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Burden of Truth: Kristin Kreuk breaks down Joanna’s Season 4 struggles

Burden of Truth could have ended after last season. The Season 3 finale wrapped up the legal show-turned-family drama’s storylines in a neat bow, with lead character Joanna Chang, played by Kristin Kreuk, completing her metamorphosis from emotionally damaged corporate lawyer to self-aware justice seeker and mom-to-be.

But just like after the show’s first season—which so efficiently resolved its legal-heavy environmental plot that it looked like it had nowhere left to go—it found a way forward by digging deeper into its characters.

“This year, we thought the only way to really do another season is to take it all away from Joanna and see what happens,” says Kreuk, who is also an executive producer on the series.

And in the Season 4 premiere, airing Thursday at 8 p.m. on CBC, Joanna is clearly struggling. She and Billy (Peter Mooney) are trying to find their footing as new parents while waging a legal battle against a powerful mine company that wants to reopen an old gold mine outside of Millwood.

“[Joanna] and Billy are really trying to parent without any support,” says Kreuk. “They’re just doing it on their own in a vacuum while both of them are working.”

The situation is made worse by the mine’s ruthless legal team—who use the same aggressive tactics that Joanna did when she was a corporate lawyer.

“She sees this mining company come in with predatory behaviour that she was part of in her past,” Kreuk explains. “So she’s trying to defeat her shadow self.”

We recently caught up with Kreuk and asked her to break down Season 4’s biggest storylines and explain what it was like to film during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How did the COVID-19 pandemic affect production this year?
Kristin Kreuk: We got kind of a late pickup for the show this year due in part to, in March, nobody knew what was going on or what would happen or how quickly the pandemic would resolve itself. Then we started shooting later than we normally would for our show. We didn’t start shooting until basically the end of August.

In Winnipeg and Manitoba at that time, they had very few cases, they hardly had a first wave. And so for a while there, it looked like we may be able to skate by a little bit. But even from then, before we even got on a plane, we got tested. We tested the minute we arrived. On set, everybody was wearing masks and shields, everyone was kind of placed in pods. People had to step away from set to eat, and there were hand-washing and hand sanitising stations. We worked shorter work days so people could get more rest, so they didn’t get tired and their immune systems didn’t weaken.

So a lot changed, and it was a very different season of television. And Winnipeg’s cases started to go up quite a bit in the fall, and they were the worst in Canada for a while, so towards the end, we got worried. But it always felt safe because of all the precautions. In many ways, I felt safer on set than I did anywhere else.

Were there any story changes because of the pandemic?
KK: Yes, totally. One of the main things was ensuring that we didn’t have very many background performers, so we didn’t do courtroom scenes really. We used to have big courtroom set-pieces at the end of every season, and we didn’t do that this year. We had to change it up.

Season 3 ended on a very positive note for Joanna, but as this season begins, she’s having some problems adjusting to motherhood and also finding it hard to be on the less powerful side of a corporate case. What can you hint about her journey this season?
KK: Joanna and Billy, when we left them last season, were probably in the happiest place they’ve ever been. The pregnancy wasn’t too hard for Joanna, she was able to work, they were doing very well, and she had kind of healed a bunch of her stuff. At the top of this season, the reality is sinking in more for them, and Joanna’s really struggled. She’s feeling the pressures of what motherhood should be and feeling all of the narratives that have been put on motherhood, and they weigh on her.

And then there’s the fact that the job she does is so dangerous in many ways because she’s taking on the underdogs in cases. It’s something that the other mothers that she’s meeting aren’t able to comprehend. So she’s kind of in this place of doubt.

As you said, Joanna and Billy were in a very happy place at the end of last season, but being a new parent is hard. How are they going to handle that?
KK: What I love about Joanna and Billy is that they love each other, that’s not a question. But this year, you’ll see the differences in what makes them feel secure and safe. For Joanna, it has to do with her ability to do the things she’s best at, particularly because she feels like she’s failing at being a mom, which is debatable. If you just look at what she’s doing, she’s not, but she really feels like she is. She feels most secure through being able to be great at her job.

Billy’s sense of security also comes through Joanna being great at her job, but he also wants a more traditional life. And I think those two things butt up against each other because that’s not what Joanna wants or needs, but that is what he wants and needs. So we kind of see that unfold between the two of them, particularly because Joanna’s choosing, similar to last year, a case that isn’t helping them to make money for their firm.

Two recurring themes I’ve noticed are finding the meaning of home and finding your identity after trauma, and it looks like Season 4 will continue that trend. Was it always the show’s intention to explore those themes?
KK: We are aware of what you’re talking about, but I think that when we started the show, we only understood one small aspect of what that meant—at least, I don’t know if this was [series creator] Brad [Simpson]’s scheme all along. I think that we were really focused on Joanna’s own trauma, and we weren’t looking at it as completely, but each season we’ve delved deeper and deeper into that.

A manifestation of that through Taylor [Anwen O’Driscoll] this season is her trying—and her storyline is so beautiful this year—to find her place in a town that she thought she’d never come back to, that’s a representation of her horrible relationship with her father and her loss of a future she saw for herself, of having to like reacquaint herself with her dreams and her place on that land. This season is very much about kind of repositioning yourself on your land and in your home and how you can do that while incorporating the trauma of your past into that without forgetting it.

I thought Owen Beckbie’s fight against racism in the police department was a very interesting storyline last season, and Meegwun Fairbrother did a great job with it. What will happen with Beckbie this season?
KK: [Meegwun] wrote half a script this year, so he’s been a big part of the season. Beckbie’s in an interesting place where he’s finding himself in a position of power, and he thought maybe, as an Indigenous man in a position of power, could change things. But he’s realizing through being on the ground that that isn’t true, that the system is the system. And so this season is sort of about him evaluating his place in that system and how he can create the changes he wants. You see that through the cop aspect of [the story] and also through this kid, played by Skye Pelletier, who he sort of takes on. His relationship with Beckbie is a big part of the season.

Burden of Truth hasn’t been afraid to hold up a mirror to some of the darker aspects of Canada’s history, particularly its treatment of Indigenous communities. Have you gotten a lot of positive feedback about that?
KK: Honestly, I think people are mostly really excited that we’re delving into those stories. Some people have told me that they’re actually learning from the show, which is kind of sad because our education system should be doing that. But it’s also great that we can do that because I have always believed that one of the powers of scripted television or feature films is that you fall in love with people, with characters and then you can develop empathy for them in a way that you feel more connected to. So feedback wise, people have said that to me, people really appreciate it. But I’ve also seen some really negative stuff about how we’re super white-hating, which is clearly also not true.

Did you have a favourite episode or storyline this season?
KK: It’s hard to say because it’s such a serialized show, but there are images that have stuck in my head as I’ve watched them through all the edits. There’s a moment with Beckbie, he has a scene with Crystal [Michaela Washburn], who we briefly saw in Season 3. She’s a criminal and he is a cop, and they’re both Indigenous and they have an all-out, intense discussion. It’s a very good scene, and there’s a small moment that follows that I find really moving, where Beckbie is kind of facing his cop self.

There’s stuff with Luna [Star Slade] that’s really powerful this year as she tries to decide what path she wants to take for her career, whether she wants to focus on legal aid, or if she wants to sort of go in the direction that Joanna went, and she has to decide what will make more of an impact based on what she wants to do with her life.

And there’s stuff with Billy and Joanna as they manage being parents that I find really beautiful. They come to an understanding with each other and they have therapy scenes, which I think are also really interesting. There are a lot of things to look forward to from all these characters.

Burden of Truth airs Thursdays at 8 p.m. on CBC and CBC Gem.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Murdoch Mysteries: Maureen Jennings chats about “Shock Value”

[Spoiler alert: Do not continue reading until you have watched “Shock Value.]

I love getting Maureen Jennings’ take on episodes she has written for Murdoch Mysteries. After all, she created the character of William Murdoch in her novels. Without her, there wouldn’t be Murdoch Mysteries.

In Monday’s latest instalment, “Shock Value,” we were introduced to scientists who performed experiments on their fellow human beings in the interest of education. This isn’t a new trope on TV, film, or real life, but the Kingstons brought it into sharp, and creepy focus. Add to that the re-appearance of Dorothy Ernst and her plan for George, and “Shock Value” was a disturbing story.

We conducted an email interview with Maureen Jennings to get her take on Monday’s episode.

How did the main storyline for “Shock Value” come about? Was it inspired by anything in particular?
Maureen Jennings: Two main things. A few years ago, I came across a wonderful book called Fear, written in 1893 by an Italian doctor named Angelo Mosso, who was keen to understand the interactions between our bodies and emotions. He measured the respiration and heart rate of his subject and how a gun fired behind them affected these. He also developed an early version of the lie detector. We’ve used that in a couple of early episodes with Murdoch as the subject. It is a fascinating topic that we are still exploring. For me, a direct offshoot of the issue is what motivates us to pursue tasks, praise, or punishment? I’m all for praise, myself. Also, I was very interested in the notorious experiments of Stanley Milgram in the 1960s. He concluded that people were very susceptible to those they saw as authorities and surrendered their own judgments even when asked to do something that they believed was causing another person pain.

This is one of the darker episodes of Murdoch Mysteries and pretty darn scary. Do you relish the spookier, scarier storylines?
MJ: Not me. I’m a wimp. Blame the writer’s room.

Did the pandemic affect how you wrote this episode or is writing a Murdoch Mysteries episode more of a solitary affair for you anyway?
MJ: Pre-COVID-19, we had a fun second story about basketball and we were hoping to lure one of our fabulous Raptors to come and do a cameo. It had to be dropped. FOR NOW.

There are always little things in Murdoch episodes that made me smile. Brackenreid explaining why he was eating an apple is one of them. Do you enjoy writing tidbits, knowing the fans will enjoy them as well?
MJ: I especially like historically related bits. For instance, the origin of the term basketball. (Naismith using peach baskets to catch the balls.

And we got yet another peek at William liking things “just so” when he measured the apple and banana slices for uniformity. I loved that detail.
MJ: He’d drive me crazy.

The Kingstons may be some of the most dangerous people we’ve met on Murdoch Mysteries. They use manipulation to test the human condition. Who was the inspiration for them?
MJ: Sort of the Kinseys from the 50s. The Kinsey Reports. All serious scientists who conduct experiments must have obsessive natures and coldness at the centre. But hey, we owe them a lot.

The secondary story worries me. It seems like George is going to be framed as insane and perhaps be the victim of revenge. Can you comment on that?
MJ: Keep watching.

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

Image courtesy of CBC.

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Preview: Discovery’s Mud Mountain Haulers is a dangerous good time

There are a ton of documentary series on TV that spotlight men and women toiling in obscure and interesting careers. From vacuuming up gold underwater to digging for jade in the north, casting for tuna in the Atlantic or king crab off the coast of Alaska, to towing trucks in British Columbia or Ontario, the choices are plentiful. There’s already a series about logging called Big Timber over on History. So, do we need another program about logging?

Heck, yes.

Debuting Monday at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Discovery, Mud Mountain Haulers follows Craig and Brent Lebeau, third-generation loggers who run separate companies. But where Big Timber mainly shows the cutting of trees, Mud Mountain Haulers tracks the trucks and drivers who take the logs off-site. Produced by Great Pacific Media—the folks behind Highway Thru Hell and Heavy Rescue: 401Mud Mountain Haulers is worthy third act.

Within the first three minutes of Monday’s debut, “Mud Man Down,” there is drama. A fully-loaded rig has gone off the road, trapping its driver inside. Before viewers learn his fate, we’re taken back 30 hours and introduced to Craig Lebeau (pictured above), a feisty 25-year veteran of logging the hills of B.C., who describes the danger involved in this job and the pressure he’s under to deliver the high-quality timber around the world.

Weather plays a huge part in the Lebeau’s business. The extreme winter chill means the ground is firm enough for heavy equipment, including the trucks that take the wood away. It’s here we meet Mike, Dan and Theron, three drivers who make sure the loads get where they’re going quickly and, hopefully, safely before the spring thaw—and the mud—arrives.

The success of a documentary series always rests on the characters and if you care about them. Great Pacific Media knows how to tell human stories and tell them well.

The result? Discovery has got another hit on its hands.

Mud Mountain Haulers airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/7 p.m. PT on Discovery.

Image courtesy of Bell Media.

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Kim’s Convenience: Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon preview Season 5

To say a lot has happened between Seasons 4 and 5 of Kim’s Convenience would be an understatement.

Aside from COVID-19 safety measures, there were two other major behind-the-scenes events. The first was Simu Liu landing the role of Shang-Chi in the Marvel movie, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The second was Paul Sun-Hyung Lee scoring a multi-episode arc on a little Star Wars spinoff called The Mandalorian. Luckily, all three events failed to derail Season 5 of Kim’s Convenience.

Returning Tuesday at 8 p.m. on CBC, we spoke to Paul Sun-Hyung Lee and Jean Yoon about the family facing one of its toughest challenges yet as they navigate a difficult medical diagnosis for Umma.

How did the pandemic affect production on Kim’s Convenience?
Paul Sun-Hyung Lee: Shooting during a pandemic, it’s not business as usual. The mere fact that we were able to go back to work, I think, was a huge win. I have to give huge props to the production team and the producers of Kim’s Convenience for creating a protocol, a COVID protocol designed with safety first. They had systems where the different departments were separated into different pods. There were different points of access for everybody where there wasn’t any cross mingling. We had PPE, checking procedures, all these different things that we had to go to these hoops to ensure our safety. And it was really, it was quite an adjustment period. It’s a different energy on set, your timing’s a bit thrown off. You can’t see anybody’s faces. As an actor, on top of having to play a scene, you’ve got to do your own final makeup touches and you have to reset your own props and you have to think about blocking … all these extra things. You’re doing three or four different jobs sort of at the same time.

Jean Yoon: [Before the pandemic] between shots, you’d have grips moving the lights at the same time, hair and makeup is chasing around trying to powder you, wardrobe, the director and the assistant directors. [During COVID-19 protocols] it was easier to keep your train of thought as an actor, which is really good because with all of these protocols, I do think on average we had fewer takes. And so you really wanted to make sure that you were right on.

Umma has a medical situation this season. Jean, what can you say about it?
JY: Any medical situation for a character in our age bracket is an opportunity to explore stories that are grounded in truth. The uncertainty of one’s health is something that is just … you pass 50 and the next thing you know, you’ve got to start watching your cholesterol and your sugar and how much exercise you’re getting. So that raises some real questions and the opportunity for those sorts of storylines based in that kind of dilemma is pretty rewarding. One thing about this show is that its strength is the relationships between family members and any kind of medical situation is going to bring up, it raises the stakes and it’s going to bring up questions and stories and emotions that are worth exploring.

There is a scene between yourselves and Andrea Bang that killed me. It was so emotional.
JY: Thank you. Yeah. Working with Andrea at any time, she’s so good. Oh, my god. She’s so good.

PSHL: You’re no slouch yourself, Jean.

JY: Let’s talk about how amazing Andrea Bang is, though. She’s got this ability to tap into this well of vulnerability that just blows me away. And I remember even in the first audition, like with we were camera testing a few people and Andrea had it right from the get-go.

Paul, what can you say about some of the storylines that are coming up in some of the things that this family is going to run into?
PSHL: Without giving away too much of the storylines. One of the things Andrew Phung and I always bug the writers about is like, we want more scenes together. We want to see Kimchee hang out a little bit more and not for only selfish reasons, although they are, because he’s my best friend. But it’s this whole idea of us hanging out together puts a bit of a strain on his relationship with Chung. It’s this neat little triangle that sort of happens. It’s always a pleasure to work with Andrew. I’m happy to say that there are scenes with Andrew this season that I’m quite happy about. But there are also some scenes with Simu that happened this season that I’m very, very happy about. With Simu going away and shooting that little boutique movie and then coming back, it was just like, ‘Hey, the family’s back together again.’ It just felt like, for that period of time, all was right in the world despite it being a dumpster fire in 2020. It was just this moment of happiness, where we were sitting there like, ‘Our son is home and that’s a lovely thing.’ So in terms of storylines, this is a season that is focused on the family, the relationships with each other and character growth.

JY: Simu came back and quarantined for two weeks and the way it worked out is we ended up having a week hiatus which was great. But then he had to shoot nine days in a row, basically 10 episodes of scenes. They had to bring in all three directors back and there were days where the morning would be one director and the afternoon would be another. He had to be incredibly disciplined and prepared, and boy was he ever. Yeah, it was great to have the family back together.

Kim’s Convenience airs Tuesdays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Murdoch Mysteries: Paul Aitken discusses “Code M for Murdoch”

[Spoiler alert! Do not continue reading until you have watched “Code M for Murdoch”]

It’s simply not a season of Murdoch Mysteries until Terrence Meyers appears in at least one episode. Following his debut way back in Season 1, a visit from Meyers (played by Peter Keleghan) means a storyline jam-packed with intrigue and backstabbing (both literal and figurative).

Monday’s latest instalment also featured fan favourite James Pendrick (Peter Stebbings) and that dastardly Allen Clegg (Matthew Bennett). We spoke, via email, to Paul Aitken, the episode’s writer.

Congratulations on Season 14. Can you believe Murdoch Mysteries has gone on this long?
Paul Aitken: When we were starting Season 2, we had a phone conversation with the network (Citytv at that time). They told us they loved the show and joked that they wanted it on for 15 seasons. We laughed. They laughed. And here we are.

Is it a Murdoch Mysteries rule that there be one Terrence Meyers episode per season?
PA: I don’t know if it’s a hard and fast rule but it’s become a very ingrained habit. It’s like every Beatle album had a Ringo song.

How did the main spy-themed storyline come about? Is it inspired by any particular part of history or film?
PA: It all started with a dream I had about Murdoch getting a message saying “Murdoch Find JP.” We then combined that with a Terrence Meyers plague story we had knocking around for a few years.

Was the rabies sub-plot inspired by the current pandemic?
PA: No. We had this cooking for a few years in various forms.

I always love it when Peter Stebbings has time to reprise his role as James Pendrick. I’m surprised you were able to schedule him around his directing duties.
PA: It took a couple of years. I guess we can thank COVID for his availability.

The fans love James Pendrick. Did you have any idea, at the time he was first introduced, that he would be a hit?
PA: No. He was introduced in Season 3 as part of a season long storyline that was ultimately resolved. We brought him back in Season 5 as the inventor of an electric car that ended up being crushed by big oil. It was then that we realized the potential for the character.

Do you have a favourite recurring guest character to write for or is that an unfair question?
PA: It’s like asking a parent who their favourite child is. There are many I love of course. Terrence Meyers, Ralph Fellows, James Gillies, Roger/Rupert Newsome, etc. If I have to choose I’ll go with Pendrick. He’s such a ridiculously magnificent man. A saner, nobler Elon Musk. He gets his dreams crushed in every episode, yet rises again with an even BIGGER plan. I wish I was James Pendrick.

The first three episodes in Season 14 have featured many funny or lighthearted moments. Is that a theme this year or will things get darker as we move on?
PA: I think we’ve always had a mix, both between episodes and within episodes. I don’t think this season is any different. It’s a grab bag. You never know what you’re going to get.

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

Image courtesy of Shaftesbury.

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