Tag Archives: Alison Lea Bingeman

This Life writer Alison Lea Bingeman on Oliver’s “Intervention”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 206, “Intervention.”

For most of This Life‘s second season, Oliver Lawson’s (Kristopher Turner) problems have been overshadowed by his sister Natalie’s (Torri Higginson) terminal cancer diagnosis. But last week, Natalie learned she is in partial remission, and in this week’s new episode, “Intervention,” written by Alison Lea Bingeman, Natalie, Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith), and Matthew (Rick Roberts) finally confront Oliver about his deplorable living conditions — with unexpected results.

Bingeman says the Lawsons have a “blindspot” about the cause of Oliver’s troubles, but “layer upon layer” will be exposed as Season 2 continues.

“I think with his compulsion to work and his rather obsessive personality, more will be revealed about that,” she says. “It’s a very watchable journey.”

Bingeman joins us by phone from L.A. to tell us more about Oliver’s intervention, Natalie’s deliberate choice to stop being a victim, and the special bond between Caleb (James Wotherspoon), Emma (Stephanie Janusauskas), and Romy (Julia Scarlett Dan).

The centerpiece of this episode is that wonderful, revealing intervention scene. Where did that idea come from?  
Alison Lea Bingeman: We came up with it in the story room, so it was a group effort. I can’t really claim authorship of it. But the idea being, it’s like when a family gets together and there’s this elephant in the room, which is a brother’s dysfunction, and they’re thinking that it’s drugs, that we have to address it, and how do we do it? It’s how the Lawsons do that in their own kind of dysfunctional way.

The family addresses the situation with Oliver because they believe he’s in denial about his drug problem, but, in fact, what’s interesting about this is that the issues go quite deeper than that, and it’s more about a family denial.

Matthew was having a tough time adjusting to his post-separation life in this episode. What’s going with him? 
What’s interesting about Matthew is that he has a hard time accepting the way that things are, and he’s having a hard time accepting the consequences of his own actions. What’s interesting to explore with that character is how we do these sort of run arounds, and how if we’re not getting what we want, how we try alternative means to get what we want. He wants someone to see him and to appreciate him, and really what Matthew needs is to appreciate himself.

I liked Matthew’s interactions with Beatrice (Victoria Sanchez), especially the scene where he rubs her shoulder, and she shoots him down with, “Really?” It was funny, but it also forced him to sit with his own discomfort. 
I know. [laughs] It’s like he’s not getting the affection from Nicole, so he’ll try it with Beatrice, and she’s like, “Are you kidding me?” And so he’s really left alone again with his own sense of longing.

Maggie and Raza (Hamza Haq) seem to be developing a real trust. Is Maggie conquering some of her intimacy fears? 
I think that Maggie is trying to negotiate a new life and a new kind of intimacy for herself, and she’s kind of stumbling through it.

Natalie found out she’s in partial remission last week, which threw her for a loop. How would you describe what’s going on in her head?
If you look at the entire series up until now, it’s about her working toward acceptance that there’s no hope, and for the first time in this entire series, there’s a glimmer of hope. And here’s she’s been preparing herself, girding her loins for the opposite, so what happens when there’s that reversal? You think you’re going to be overjoyed and jumping up and down, but it kind of throws everything into question again. And I think that’s a very real response, and now that there’s a chance to not deal with those life and death issues, what’s the day-to-day look like? And sometimes that’s hard to look at because she’s been in kind of this crisis management mode for all this time, and now she’s got to pull it back to the day-to-day living. Sometimes that’s a challenge.

Which you demonstrated through the seemingly simple decision of whether or not to buy a new car.
Yeah, that’s the metaphor. Because what happens if your car breaks down? Two weeks ago, who cares? Because you may not need a car in a month or two. But now you have to look at things a little more long-term. And what does a new car mean? Do I have car payments? Do I pay for it with cash, or do I save that for the kids? We didn’t really get into the details of that decision, but that’s what implied by getting a new car.

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During the invention, Natalie’s siblings told her she’s been playing the victim for a long time. She then meets up with David (Louis Ferreira) about his custody plans and ends up sleeping with him. Why did she choose to do that? 
I think that what is going on in her story is that she is rattled by what her siblings tell her, and that she has identified with being a victim for many years. In this episode, she steps outside of that and she takes things on, not because she has the right solution, but because it’s her impulse in the moment. And her impulse in the moment is to sleep with her ex-husband, and she does it. We wrote that, specifically, that it’s something that she brought on. It was her decision. So there’s no victim there, and it’s a step out of that role. And it wasn’t a big seduction either. It’s like it just was what it was. It just happened, just like that.

We got a bigger glimpse of David’s life with his second family in this episode. Where is that headed? 
Here’s a man who left his family, and he started another family. And now his first family, he wants them back in his life. It’s like those two families converge in this season, and his responsibilities to each one are going to be in conflict.

It was interesting that the adult siblings melted down in the invention scene, but, in contrast, Caleb, Emma, and Romy bonded in their scene together. Why was that important to show? 
I think it’s that the siblings are there for each other. And I think what’s underlying that is that, whatever is happening with these adults, these kids are going to be okay because they have each other and that there’s a strength in that. That really is, I think, very foundational to the series, that love and support they have for each other. They’re siblings and they always have their conflicts, but I think with these kids–and I think it’s very true with kids who have lived through trauma–that they tend to rely on each other. There’s a closeness there that you wouldn’t necessarily see otherwise.

Because, first of all, their father left them, and Caleb took on the role as the primary man in the family, and we see the consequences of that and what that does to him. But you also see how he’s there for his two sisters and how the two sisters are there for each other as well. And it was very important to see Romy get over her panic attack. Remember how we saw that she was almost undone in the previous season? Here, she’s able–on her mother’s urging–to do the exercises, and she’s actually able to pull herself through it.

And what about Emma?
It’s very interesting to watch a teenage girl try to reinvent herself, and then she really doesn’t like her reinvention. She thinks that’s what she wants, but when she does it, she looks at herself and thinks, ‘This isn’t who I want to be.’ That’s what Emma’s going through. She’s trying to find out, ‘Who am I?’ and ‘How do I want to appear in the world?’

What can you tell viewers about upcoming episodes? 
I think, as usual with This Life, expect the unexpected. That’s what makes this series so interesting and fun, and I think what sets it apart from other series is that we really strive to go to unexpected places with our characters.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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This Life writer Alison Lea Bingeman breaks down “Perfect Day”

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 202, “Perfect Day.”   

Would you live your life differently if you knew you were running out of time? That’s one of the overarching themes of CBC family drama This Life, and it was a major focus of this week’s episode, “Perfect Day,” written by Alison Lea Bingeman.

“For me, what was so fun about writing the episode was asking, ‘How do we have fun when we allow ourselves to go out and kind of unwind a little bit?'” says Bingeman.

“Perfect Day” follows Natalie as she embarks on a day-long adventure with her friend Tia, who is also battling cancer. It also features big twists for Maggie, who shocks her family by announcing her marriage to Raza, and Matthew, who has a confrontation with David that forces him to face some uncomfortable truths about himself.

As part of our continuing series of interviews with This Life writers, Bingeman—whose other TV credits include Bomb Girls and 19-2—joins us via phone from Los Angeles to tell us more about the episode.

What themes did you want to explore when writing “Perfect Day”?
Alison Lea Bingeman: I think that what is really, for me, the foundation of the show is ‘What do you do with your life when you know your time could be limited?’ I think the theme of the first part of the season in particular is ‘How do we live with hope and live life to its fullest?’ and the idea of don’t put off to tomorrow what you should do today.  I think that’s really what Natalie is about. And certainly that’s the theme of Episode 2.

We’re all so concerned about getting stuff done and doing the right things and being the right person, but what about just going out and kind of unleashing a little bit? That’s what I really, really enjoyed about writing this episode, was [Natalie and Tia] being out there on those paddle boards on the water.

Was the biker’s funeral as much fun to write as it was to watch? 
I had so much fun. I actually pitched it, and everybody was like, ‘Yeah!’ We had a total gas with it.

A big moment in the episode was Maggie’s announcement that she and Raza got married. How did the writers decide that move made the most sense for her? 
That answer is twofold. One is that Maggie is a very spontaneous woman and she kind of dives in head first. She saw a situation where she lost the rent from her brother, and she had to give up her apartment, and then the situation with Raza came up and she was like ‘Why don’t we kill two birds with one stone?’ That’s the outward reason, but the reason beneath that—that maybe she’s not even aware of when she does it—is she has a longing for a certain love and affection. She kind of wants to have a husband and have a family, and this is sort of her version of being conventional . . . So it’s really sort of a deep need and deep impulse that she’s acting out on in a backhanded way.

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What will Maggie’s decision to marry Raza mean for her the rest of the season?
I think the flip decision she made is going to come back and she’s going to have to face it on some level. There will be unintended consequences for her, let’s put it that way. Not that she’s going to get punished for this, but she will eventually come to see, ‘Oh, OK. That’s what I did, that’s what this means. I had no idea.’

Matthew and David had some very revealing scenes in this episode. Tell me about their confrontation. 
I think that Matthew is angry because he’s getting rejected, and he’s living with the consequences of his actions, with his affair. And really in the simplest terms, when he comes to give David a piece of his mind, in a way he’s giving it to himself. But it flips on him because David isn’t going to just stand up to him and be the bad guy. He’s like ‘Come on in, have a drink. This must be hard.’ And David turns out to be a real human being. But Matthew can’t sustain that with him, he’s locked down. That’s why the dustup happens at the end of that scene.

What we were looking for in that exchange was that Matthew goes back to a place of unacceptance of David and, therefore, of himself. He’s really tied up with self-judgment, but he can’t do it himself, he can only do it through David. That’s why that scene was so important, and that’s why it was so lovely to write.

After seeing David, Matthew told Nicole he wants to fight for their marriage. Is this a turning point for him? 
He’s in lockdown, but in a way he’s able to see by looking at his sister’s relationship—and what David was in that relationship—he doesn’t want to be that guy. That makes him go on his knees with Nicole, and it makes him realize how much he wants this marriage. And he wants to be forgiven—even though he can’t forgive himself.

But can Nicole forgive him? 
I think he’s going to have to go through a few more hoops.

Romy wants to live with Oliver when her mother dies, and Oliver was considering it until Maggie—of all people—told him he may not be up to such a big responsibility. Is that the end of the matter? 
All of our characters kind of come to realizations, and then they sort of fade back again from it, because it is may be a difficult realization. With Oliver, he wants to see himself as heroic, like the great uncle for Romy, and that sense that he can’t be that for her is going to be difficult. But it’s not over, that’s all I can tell you. It’s not over.

The last scene of Natalie watching family videos of David and the kids was very poignant. What do you think was going through her head at that moment? 
I think when we end relationships, to get through them, we make the other guy the bad guy. She saw at that moment that there was real affection, there was real love. And it’s a real bittersweet moment for her.

Do you have a particular character you feel you write or understand better than the others?
I love Natalie. I’m a mom and I’ve raised two boys who are similar in age to Caleb, so I really relate to her. But I would also say that I relate a lot to Maggie, because I was a rebellious young woman, so I totally get who she is and where she comes from and why she does the things that she does. And I love David. I actually love them all.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

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Link: This Life writer on the challenges of deep character dramas

From Bridget Liszewski of The TV Junkies:

Link: This Life writer on the challenges of deep character dramas
“As a writer of character drama we really have to have an empathy gene to us. We talked about our lives but also talked about the lives of people we knew. But more than writing our own experiences, it was bringing these characters alive so that they felt like they existed.” Continue reading.

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