I remember the first few seasons of Mr. D well. Debuting in 2012 just as the U.S version of The Office was winding down, the CBC sitcom revelled in the uncomfortable and cringe-worthy. Every scene centring on mediocre teacher-coach Gerry Duncan (Gerry Dee) was an exercise in wincing. What would he say to embarrass himself? What would he do to make my stomach turn into nervous knots?
But over the last seven seasons, the award-winning show has evolved. Yes, Gerry is still putting his foot in his mouth, but the characters around him have grown to take on the comedy lifting and inject a ton of heart into the show as well. I credit that maturation to co-creators Dee and Mike Volpe, the show’s writers and cast for allowing the show to grow and breathe and become what it is today: a funny, heartfelt family comedy.
Now it’s coming to an end. Season 8 kicks off Wednesday at 9 p.m. on CBC with two back-to-back episodes. The first, “Big in Japan,” picks up right where the Season 7 finale left off: Gerry boarding a flight to Japan after an investigative report labelled him the “Nation’s Worst Teacher.” Hoping for a fresh start, Gerry decides (with Bill’s help) that being an ESL teacher in Japan would be best.
But hold on. Turns out firing Gerry would admit the exposé was all true. Instead, Robert (Jonathan Torrens) is instructed to hire Gerry back and claim the report was, you guessed it, fake news. While Robert is trying to do that, things at Xavier Academy are in a bit of a disarray. Lisa (Lauren Hammersley) is doing some investigating of her own and it appears new phys ed. teacher/librarian Emma Terdie (Kathleen Phillips) is making outrageous claims of her own. Mr. D has boasted a brilliant use of music as part of its storytelling; it’s used to great effect in Wednesday’s first episode as Gerry teaches two children English while Alphaville’s “Big in Japan” plays. And, by the end of the episode, a curveball is thrown that appears to affect the tone and direction this final season will take.
Tune in and enjoy Mr. D‘s final ride. I certainly will.
Jonathan Torrens wears his patriotism on his sleeve. Want proof? In addition to co-hosting a podcast with former Our Lady Peace drummer Jeremy Taggart called Canadianity (a book is on the way this fall), he’s hosting a Canada Day special where he does maple syrup shots and jumps into a massive butter tart.
Your Special Canada starring Jonathan Torrens—debuting Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBC and repeating July 1 at 7 p.m. —is an entertaining and ingenious hour featuring Torrens playing himself and memorable characters like Slappy the Trivia Beaver and cross-dresser Sindy Crosby. A combination of online bits he’d already done for the network’s comedy portal were strung together with original content filmed in Torrens’ birthplace, Charlottetown. The celebration begins with a Sir John A. MacDonald re-enactor sniffing that everything has been done with regard to Canada Day television specials; Torrens aims to prove him wrong.
“The first is with The Taters of Conspuderation, a diorama with potatoes dressed as the Fathers of Confederation,” he says on the line from his home in Nova Scotia. “The second is ‘Jonath-Anne of Green Gables,’ a one-man show in which I play both roles, and my big finale is jumping into a big butter tart.” It took a few days for producer and star Torrens—along with writer-producer-director Richard Mortimer, producer Lynn Harvey and writers Paul Pogue and Steve Dylan—to suss out the content surrounding the existing skits; the result is a variety show with a Canadian angle.
There are plenty of outlandish moments in Your Special Canada—Torrens dons a beaver suit and slaps folks in the face with a whipped-cream-laden beavertail when they get trivia questions wrong, and has Zamboni drivers compete in an obstacle course—but there are goosebump-inducing ones too. Case in point: Torrens delivers a heartfelt take on Alanis Morrisette’s “Thank You” to this country and flies to Canadian Forces Station Alert in Nunavut to deliver maple syrup, Canadian flag toques and good feelings to soldiers stationed there.
“My challenge in Alert was to keep it together and not cry on camera,” the Mr. D co-star admits. “First of all, the sacrifices that they make for our country are enormous. Secondly, the universal feeling of the folks is that it’s an honour to be posted there and they’re happy to be there.”
“It just makes you realize that making funny faces on the TV … there is no merit in that compared to what these people are doing.”
Your Special Canada starring Jonathan Torrens airs Sunday at 9 p.m. on CBC. It repeats on Saturday, July 1, at 7 p.m. on CBC.
As fans of the series have likely noticed, J-Roc (the white rapper played by Torrens) hasn’t exactly been front and centre during the past season, likely influencing Torrens’ decision to retire J-Roc. Continue reading.