I’ve been desperately trying to watch Seasons 1 and 2 of Frontier online since you mentioned they were available. I’ve been really enjoying the series so far and I expect Season 3 will be just as great. One of my favourite characters is Jessica Matten’s Sokanon. She is such an unpredictable character and I never know where she will go in any scene. I hope Sokanon makes it to the end of Frontier! —John
I agree that the showrunners should stick to the original format of [Murdoch Mysteries], in terms of showing the main four and covering their backstory. William, Julia, Brack and George are the only characters that I like to see have the main focus of each show. I actually wrote a letter to Peter Mitchell telling him that the show has too many characters since S9; Nina, Louise, Marilyn Clark, Ruth, Watts and even put more focus on Henry, John and Margaret. I told PM that I hoped Louise would get murdered, because that be the most interesting story with her in it. I also said that I didn’t like that H, J and M were getting more screen time. The point that I was trying to make with you was that, if this season is doing something a bit “fresh,” by having episodes that give more of a backstory to the main four, then I’m OK with that. Watts is an OK character but yeah, I could’ve done without an ALL Watts episode. Basically, I don’t think the writers will be doing these kinds of episodes in S13 (fingers crossed). —Crystal
I think it’s selfish of viewers to expect the same product in every episode of any show. Creative people feel boxed in when they can’t follow their instincts. I like the profile stories of Watts and Brackenreid for the depth and enrichment of the characters, for the stretching of the writers’ imaginations, for the challenge to the actors. Doing the same thing with minor variations and over is BORING. For them and for me. One reason I’m such a fan of MM is their all-over-the-place unpredictability. Obviously this fluidity works for most of us since MM is on its 12th season with only a few changes to cast. They’re happy, let them do their thing. —Sadie
Got a question or comment about Canadian TV? Email greg. email@example.com or via Twitter @tv_eh.
Just in time for the chilly days of winter, Season 3 of Frontier blows into town on Discovery.
Returning Friday at 10 p.m. ET with two back-to-back episodes, the Canadian original once again crashes through the brush with its tales of adventure, heroics and bloodshed among feuding fur traders and trading companies. What can fans look forward to when Frontier checks in later this week? The Hudson’s Bay Company is cracking heads and Declan Harp (Jason Momoa) is on a mission to rescue Grace Emberly (Zoe Boyle) from Lord Benton’s (Alun Armstrong) clutches. Meanwhile, Sokanon (Jessica Matten) plots to free Indigenous women from being bought and sold around James Bay.
For more insight into Frontier, we turned to writer and co-executive producer Kerri MacDonald for more details and behind-the-scenes scoop!
So talk a little bit about working with co-creators Rob and Peter Blackie. What’s it like working with those two?
Kerri MacDonald: Oh, my God, it’s the most fun ever. It truly, truly is. I love working with those guys. They operate … it’s funny to work with people who are very close as siblings, right? They have a very specific relationship. They do have a very specific brotherly relationship, which makes for an enormous amount of laughter and humour in [the writing] room for sure.
As a creative unit, I love working with them because they do have really very much a shared vision for the show, and when you talk to one, you’re talking to the other in that way. It’s really comfortable and it’s really great because like I said, they know what they want for the show, and it’s my job then to support it, and then to laugh at all of their hilarious jokes in the room.
Does working on Frontier include some research that you had to do, some deep dives into the history of Canada to formulate these characters?
KMD: Yeah, the boys did a lot of research out of the gate about the time and the trade, and the players involved. I think the show was never intended to be something that was built on the accuracy of some sort of historical engine. It was always meant to be an action/adventure series with the trade as the backdrop. So that in and of itself was interesting because we were building a world. We were building a world in a way that we hadn’t before for sure with the other shows that we’ve done. That was really, really interesting.
As far as the way people talk in our world can slide into feeling very contemporary. There was a conscious choice early on not to be super formal with the dialogue. That was sort of helpful in some ways because you’re not tied to certain types of speaking.
Now, of course, certain characters in the show, like Lord Benton, or we have a new character that we are introducing this season by the name of Lord Fisher, played by Jay Simpson. These guys, of course, are aristocratic, well-born, and well-learned men, so of course, they speak differently. They speak more formally. Then, of course, you have our Scottish guys, who use all kinds of great colloquialisms and stuff.
For me, I find tapping into my voice as a Newfoundlander is one of my strongest points in terms of voicing. Newfoundland is an incredibly unique place, and therefore my voice, my experience, my family, the place I grew up, all of that sort of informs how I write. It’s a really fun show to write. The characters are all so different, and all so rich, and all have such different voices that I embrace that challenge of that sometimes.
Not only are the characters rich, but the wardrobe and the sets are just incredible. It’s one thing to write those scripts, but I would imagine as the actors and actresses get into their clothing and get into those sets, man, it just really helps them get into their characters.
KMD: Oh, yeah, 100 per cent. Our costumes are magnificent and they’re hand-sewn, and they have weights, and function, and all of those things that would help anybody sort of step into another time. Absolutely. We have an incredible crew of people, and the people who make those decisions, Michael Ground and Gord Barnes, just like really spectacular work.
How many were there in the writers’ room, aside from yourself and the Blackies in Season 3?
KMD: It was me and the Blackies and Sherry White and Chris Roberts and Russ Cochran and Michelle Latimer.
After you spent time in the room, you’re batting around ideas, you’ve worked out the beats for the episode and that type of thing, and then you go off by yourself to write an episode, are you the type where you can go to a coffee shop and write or do you need a room that’s quiet to write?
KMD: For me personally, I am a real creature of habit. I find when I’m writing a script, there’s sort of levels to it. There’s the stuff that if I’m feeling challenged on that day I’ll write the easy stuff, or if I’m really digging into it, I can write the difficult stuff. I find that not everywhere is easy to write sometimes, but my favourite place to write is literally on my couch in my basement in front of my television. Like everything I write, I say to my friends all the time, it’s quite funny, that anything I’ve ever written has basically been in a four-foot square space in my basement.
Is the TV on or is it off?
KMD: Oh no, it’s on. I always have the TV on. I’m an only child. I was raised partially by television, so it’s not unusual for television to be always on in my house, even if I’m not.
One of the characters that I’ve been fascinated with is Cobbs Pond, played by Greg Bryk. I spoke to him last year, and he just loved talking about playing this twisted character, this crazy character, and just being able to unleash the inner madman in him.
KMD: Pond is one definitely of our most interesting characters on the show. He’s in some ways … he’s boundary-less in a lot of ways, so for that, he’s a really fun character to write, because he’s really unpredictable and kind of all bets are off with him.
Something that sort of happened this season is that some of the storylines have broken away from this main thrust of Harp, so that’s allowed us to open up the world and cross over the characters in interesting sort of new dynamics, so this season you’ll see Pond in a bit of a different position, and you’ll see him from a slightly different angle, but that doesn’t mean you should settle into him being anything different than you know.
Is there a character that you particularly find that you’re able to find their voice for quickly? Is it Pond? Is it Harp? Is it another character that you really like to write for?
KMD: One of my favourite characters to write for is Malcolm Brown [played by Michael Patric]. Malcolm always says what’s on his mind, and he’s never really hiding anything, he’s kind of blustery and old, and it’s kind of fun that way because there are certain characters that have certain levels of restraint in this show, and sort of societal boundaries, but Malcolm doesn’t really, and he’s fun to write that way. He’s a bit of an id.
Writing for the female characters on the show is a treat. History wasn’t kind to women during that period, and being able to bring to life these ladies who are such survivors, who maintain their agency at any cost while remaining at the mercy of the men around them, is an exquisitely fun job. And when you’re lucky enough to have the extraordinary talent of the actresses we have on our show, it’s thrilling to see these badass ladies kicking Frontier ass all over the place. They are so inspiring.
What can you say about working with Jason Momoa?
KMD: Jason’s great. I haven’t had a lot of close interaction with him really. It’s just sort of a here and there, but I had the chance last season to kind of work with him a little bit more, and he’s a terrific collaborator and really genuinely excited about that character, so when you write for him, all you wanna know is whether or not he really likes it.
He knows what he wants. Nobody knows Declan Harp really more than Jason Momoa, and he brings him to life in a way that I certainly couldn’t, to be honest. He and Pete work really, really closely on his character, and I sort of defer to whatever the guys want, because they know that character, they know how to tell that story really, really well.
I just really, really liked working with Jason. It was a really awesome treat.
Frontier airs Fridays at 10 and 11 p.m. ET on Discovery.
Canada is a brutal, wild place and the folks that inhabit it are pretty much that way too. That’s what we’ve learned after Sunday’s debut episode of Frontier.
“A Kingdom Unto Itself,” written by co-creators and executive producers Peter and Rob Blackie and Perry Chafe, served not only to introduce viewers to the key players in Season 1 but to get the storylines going at a frenetic clip.
There’s Michael Smyth (Landon Liboiron) an Irish lad who stowed away on a ship when he was caught stealing from it and woke up at sea, on the way to Canada. There’s Lord Benton (Alun Armstrong) the stern former military man who’s in charge of the Hudson’s Bay Company and aims to take out a man named Declan Harp. There is Harp (Jason Momoa) himself, a hulking man whose violent nature and Métis lineage makes him a successful fur trader. Add in supporting characters like Cobbs Pond (Greg Bryk), Samuel Grant (Shawn Doyle) and Grace Emberly (Zoe Boyle) and Frontier is jam-packed with action.
By the end of Episode 1, Michael has been successful in locating Harp for Benton, but the young lad was on the verge of becoming another pelt in Harp’s collection. We spoke to the Blackie brothers about Frontier and where the show will go in Season 1.
Peter, congratulations on Season 1 of Frontier and on Season 2 being ordered already. Was it always in the back of your minds to have Frontier last multiple seasons?
Peter Blackie: For sure. That was always our hope. You always go into a scripted series wanting to do a number of seasons if you can. But the real telltale is if they don’t like the first the season you’re probably not going to get another.
Rob Blackie: We’re actually in production on the second season right now, so this is a huge sign of confidence from Discovery Canada and Netflix.
Frontier is incredible visually, character and story-wise and wardrobe-wise. You’ve successfully introduced all of these characters and yet it doesn’t feel bloated or cluttered. It must have been difficult to have so much contained in six episodes and not feel bogged down.
RB: Pilots are interesting because they are burdened down with all of these required introductions. We spent the vast majority of our time working with our writing team and producing partners and director for the pilot, Brad Peyton, and making sure the ‘introductory elements’ have their own story engine so that when you watch them as a viewer they feel like a forward-moving story. It’s much more difficult to do it that way but we had a lot of people working hard on it for a very long time.
PB: Another thing that helped make it work, in particular for the pilot, was having actors in the show of a Shawn Doyle calibre who are able to really elevate everything because of their abilities.
There are several storylines going on in the first episode, but it feels very much like we’re seeing this world through Michael’s eyes and that he is our guide. Is that true?
PB: We refer to him as our protagonist. The show is set up to do multiple perspectives and kingdoms, but he functionally is the way into the show.
RB: And Declan Harp is our antihero. He’s the major star of the show and is introduced in the pilot in a very dark way. We are experiencing Declan Harp’s dark view of the world from Michael’s perspective.
Jason Momoa is listed as an executive producer. What did that title entail? Was he involved in day-to-day decisions?
RB: He didn’t have any day-to-day line producing or anything like that, but someone like him plays such an integral function in the profile and promoting of the show. He’s very, very interested in the arc of the show and the arc of his character and participates heavily in that part of the process. It’s a common practice for a someone like him who shows a tremendous amount of interest. He’s a filmmaker at heart and has directed his own material and has his own production company. We produced a small feature film with his production company last winter in addition to doing Frontier and he is an absolute film artist at heart and that makes his a really good fit for our team.
Why did you decide to start Frontier with the Hudson’s Bay Company crumbling rather than show how it began?
PB: That’s a great question. Rob and I spent a lot of time at the very beginning wrestling through where we wanted to be, specifically, and why. The reason we picked the general era that we picked it is about a century after the monopoly was granted to the Hudson’s Bay Company and their dominion started to falter. The only company in history that ever properly did rival the HBC in the New World was the North West Company and it, essentially, was an amalgamation of a bunch of separate companies with smaller interests, predominantly run out of Montreal. They ultimately realized they were not able to complete as separate entities and were forced to combine their energies and formed a company that was, scale-wise, able to compete with the HBC. We picked this era because it’s sort of the David and Goliath scenario.
Are any of Frontier’s characters named after any real-life people from history, or are they all a mix of real folks made into fictional ones?
PB: Everybody who is in the show is, at most, amalgamations of different characters from different times or characters we completely created from scratch.
RB: Earlier in the process we had taken a run at including ‘real characters’ from history and we found that, with the amount of historical fiction, it started to feel more limiting, and putting words into the actual mouths of people from history didn’t feel right to us. So we went with fictional characters and drew from as much research as we could from history and real people from history. The real people from history have the craziest stories.
Can you talk a little bit about the research you did into the canoes, wardrobe and discussions you had with First Nations people to get this right?
PB: We did, and we relied quite extensively on help from experts and people from within the communities. It’s been an interesting learning process for us. The deeper we went the more we realized how easy it is to make basic mistakes and we learned just how complex the socio-political landscape this country was like pre-contact. Once you introduce the idea of Europeans coming in, the complexity rolls over onto itself. We found ourselves in a spot where we didn’t have the tools to do the basic things and we reached out in a bunch of different directions to get help, including and not limited to wardrobe, language and representation.
We had very patient, thoughtful, smart people who have committed to us not making mistakes and inspiring us to dive in and tell these stories.
Frontier airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/6 p.m. PT on Discovery Canada.
Jessica Matten is grateful for the chance to co-star on APTN’s Blackstone, Ron E. Scott’s gritty series spotlighting the issues First Nations people face on a reservation. Though Blackstone is a fictional reservation, stories of alcohol and physical abuse, and land rights are certainly based on fact.
“It was awesome to be a part of a show alongside a lot of people from my childhood,” Matten says of her character, Gina. “It was a full-circle thing. And to talk about issues that really matter to me and are close to my heart was really cool to be a part of.” Blackstone was one of her first major acting roles for the actor and Aboriginal fitness company owner and paved the way to her biggest gig to date in Discovery’s Frontier.
Debuting Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, Matten plays Sokanon, a skilled warrior, hunter and tracker in Declan Harp’s (Jason Momoa) Black Wolf Company, a small fur trade outfit taking business from the faltering Hudson’s Bay Company in 1700s Canada. Co-created by Rob and Peter Blackie, Frontier‘s six-episode first season (it’s since been picked up for a sophomore go-round) is a sprawling, violent adventure outlining the founding of Canada. As Matten describes it, it truly was an ordeal to work next to Momoa as his right-hand. Not.
“It was gruelling,” she says with a laugh. “All my girlfriends were like, ‘Did he take off his shirt?'” She wouldn’t confirm whether her co-star doffed his top, but does say he’s one of the most down-to-earth people she’s met and has nothing but good things to say about production and everyone involved. Sokanon is an Ojibway character alongside Momoa’s Declan, a Métis, and the Black Wolf Company consists of First Nations’ members coming together under his rule. A situation that occurs in Sokanon’s life causes her to join the gang, who are as much out to protect the land from Lord Benton (Alun Armstrong) and the HBC as they are to make money trading pelts. Matten likens Frontier to a Canadian Game of Thrones in that everyone is fighting for land rather than a throne.
While her fellow co-star, Shawn Doyle—he plays fur trader Samuel Grant in Frontier—is used to being part of period pieces (he assumed the role of John A. Macdonald in CBC’s 2011 TV-movie John A.: Birth of a Country), Matten never thought she’d perform in a historical project because of what she calls a “contemporary First Nations look,” and recalls the irony in being cast because of her lineage.
“I’m actually a direct descendant of the first Métis leader, Cuthbert Grant and Louis Riel, the nephew of Cuthbert Grant,” she says. “In a lot of ways, I feel as though I’m honouring my ancestors and this is a full-circle experience for my family. Things happen for a reason, and I really believe in that.” The battle over land rights has been an issue since the days in which Frontier is set and continue today, and Matten uses that in her portrayal of Sokanon.
“As much as Sokanon is a warrior, she struggles with what Harp is doing and what is right and what is wrong,” she says.