St. Jacobs, Ont., is a mere 90-minute drive from Toronto, but it can feel like a world away. It’s where a large community of Mennonites live surrounded by small towns and rolling farmer’s fields. It’s also the setting of CBC’s new—and unique—drama, Pure.
Created by Michael Amo (The Listener) and debuting Monday, Jan. 9, at 9 p.m., the premise sounds laughingly outrageous: Mennonite communities in Mexico use communities in Canada to transport drugs over the border into the United States and vice versa, as a way to keep their farms going. The reality is, it’s happening.
“It amazed me,” Amo says during a set visit for media in Halifax. “I was always interested in doing a story about the Mennonites and I love to use any project that I have as an excuse to do research and learn stuff.” Amo’s grandparents on his mother’s side were Mennonites, the first of their community to move into the city and stopped using low German as their language. Pure represented as much an opportunity to visit part of his family’s history as it did to tell the tale of drugs being run into the U.S. via small-town Canada. Amo first read about the Mennonite mob in a magazine article and renewed the option on it for years before writing the pilot on spec. No networks in Canada or the U.S. were interested in his six-episode one-hour drama until True Detective and Fargo came along. Pure then spent over two years in the works at Shaw before the CBC picked it up.
Pure stars Ryan Robbins (Continuum) as Noah Funk, a newly-elected Mennonite pastor who rids his community of drug traffickers … and then comes under the scrutiny of mob leader Eli Voss (Peter Outerbridge, Orphan Black). This pulls Noah and his family—wife Anna (Alex Paxton-Beesley, Murdoch Mysteries), brother Abel (Gord Rand), son Isaac (Dylan Everett) and daughter Tina (Jessica Clement)—into a dangerous web with seemingly no way to escape. That is, until Noah finds an unlikely ally in Bronco Novak (AJ Buckley, Justified), a washed-up cop whose investigation into a burned-out car leads him to Noah, and DEA agent Phoebe O’Reilly (Rosie Perez), who has been tracking Eli for years.
“The Mennonite people speak their own language, Plautdietsch or low German,” Robbins says during a break in filming. “So, even if the police were on to somebody they don’t have anybody to translate those conversations. That’s how people were able to get away with it for so long.” Noah, Robbins explains, is an old-school Mennonite, with no electricity and a horse and buggy to get around in. A pious man, he’s challenged to keep his faith while betraying members of his colony and justifying his decisions in the name of God.
“Michael writes his characters very differently,” Robbins says. “They’re not cookie-cutter archetypes. Each character has quirks and they cast accordingly so that strengths will be brought to those characters.” The Vancouver-based actor “blasted through” Season 1’s six scripts quickly and marvelled at how he’d never heard or read anything like it before.
“I think a show like Pure could change the game for the CBC and for Canadian television,” he continues. “There is nothing like this on TV. I hope this show wows people. It wows me.”
Pure airs Mondays at 9 p.m. on CBC.
Images courtesy of CBC.