Tag Archives: Derek Miller

APTN’s Guilt Free Zone returns for raucous laughs and rockin’ talent

Guilt Free Zone‘s tagline is “This Show is Ridiculous.” That’s true, but it’s also hilarious, educational and truly unique.

Returning for its third season this Wednesday at 10:30 p.m. ET on APTN, Guilt Free Zone (GFZ) is something I’ve never seen in Canadian primetime. It’s a sketch comedy, variety and musical series that showcases solely Indigenous musicians and talent every week while delivering a humorous take on colonization.

“I remember sitting around, thinking about doing a variety show,” GFZ co-creator, co-executive producer, star and Juno-winning singer-songwriter Derek Miller recalls of his initial idea for a program. “It’s grown a personality and a full vibe since then. It’s been an evolution to see how it goes from an original intellectual property idea to actually stuff happening.”

You can’t talk about GFZ without mentioning its past. Season 1 of the variety program had more of a traditional late-night talk show look, with Miller behind a desk, interviewing Indigenous guests from all walks of life, interspersed with moments of sketch comedy and showcasing a musical guest. Then, in 2015, after watching two episodes of the program, the federal government revoked the program’s tax credit, citing GFZ was a talk show and therefore exempt from receiving money. That forced Laura J, Milliken, the series’ co-creator, executive producer, writer and president and CEO of Big Soul Productions, to do some major scrambling. The result? What GFZ is today. I think the show is better for it, and Milliken agrees.

“That prompted a huge wave of creativity and it was actually a really good thing,” Milliken, the co-executive producer of the Gemini-nominated Moccasin Flats, says. “I kind of paced around my house for like, a month, trying to figure out how we could make it the Guilt Free Zone and keep all these wonderful performances but also give it that comedic feel and also say the things we wanted to say.” To tune into GFZ is to visit a legal speakeasy that Derek has won in a poker game. Derek has no clue how to run a bar and relies on the staff of oddballs who he inherited along with the bar to help him. Those include multiple characters played by Amy Matysio (Save Me), Herbie Barnes (Tipi Tales), Darrell Dennis (Blackstone), Camille Stopps (Killjoys), Craig Lauzon (Royal Canadian Air Farce) and Michaela Washburn (The Thaw).

Those wacky characters—and a writing staff that includes Milliken, Katya Gardiner and Dennis—enables to show to go off in wild, hilarious directions. One upcoming Season 3 instalment, “Dick Trouble,” sees the GFZ crew reminiscing about life pre-cell phone, plunging Derek into a film noir sequence while another, “Whack and Roll,” features puppies and an 80s dance off. There is also an acknowledgement of the taking of sovereign Indigenous lands through the lens of comedy.

“We do make commentary in the comedy about who we are and that we’re still here and we have a sense of humour,” Milliken says. “We make political jabs, social jabs and stereotypical jabs. We fight against the stereotypes that are cast upon us, but really the Guilt Free Zone is a place that’s ours and a place that we have to work together on to preserve and make ours.”

The other half of GFZ‘s weekly episodes are the stellar musical performances. An exclusively Indigenous list of performers—in addition to Miller—takes to the stage this season, including Lee Harvey Osmond, Leela Gilday, DJ Shub, Vern Cheechoo, David R. Maracle, Lacey Hill and Arthur Renwick, introducing viewers to an extensive set of bands, performers and singer-songwriters to take note of.

“In my mind, the performances are so beautiful,” Milliken says. “We’re really trying to show these people in the best way possible. “We’re here. We’re here to stay. We have talent and we have laughter.”

Guilt Free Zone airs Wednesdays at 10:30 p.m. ET on APTN.

Images courtesy of Big Soul Productions.


A new and improved Guilt Free Zone

Admittedly, I had never heard of Guilt Free Zone, so quite obviously I had never seen it before. That also meant the total revamp of the series—returning Saturday at 11:30 p.m. ET—was entirely lost on me. Also, I have to admit that I am not much of a blues fan either. However,  the screeners were passed on for me to take a look and I went in with no preconceptions and no Season 1—GFZ was more of a talk show last year—to compare with before I watched a couple of episodes.

I laughed. Some of the gags seemed a bit forced, the way live theatre often looks on TV. But still, I laughed. A few gags were predictable. I still laughed. Out loud. As a variety show, Guilt Free Zone kind of works for me. If you go back and watch old reels of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour or Laugh-In (yes, I know that dates me, but really how many comedy variety shows are out there these days?), those gags were forced, but they worked. They work here too.

Guilt Free Zone is set in a fictional blues bar owned and operated by none other than Derek Miller. He won the bar from its original owner in a poker game.  I do have to wonder if that was an intentional loss. Be that as it may, in each episode our stalwart cast of miscreants must battle back forces of evil to protect their new hangout. The cast is made up of Miller, Amy Matysio (Just Friends), Darrell Dennis (Leaving Normal), Herbie Barnes (Dance Me Outside), Michaela Washburn (Video Cabaret), Camille Stopps (Reign) and Craig Lauzon (Royal Canadian Air Farce).

The premiere episode, entitled “Science,” directed by Darrell Dennis, also features a special guest appearance by Gary Farmer (Blackstone and Forever Knight). The team battles asteroids, tornadoes and hurricanes; the world is in danger of complete destruction by mother nature’s wrath. If everyone worrying about the apocalypse, no one will bother coming down to the bar for that night’s gig. Our team must come up with a solution to ensure a full house.

Yes, the premise is quirky—even absurd—but Miller and castmate Herbie Barnes play off each other well. (The satirical nod to Iron Eyes Cody’s Make America Beautiful Again is perfect). The addition of Farmer as one of the Oracles is priceless. His proclamation “the only way to restore balance to nature is with nature” is kind of genius! I won’t give away the solution. Episode 1’s musical guests are Lee Harvey Osmond and Logan Stats.

A fun little show overall.

Guilt Free Zone airs Saturdays at 11:30 p.m. ET on APTN.


Link: Derek Miller challenges the Canadian entertainment industry with TV show

From Lindsay Monture of Two Row Times:

Link: Derek Miller challenges the Canadian entertainment industry with TV show
Derek Miller is no stranger to the challenges of establishing freedom of expression in the face of the Canadian government. Derek’s performance variety TV series The Guilt Free Zone had been in conflict with some Canadian entertainment industry policies and had fought to bring it into its second season. Continue reading.


Link: Aboriginal Film Company Is Taking The Federal Government To Court Over Lost Tax Credits

From Emma Loop of Buzzfeed:

Aboriginal Film Company Is Taking The Federal Government To Court Over Lost Tax Credits
An Aboriginal film company is taking the federal government to court over a decision that cost the company nearly $200,000 in tax credits for a new late-night comedy show. The tax credits would have gone toward the cost of making the first season of Derek Miller’s Guilt Free Zone, which aired six episodes on APTN in 2014. Continue reading.


Preview: APTN enters the late-night talk show ring

It’s been awhile since Canadians had their own late-night talk show to tune in to. Since 2004, in fact, when The Mike Bullard Show decamped from Global due to low ratings.

Now, over a decade later, there’s a new kid on the Canadian late-night block. Juno award and Canadian Aboriginal Music Award winner Derek Miller hosts Guilt Free Zone, debuting Tuesday on APTN, a ribald no-holds-barred talker that spotlights Aboriginal artists and performers, Miller’s offbeat sense of humour and a promise to discuss delicate subjects without fear of being judged.

Tuesday’s first instalment, “I Like Sex and Fonzie,” (the first of six episodes taped in front of live studio audiences across the country), sets the offbeat tone from the start with Miller introducing himself and outlining the show’s mantra to chat openly about sex. His first guest is Inez Jasper, a nurse, public speaker and singer-songwriter who stresses educating First Nations youth about avoiding sexually-transmitted diseases and pregnancy by using condoms, at which point Miller produces a handful. Jasper then jumps up and performs an original tune. Miller’s second guest, Jayli Wolf, chats briefly about her acting career on Mohawk Girls before performing as well.

When not chatting with his guests or watching them sing, Miller is yukking it up with a guy dressed up like Jesus who rides by on a Segway.

Guilt Free Zone is a little rough around the edges–there were several moments of dead space between bits and a little bit of stilted conversation–but on the whole I was entertained, especially when Miller grabbed his guitar and jammed with the GFZ house band to close out the episode.

Check GFZ out and let me know what you think.

Guilt Free Zone airs Tuesdays at 10 p.m. ET/MT on APTN.