her past and scramble to protect the future of her career and her family. As both sides prepare for war with the fate of Millwood at stake, Joanna and Billy must juggle their life with a newborn with waging a legal battle against a corporate titan. When they come across evidence the mine isn’t what it claims to be, Joanna seizes an opportunity to launch an unexpected legal battle that will bring the company to its knees.

Burden of Truth follows Frankie Drake Mysteries and Kim’s Convenience as CBC series ending this broadcast season.

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