CBC’s spy drama The Romeo Section returns for its second season tonight, and creator Chris Haddock sounds as relieved as his fans. “It wasn’t a sure thing. I’m grateful to be back.”
The public broadcaster’s last fall season didn’t get off to a great start, but both Romeo and This Life were given a second chance and subtly retooled to allow new viewers to come aboard. Haddock feels Romeo found its feet about halfway through the first season. “I feel like I’ve figured out where the real guts and strength of the show is and I’m going to try to prove it. It’s a little more focused. I found last year I probably had one too many storylines.”
Asking audiences to pay attention to multiple threads weaving into an elaborate pattern has been his style since the heydey of Da Vinci’s Inquest, when he recalls people asking, “are you ever going to wrap up these storylines?”
“It took time for the audience to get used to it and love that style. Some of the actors used to complain, ‘are we ever going to solve this case?’ But I find the stories take ahold of me and I keep digging and asking questions and finding that good vein.”
A chat with Haddock feels less like an interview and more like paying attention to multiple threads weaving into an elaborate conversation, with the PR person signalling the end just as a network might cancel a show on a cliffhanger.
Speaking of Intelligence, Haddock confirms The Romeo Section grew out of elements of that short-lived CBC series that had never completely left his system. Nearly 10 years after the cancellation he still fields questions about whether it might come back, but his James Dean response is: “Live fast, die young, leave a good-looking corpse.”
He’s been around the industry for a long time and has the creative freedom and come-what-may attitude to prove it. He knows it’s harder to find an audience in this time of “peak TV” than when Da Vinci was on the air, added to the ever-present competition from U.S. shows and lack of a U.S.-style promotional infrastructure, such as the late-night talk show circuit and glut of entertainment magazines. “I enjoy all the challenges,” he says. “I don’t panic over things that may have panicked me in my first years.”
“I was in a state when I began Da Vinci where I’d been writing pilots and movies in L.A. but my domestic life was a disaster, I was trying to get my kids,” he says. “I had this great attitude that I didn’t set out to have which is yes, this show is important, but my kids are the most important thing. So I had a good balance from the beginning.”
That calm extends to production challenges such as shooting Vancouver for Hong Kong in the pilot of The Romeo Section and creating gritty drama out of a city with a lot of shine.
“It’s not easy to get a tense, dark, psychologically disturbing atmosphere when it’s Vancouver and it’s beautiful. For a noir show like this I’d love to be shooting in the winter—because I’d get a lot of rain, I’d get earlier nights—but I’m not. You have to figure out a way. So it’s not classic noir, it’s more of a California noir. You can be just as miserable in the hot sun.”
The Romeo Section airs Wednesdays at 9 p.m. on CBC.