To say Season 1 of Transplant was a success would be an understatement. Critics and viewers lauded the CTV medical drama with high ratings and Canadian Screen Award nominations and wins. The love extended to the U.S., where Transplant aired on NBC and around the world in the UK, Spain, Australia and the Netherlands.
Now Transplant is back and, judging by the season premiere—kicking off Monday at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CTV—that success will grow even more.
We spoke to Joseph Kay, Transplant‘s creator—showrunner, executive producer and writer—about what’s next for Bash (Hamza Haq), Jed (John Hannah), Mags (Laurence Leboeuf), June (Ayisha Issa), Theo (Jim Watson) and recurring characters Dr. Mark Novak (Gord Rand) and Rania (Nora Guerch).
What was it like to see the love that the show was getting as the first season rolled out across North America?
Joseph Kay: I was and am really, really proud that people responded to the work. Really thrilled by that. There’s a team of people who work unbelievably hard to make the show on every level, and we care a lot about what we do and put all of ourselves into it. You work hard and sometimes audiences respond and sometimes they don’t, but you work hard either way. So to see people like it, to see audiences respond to it is just very humbling and exciting and thrilling. I always did feel that there was something at the core of the show that would connect with audiences. It tells someone’s individual experience that people are interested in, but it also has some resonance and accessible themes.
We always did our best to deliver them in a warm, engaging, fast-paced, page-turney sort of way. We are excited for people to see the work we’ve been doing the last year as well.
I immediately fell in love with the characters and cared about what happened to them. And that continues in Season 2 with the first episode, “Guardrail.” What is it that makes a show succeed in this connection with an audience like Transplant does?
JK: I wish I could articulate the answer to that well. I totally hear where you’re coming from, and as an avid viewer of things, sometimes you just connect and sometimes you don’t. I think on the level of Transplant, I’d say two things. One, I would first say that, man, we do have such a great ensemble, starting with Hamza, to Laurence, John, Jim, and then even expanding from there, our actors are very, very good. And I think that they deal with the emotion in a really real accessible, funny way. They’re just warm people that you want to spend time with and they convey that. So I think that’s a very huge part of it.
And in terms of the storytelling, one thing I’m proud of about the show is that we’re telling a very specific story for Bash that I think audiences are interested in, but I feel like we’re also trying to tell this kind of thematic story for everyone. Our stories are always about moving forward or starting over or reconciling old versions of ourselves with new versions of ourselves. We locate a theme and variations on the theme that allow audiences to connect with the show. And that that’s why audiences are interested in following those characters on their journeys. And finally, Transplant is a medical procedural, yes, but it’s very much about the main characters. Some of these shows have a balance that skews towards the guest stars, the patients, whereas our show is really, really firmly grounded in the doctors and the main characters. So we try really hard to get you engaged on that level as well.
Was there anything that you changed between seasons? Anything you felt needed tweaking?
JK: We did some tweaking. From a narrative perspective, we feel like we’re going through stages of Bash’s journey, so we’re digging into a different side of it now. He’s kind of grasping onto job security and we get to open up deeper and wider emotional stories to tell, and that changes things, I’d say, just in terms of how we address the storytelling overall. From my perspective as a writer and producer and of all people who make the show, the directors, the editors, the people on set, we’ve gotten better at all sides of it, so it allows us some more freedom.
When we last left the group, Jed had collapsed from a stroke. Did you always know that would be the Season 1 cliffhanger?
JK: In the first season I actually had intended to kill John’s character in the finale. I had always been really fascinated by the death of the mentor part of a hero’s journey. And that’s what we started off kind of thinking that Bash would’ve saved him in the pilot and there’d be lingering effects from what had happened that just kind of come out of nowhere and kill him and then Bash would’ve had to move forward without him. By around Episode 4 of production in Season 1 we realized, ‘We can’t do that.’ He’s too good. He makes everything around him better, as an actor, as a human being, as a person to collaborate with. He’s just a wonderful presence and performer.
In Monday’s episode, we are introduced to Dr. Mark Novak, who shakes up the department. I love Gord Rand and was thrilled to see him play this character.
JK: I like to think of [Mark] as a little bit puckish, because he’s an agent of chaos and that’s a really fun thing to write, too, and Gord really delivered.
A question about your writer’s room. Adam Barken, Stephanie Morgenstern, Mark Ellis, Rachel Langer, Julie Puckrin … what a who’s who of a writer’s room. What was it like working with these folks in the writer’s room for Season 2?
JK: We’ve been blessed on that level across the board. Everybody was really excited to come onto the show when the writing started for Season 2. And yeah, you absolutely nailed it, it’s kind of an all-star list of writers that you just rattled off. They’re all incredible. One thing that I think is great with Transplant is because there’s freedom in the narrative when it comes to the kinds of stories we tell it encourages great writers like that to come with stories they are really passionate about, they would love to tell that maybe it would be harder to tell in other kinds of places. And I always am like, ‘Yeah, let’s find a way to tell that story.’ I feel like it excites the writers, so we have this season all throughout, all of those people brought selflessly pieces of themselves to share and pour into the show. And I’m really proud of the results that are great. We’re lucky to have them.
“Guardrail” really kicks off Season 2 with incredible visuals.
JK: I want to shout out to Stefan Pleszczynski, our lead director and one of the EPs this year who is a huge part of just maintaining the aesthetic consistency of the show. Beyond Stef, the whole production team is really committed to that. Our director of photography, Pierre Gill, is an unbelievably talented guy, and we sort of across the board take that really, really seriously. Directors who come to the show all want to knock it out of the park on a visual level. There’s a way that the show’s written that encourages long takes or exciting movement, and the directors all really like to play and make the production value really sing.
What types of stories are on the way in Season 2?
There are stories coming up where we deal with different issues, medical issues, cultural issues. And in all of those cases, we just take the research and authenticity and truthfulness component extremely hard, because I think that something that’s inherent to the tone of the show across the board is it tries to be grounded. It tries to be human. It tries to be emotionally honest. So we always like to do that work and we challenge ourselves to do that work and be challenged all the way from idea to beyond editing, and editing is still doing that work.
You ended the first season with a cliffhanger. Is that the same with Season 2? Have you set that bar? Is there a cliffhanger at the end?
JK: There is a cliffhanger at the end of Season 2. There are multiple cliffhangers.
Transplant airs Mondays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CTV.
Images courtesy of Bell Media.