Everything about Jann, eh?

Jann: Deborah Grover on Nora’s journey and the “universal story” of Alzheimer’s disease

“Just breathe.”

That was the advice Deborah Grover gave Jann Arden when they began filming CTV’s Jann in Calgary last fall.

Singer-songwriter Arden is an experienced stage performer with enviable comedic ability, but toplining a TV series—and all the line memorization and mark-hitting that goes with it—is new to her. Grover, who plays Arden’s mother Nora in the series, is a veteran actress with a long list of credits, including films Agnes of God and Where the Truth Lies and TV shows Night Heat and Anne with an E, so she knows exactly what to do when someone has acting jitters.

“When you start to panic and go, ‘I don’t remember a single thing, I don’t even remember my first line,’ it’s like, breathe,” Grover says during an on-set interview last October. “Because it’s all sitting inside of you. You’ve done all your work, so just breathe. So [Jann and I] would start a scene, and just breathe, and boom, it’s there. And if it isn’t there, then we start again. Not a big deal.”

Of course, that approach only saves actors who have done their work, and according to Grover, no one arrived on set more prepared or more committed each day than Arden did.

“She came prepared to work, and every day she’s working on her lines and her scenes and her nuance of the scene,” Grover says. “She’s come at it with everything she’s got, and it’s been fascinating to watch. You know, she’s a Canadian icon, so you want this to succeed for her, because man, what we have to give in this journey is personal, but it’s a universal story. It’s so human.”

In the series, Arden plays a mostly fictional version of herself, a version who is on the declining side of fame and struggling to get back on top—which leads to lots of hilariously unflattering scenarios. However, the show also deftly mixes in Nora’s struggles with dementia, which are based on Arden’s real-life experiences caring for mother Joan Richards, who suffered from Alzheimer’s before passing away in December.  

Grover read Arden’s 2017 memoir, Feeding My Mother: Comfort and Laughter in the Kitchen as a Daughter Lives with her Mom’s Memory Loss, before auditioning for the part.

“I read the book, and during my screen test with Jann, I think she felt I had the right feeling, a certain sensibility, and that seemed to work for her vision of her mom,” says Grover.

The connection between them is evident onscreen, counterbalancing the show’s spot-on bits of entertainment industry satire with moments of emotional depth and familial tenderness.

“It is a fictionalized version, there’s no question,” says Grover. “And I think the more we explore the scenes, the more I discover about her mother.”

Grover’s family was also touched by Alzheimer’s when her mother-in-law was diagnosed with the disease. 

I got to experience that on a first-hand basis,” she says. “But it’s totally different with every individual, and people have been very open about sharing their stories with me, going, ‘Well, my mom was this,’ or ‘My grandmom was that,’ so you receive it all, and it all adds to the mix.”

It isn’t a spoiler to say that Nora moves from simply being forgetful—as in a scene from Wednesday’s new episode, “Weeknd at Charley’s,” when Jann loses her patience with her mom for misplacing her phone—to suspecting something more serious is going on as the season progresses.

“As the journey gets more pronounced, you’re seeing a little bit of forgetfulness, the dementia is there, and then there will be the diagnosis at the end of the six-part series,” Grover says. “Hopefully, if there is a second season, there will be an exploration of the journey with mom and what that means and how the family deals with it through humour, through the heartbreak of it all. But you’ll hopefully get all those colours because Jann wrote about it all in her book.”

While a second season of Jann seems like a good bet, thanks to strong early ratings, Grover is also thankful for her recurring role as Aunt Josephine on the CBC/Netflix series Anne with an E, which started filming its third season in March.

“What a lucky actor I am,” Grover says. “I’ve got two amazingly different things on the go, and hopefully, other things that will fill in the cracks. I feel extremely blessed in these character years when you go, ‘Well, isn’t it over?’ No, it’s just beginning. Man, it’s just beginning. I’m having more fun than I’ve had.”  

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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Jann: Co-creator Leah Gauthier and showrunner Jennica Harper on developing the series and Jann Arden’s star power

During the same week that Daniel and Eugene Levy broke our hearts by announcing the end of their genius mega-hit comedy Schitt’s Creek, another stellar, and very Canadian, comedy debuted.

CTV’s Jann stars iconic singer-songwriter Jann Arden as a mostly fictionalized version of herself. In this alternate universe, Jann is a self-absorbed, down-on-her-luck musician who is desperate to claw her way back into the spotlight—and to get the best of her musical nemesis, Sarah McLachlan. Meanwhile, she’s also dealing (quite badly) with her recent split from long-time girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor) and her mom’s (Deborah Grover) increasing forgetfulness, a situation that echoes Arden’s real-life experiences with her mother, who passed away from Alzheimer’s in December.  The show is sharp, genuinely funny, and at times, deeply moving. It’s also a show fans of Schitt’s Creek might want to check out to help ease their anticipatory grief.

During a visit to Jann‘s Calgary-based set in October, we spoke with series co-creator Leah Gauthier (Motive) and showrunner Jennica Harper (Cardinal, Motive) about developing the comedy—which airs its second episode, “Go With the Flowga,” on Wednesday—pitting Jann against Canada’s sweetheart McLachlan, and Arden’s immense star quality.

Leah, you co-created the series with Jann Arden. How did that come about?
Leah Gauthier: I’ve worked in television for 10 years, on the factual and reality side of TV, and between two shows, I went on the road with Jann as part of her production team. So we met through work but became fast friends. I did three tours with her, and we’ve always talked about one day when we were both ready, we would pitch a show. It’s changed a lot over the years, and she’s been approached a lot to do television, but it was never the right format. Everyone always wanted her to be like a version of Ellen [DeGeneres] and do a daytime talk show. But we knew we wanted something scripted.

So about three years ago, we sat down in her kitchen and we just wrote it out. It started weird. She was very different versions of herself—she lived in a trailer park or she ran a strip mall—and we kind of pared it down to what it is now. We wrote it together on her kitchen island, and then we flew to Toronto and pitched it, and here we are. It’s almost insane. It took a long time, but now it feels like it happened overnight. It took three years.

What were some of the biggest roadblocks you experienced over that three-year period?
LG: I knew I had obviously something super special with Jann because the country really loves her, so I had a foot in the door because of her. I’m aware that this opportunity would have never have happened for me if not for her being my champion. So my biggest roadblocks were all of the things. Jann busted the roadblocks down, and now I get to do this, and I’m eternally grateful.

You and Jann chose Jennica as your showrunner. What was it about her that really stood out to you?
LG: We interviewed a bunch of different people for the position of showrunner and talking to her on the phone, it was just immediately apparent that she had all of the things that we were lacking. You know, together we made just a perfect, complete human. And she also came into the interview pitching great ideas, like there’s a whole rivalry with Sarah McLachlan that was Jennica’s idea. When she came up with that, we were like, ‘This woman gets us.’ She has the right sense of humour for us, she’s clearly talented and very smart and professional, ‘You’re hired.’

Jennica, you have worked on dramas like Cardinal and also have a background in kids comedy. How has it been working on a primetime comedy aimed at adults?
Jennica Harper: I was very grateful to be working in kids comedy for many years and then I had been developing a number of comedy shows, but it’s hard to get one going here. So I sort of interviewed and pitched my take on the show idea and sort of helped flesh it out. I know very well how lucky I am to be one of the people getting run an adult comedy, a primetime comedy in this country. There’s been very few. So I have no illusions about why I’m here. I’m here because I have the experience and because Jann got us a greenlight. Like, I know how our show got greenlit. I did my best with the scripts, I did my best with the story, but we’re here because we have a star and everyone was like, ‘This is a no-brainer. Let’s put this on TV.’ So I got to sort of ride the train, and now I’m sort of steering the train, but the train belongs to Jann.

I think Jann’s rivalry with Sarah McLachlan on the show is hilarious. Why does fictional Jann hate Sarah? 
JH: Right from the beginning, when I understood that the proposal was to do a fictionalized version of Jann and that she is super flawed and jealous and imperfect and a blurter who thinks about herself first, that immediately came to me. I was like, ‘This is going to be so much fun.’ Because that’s where the comedy is going to come from, it’s going to come from the conflict of her against the world. And sometimes that’s her versus her work, and sometimes it’s her versus her family. So I thought she needed a nemesis, and who is a better Canadian nemesis than, honestly, one of the most hard-to-criticize human beings in the world? Someone who is beautiful with an incredible songwriting ability and a beautiful voice and works for charities and creates music schools for children, that that would be somebody who—if you’re really having fun with a flawed person—you’re like, ‘I hate that perfect person. She’s terrible. How does she get everything and I get nothing?’ That kind of vibe.

The series is very funny, but it also has a serious side, particularly in its treatment of Nora’s dementia. Was it at all difficult to strike a tonal balance between those two elements?
JH: I know it’s going to be a big part of the conversation, so I’ve tried to think really hard about all of the aspects that go into finding that tone, but I think partly what’s helped us has been not to worry too much about it, to accept that we’re going to allow for some more serious moments and to not fight it, to embrace them.

We did know that we were kind of starting in a more comedic place and the season’s going to grow and build into more serious moments, and that was really helpful because we felt we were really earning some of them later, as opposed to trying in the pilot to start with really serious things. We’re not really doing that. We’re keeping it light up front and then hoping we’re bringing the audience along for a journey and that they’re going to come with us to a point where they really love these characters, they’re invested in their lives and they want to see what’s going to happen to them that’s not so perfect. And I also think that, even with the more serious moments in the show, we do allow for those responses that are imperfect and flawed and sometimes even funny. Life takes you to those places and you’re still yourself, you still respond the way you respond.

What has it been like working with Jann?
JH: On Day 1, we were kind of bracing ourselves: Is this going to be good? Is it going to work? It’s such a hard job. Can Jann do the job? And then there was a moment on Day 1 where I was watching and I almost cried because realized that it was so far beyond that. I looked at Leah and said, ‘Oh, my god. I think it might be really good. She’s really good.’ It was really exciting in that moment to realize that you were going to be a part of something special. It is an amazingly collaborative group, and we happen to have top-notch people, and I’m really proud of the scripts. I think that all of our writers have done a great job, they’re really strong scripts. But it would live or die with Jann—and it’s going to shine. She’s a star.

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

Images courtesy of Bell Media.

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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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Jann, Season 1

From Tony Wong of the Toronto Star:

Link: Jann Arden’s narcissistic alter ego shines in CTV’s Jann
For Jann Arden, it was life colliding with fiction, making it an almost impossible scene to shoot.

In her CTV television series Jann, a show loosely based on her own life, writers had recreated the moment when her mother, who died from Alzheimer’s in December, first got diagnosed with the debilitating disease. Continue reading.

From Eric Volmers of the Calgary Herald:

Link: Typecast? Calgary singer Jann Arden plays a strange version of herself in new CTV sitcom
“It’s interesting and I think it’s a very contemporary story, where it allows me to just be a very fluid person and make decisions just based on who I like and nothing else.” Continue reading.

From Eric Volmers of the Calgary Herald:

Link: Actress Deborah Grover on the emotional journey of playing Jann Arden’s mother
“All of that was so present in me, in terms of the journey she had taken with her mom. So, yeah, short answer: It was a huge responsibility. But Jann never made me feel that.” Continue reading.

From Glenn Sumi of Now Toronto:

Link: TV review: CTV’s Jann is a biting entertainment industry satire
But Jann Arden has the kind of presence, innate comic timing and acting skills that go beyond stunt casting. Her new TV show, Jann, is the real deal: a funny, biting satire about the entertainment industry that isn’t afraid to make fun of its star. Continue reading.

From Daniel Ball of Eat North:

Link: One day in Calgary: actor Ryan Northcott
“A lot of the time, the people you’re working with on set are pretty guarded, but Jann was super down to earth.” Continue reading.

From Bill Brioux of Brioux.tv:

Link: REVIEW: Jann is F—in’ hilarious
Just like The Beatles, Arden is called upon to play a heightened version of herself in Jann, premiering Wednesday on CTV. She throws herself into the role – physically throws herself into it – in the very first episode. She has a scene in the snow that’s Lucille Ball-level slapstick-y. Continue reading.

From David Friend of The Canadian Press:

Link: ‘I’ve never felt more empowered’: Jann Arden on her TV show, relationships and the future
Jann Arden is having a moment.

It’s about a week before her 57th birthday and her new comedy series “Jann,” which debuts Wednesday on CTV, is already looking like a success. Network executives seem pleased with the first season, and social media response to a preview of its debut episode is solid. Continue reading. 

From Bridget Liszewski of The TV Junkies:

Link: Jann Arden on using Jann to help normalize sexual identity
When you are given a platform for your voice to be heard, it’s how you choose to use it that truly matters. Canadian legend Jann Arden is choosing to make hers count and use it for good through her new CTV sitcom JANN. Continue reading.

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