Tag Archives: Joseph Kay

This Life showrunner Joseph Kay takes us on a ‘Joyride’

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have seen This Life Episode 207, “Joyride.”

As we approach the final three episodes of This Life‘s impressive second season, several storylines are coming to a head. In Sunday’s new episode, “Joyride,” written by showrunner Joseph Kay, David’s (Louis Ferreira) two lives are converging in uncomfortable ways, Oliver (Kristopher Turner) is battling mental health issues, Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith) is discovering her sham marriage may not be a sham, and Emma (Stephanie Janusauskas) is dealing with her unexpected feelings for Miranda (Devery Jacobs). And don’t forget about Natalie (Torri Higginson), who–after reeling from the news that she is in partial remission–is learning how to be someone other than a cancer patient or the wife someone left behind.

“We realized that it might be scary for her to have to live, to be able to beat cancer and to have to reevaluate the way her marriage ended,” Kay says of the decision to write some ambiguity into Natalie’s terminal diagnosis.

Taking a break from editing the sound on This Life‘s upcoming Season 2 finale, Kay discusses this week’s major plot points and tells us what to expect as the season winds down.

A couple of weeks ago, we found out Natalie’s cancer is in partial remission. What was your motivation for giving her a reprieve, however temporary it might be?
Joseph Kay: The more we thought about Natalie–you know, she has this sort of existential crisis, ‘I might die,’ and that comes with all these inherent stakes–but the more that we dug into the character of Natalie, and tried to find what makes her tick, and tried to find the complexity, we realized that a really interesting thing to ask Natalie is, ‘What if I live?’

Her sister calls her in the very first episode of the show and says, “You’ve wasted your life,” and that’s the same day that she gets her diagnosis, and we sort of realized that maybe she has [wasted her life] . . . And it’s all wrapped up in her past and the choices that she’s made, and we get to that point in Episode 206 where they tell her that she’s always hid behind everything, and we sort of came to that on our own in understanding this character. We realized that it might be scary for her to have to live, to be able to beat cancer and to have to reevaluate the way her marriage ended, to see it as less black and white, and that she really had spent her whole life only focusing on the kids. What would that mean for her if she survived?

In this week’s episode, we see David torn between his responsibilities to Natalie and Romy and his second family, Kate and Jesse. Is he sincere in his efforts to be a father to both families? 
We really wanted to let the audience see it from his perspective, and this ongoing attempt to humanize him and to try to deconstruct Natalie’s simpler version of how their marriage ended and the kind of person David was. I think he wants to try, but trying is hard. So I think, as a fan of David’s, that he’s not lying when he says he wants to try, but I think he’s also aware of his limitations as a human being. He knows that he has to let people down sometimes. I believe, or believed when we were writing it, that he wants to try, but the trying is not going to be easy. I hope that when we see it from his perspective people are seeing him as a complicated person and a complicated situation in which there is no easy way to please everybody. In fact, it’s impossible. We don’t know if he’s going to make the right decision, but I think we’ve seen him wanting to try.

After David misses Romy’s dinner, she sneaks into his house and leaves him some of her work. Why did she do that?
She wants him to notice her. She’s the one who brought him back here, and she’s the one of everybody who tried to give him a chance at the beginning of this season, and she’s smart enough to know that she can’t trust him, but she wants somebody to notice her. She’s really torn between wanting this secret life where she’s out there sort of proving herself based on her skills on her own, and also being this little kid who wants her dad to notice her and be impressed with what she’s able to do.

So we have the scene where her mentor of her job says to her, “Why are you doing this? Why do you care what anyone thinks when all that really matters is what you think, or maybe the one or two people who care about you?” And she wants him to be one of those people. I think she’s trying to drag him in a more profound way into her life. And, for whatever reason, she doesn’t feel that she can just come clean with her mom about this stuff.


Emma has been struggling with her identity all season, and there are scenes in “Joyride” that suggest that struggle includes her sexuality. Is that an accurate interpretation?  
Yeah, I think we were interested in the idea of Emma not quite knowing who she is in every sense of the word. She takes a job and starts lying about who she is and manufacturing another home life for herself, partially because her home life is kind of grim in a way, but also because she doesn’t quite know who she is. So she is the kind of person we think who is a little bit malleable in terms of her own identity. She’s kind of like an open book, and she wants very much to be liked, and so we’re interested in the idea of Emma’s fluid approach to maybe her own sexuality being in line with her blank slate personality. Her sister even, in Season 1, is accusing her of not knowing [who she is]. There’s a void, she says, where her personality should be. In contrast to Romy, who so clearly knows who she is, Emma just doesn’t really know who she is. So, yeah, you’re right, the suggestiveness of that scene asks, ‘Does Emma like this girl?’

And we want to see Emma explore that, and I think it’s a surprise to her. It’s not something that she thought was going to happen. I think it’s in context with her ongoing struggle with who she is. And it was a surprise to us to. I think like with the Natalie thing that I mentioned, when we thought back on Emma’s Season 1 relationship with this boy, she didn’t seem comfortable with that either. She felt as though it was something that she was supposed to want, and she liked him in some sense, but, to us, she didn’t seem comfortable. She wasn’t comfortable in her own skin. So we just felt as it was evolving and, as it was really important to her to have Miranda’s affection or respect or whatever, that that in Emma went from being something as simple as, ‘Oh, this girl’s kind of cool, and I want her to like me,’ to ‘No, I really want her to like me,’ and that she’s surprised by it. We wanted to see where it went.

Oliver continued to spiral out of control, and we learned he might be bipolar. Why did you want to tackle that issue?
Actually, there’s a reference at the end of Season 1, in the episode in which Oliver goes home and sort deals with his boyfriend who died and he sees his therapist. And he’s ready to go back home, and all he’s taking is this one belonging, and his therapist actually says in that scene that she’s worried that he’s hypermanic again, and he says no. I just think, in digging into Oliver, he’s a guy who hovers in his life between depression and sort of the opposite and the choices he’s made to cut himself off from his family.

I also think that mental illness is generally underrepresented on television and, when we wrote that scene last year, it just made sense. It sort of filled in a blank with the character that maybe we didn’t know was happening. We knew he was depressive, but it just made sense for us, and we didn’t want to back away from it, which we could have done, because it was a really, really small reference, and most people didn’t even notice. But it just felt like who he was, and we wanted to find a way to access it. And then the whole issue of Oliver being a creative person who thinks he has to harness some of his mania to be a prolific creative person, I think is worth exploring.

During her immigration interview, Maggie seemed to realize she has feelings for Raza. Does this mean their sham marriage could end up being real? 
It means that Maggie has to face that she actually has feelings in a situation that she thought was purely transactional, and we asked her this season to maybe take a look at why she’s so generally dismissive of people feeling things for each other, and we really wanted to make a situation where that sort of attachment might sneak up on her and see how she deals with it. So, yeah, from Maggie’s side, it turns out that she likes him. And that’s a simple device, but with Maggie–who’s so unpredictable when it comes to relationships and affections–that was just really kind of exciting. We went into the season knowing that she seemed kind of like Teflon, emotionally, and we wanted to make her not.

I’ve really enjoyed Hamza Haq as Raza this season. 
He’s good! We also think he’s great. We looked everywhere for that character, because we wanted whoever played him to be authentic, and we auditioned in London, we auditioned all over, and we cast a guy who lived in Montreal. And he brought himself into the part in a big way, his own background, parts of his own family, and I think he did a really nice job.

What can you tease about the finale three episodes of the season? 
Just that we’re all really excited about them. There’s a momentum to the end of this season that I think begins in Episode 206 and generally carries through. I’m thinking 209 and 210 are some of the strongest episodes we’ve done. Big stuff happens, and we’re looking forward to seeing how everybody reacts to it.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


This Life showrunner Joseph Kay breaks down the Season 2 premiere

Spoiler warning: Do not read this article until you have watched This Life’s Season 2 premiere, “Stay Positive.”

CBC drama This Life kicked off its second season Sunday night with “Stay Postive,” an episode that delivered equal parts hope and angst. While Natalie (Torri Higginson) was relieved to experience side effects that could indicate she’s receiving the real drug over a placebo in her drug trial, she was also blindsided by a contentious meeting with her ex-husband David (Louis Ferreira) over their children’s future. Meanwhile, Matthew (Rick Roberts) grew closer to his son but struggled with his separation from Nicole (Marianne Farley), and Maggie (Lauren Lee Smith) made living arrangements with her new friend Raza (Hamza Haq)—a move that may or may not bring more stability to her life.

Throughout Season 2, we’ll be chatting with This Life writers about the major themes and plot points of each episode. This week, series showrunner Joseph Kay joins us to break down the premiere—which he penned—and provide some behind-the-scenes insights.

Last season, you were a first-time showrunner. Was your approach any different the second time around? 
Joseph Kay: We were able to play to our strengths more in the second season than we were in the first. I was happy with the first season, too, but you learn what you like and you learn where you think the show really lives, and I was able to focus on that.

And just getting to know the actors is a really big one. We’re on set all the time and we develop relationships with the actors and their characters and that informs the way we wrote the second season in a really big way.

As a showrunner, what kind of environment do you try to create in your writers’ room? 
It’s just really important to me that it’s an unbelievably safe place, that it’s not competitive and that nobody is vying to win anything, that everybody feels totally safe to come up with whatever possibly lame idea—myself included—that they have. It’s a no assholes rule. It should just be a safe place, and I really think it is. It’s a very, very hard show to write because there is plot in the show, but the plot is primarily emotional. So our job is to get into the heads of these people and to know what they’re feeling and to navigate sometimes very slight movements of emotion and make that dramatic, and it’s really hard. So it only works if everybody is having a good time and everybody feels safe to draw from their own lives and experiences. And I have a really great group of writers. I’m really, really lucky.

This Life is filmed in Montreal. What’s it like shooting there as opposed to someplace like Toronto?
Shooting in Montreal is fantastic, it’s a very film-friendly city. Our local crews are incredible. We have a much smaller crew than I’m accustomed to in television compared to shooting in Toronto, but then we get a lot of value. I’m really proud of the look of the show, and I’m really proud of the subtle ways I feel the city works itself into the show.

The show is shot entirely on location, no studios, no sets, and that is a real production challenge. Again, it’s a show about how people feel and we can’t tell it all in Natalie’s house. We have to move around. It just needs that dimension of different parts of the city. We sometimes make four location moves in one day, so we can shoot one scene in a restaurant or one scene in a cafe or wherever, and the crew is amazing and the city is very accommodating to that sort of thing. Although, one thing is that it is a very noisy city!

The Season 1 premiere began with Natalie learning she was dying of cancer, but the Season 2 premiere starts with Natalie ziplining, taking a literal and figurative leap into hopefulness. Was that a purposeful contrast?
Yes. The pilot begins in such a way that it tells you all hope is lost, essentially. I think that’s amazing and so brave and that was really exciting. But it was really important for us to find a way to pivot into hope, and as we were writing the back part of the first season we decided we were going to introduce this idea of a drug trial, and we wanted there to be hope. We never want to, and we never will betray the central conceit of the show. The information that’s introduced to her in that first scene, we’re not backing away from that. But we just loved the idea of framing the season with hope and how you might sometimes talk yourself into having hope, whether it’s realistic or unrealistic.

Natalie’s ex-husband, David, is challenging her custody plans for the kids. How is that going to play out?
Her fight with her husband is real and very important for her. If you look at the first episode of the show, other than the information her doctor gives her, the first thing that we dramatize with Natalie is her sister telling her she hasn’t lived her life well. We bring back the husband to let her examine her own choices in her life, to let her examine that question and make sense of it. We want her to dig deep into who she is and the choices that she’s made and to go on the journey with her. We’re really going on two journeys. We’re going on the health journey and all the inherent stakes that come with that, and we’re also going on this very involved personal journey with Natalie in her life and the choices that she’s made and the person she is and what she wants to change before it’s too late.

So many characters are in flux in this episode. Matthew’s marriage to Nicole is crumbling, Maggie is trying to figure out where to live and Oliver is trying to rebuild. Everyone is looking for a place to land.
I think we always sort of looked at it as, ‘How can we tell the story of an extended family that reflects the reality of the way that our lives are always changing and realigning?’ As soon as we knew what we were doing with Matthew and Nicole, for example, we really loved the notion of taking this marriage and ripping it apart and watching it come back together or continue to fall apart on a really micro level. We don’t race through any of the steps, not with Natalie’s cancer, and we don’t race through the steps with them. It doesn’t go from rage to forgiveness or rage to it’s over and get a new partner for him or for her. I think that’s the way the world works. The thing that you think gives your life permanency isn’t that in five years, and you look back and think ‘How did everything change so much?’

In terms of everybody being in flux, I think this idea of hope hopefully trickles down to all the characters, maybe not literally in every sense but thematically.

This Life David
Can David (Louis Ferreira) be trusted? 

Teens can be tricky to write well, but This Life does a great job placing Natalie’s kids in real and relatable situations. In this episode, I loved that Romy stole one of her mom’s cancer pills for the most Romy of reasons: to examine it in the science lab. What’s the key to writing believable teen characters?
The writers have their own approach to all of those characters and we have our ways to make it feel like it’s really believable. I mean, I think everyone has a special dial-in with Romy for some reason. She’s a really unique girl and we have lots of ideas for her that we don’t do but that we get really excited about and try to really gently land in the places she’d be. We just work really hard to keep her scenarios believable. I think one thing is that we don’t think, ‘What do we want to do with Romy?’ We don’t do that with any of the characters, particularly the kids. We look at it more as ‘What would Romy do in this situation?’ We just really try to follow her, and that’s an easy thing to say, but it’s a hard thing to execute.

What can you tease about upcoming episodes?
Natalie continues to go through the trial, and we try to unpack the relationship she’s had with her husband. Matthew tries to put his marriage back together the best he can, and there’s lots of complications for those two. Oliver plays a much bigger role in the second season than he did in the first. He tries to start his life over again. He came to Montreal to see his sister, but he stays to start his life over. We pay a lot of attention to him and the choices he’s making. And Maggie has an interesting journey.

Yes, she’s got a big episode next week.
Yeah. Without spoiling that, Maggie is introduced as a character with her own very specific set of values, which we think are entirely valid. We never wanted to say that Maggie’s singular values aren’t valid, we think that they are. But we wanted to find ways to mess with her. I’m really excited about her story. She’s managed to get to this point in her life by taking everything lightly, and we wanted to put her in a situation that she ultimately couldn’t take lightly, and I think that works in interesting ways for her.

And Natalie’s kids go on very specific journeys into the world. One of the benefits of framing the season with hope is that we’re allowing them a sort of breath. They’re not walking around all the time thinking that their mother is dying. By opening up hope a little bit we’ve allowed the kids to not have to spend all their time focusing on that and instead react to where their lives are right now and see where that takes them in the world.

I have one last character to ask about. Please tell me the cat Natalie found will be a series regular. He’s cute.
The cat is going to stick around.

I was afraid he may have made outrageous contract demands and we wouldn’t see more of him.
He’s not expensive, but he is time-consuming. When I wrote it I didn’t even think about that. You see dogs a lot on TV, and I know dogs can sit on demand, but I didn’t even think cats could do that, but they can. This one was really good. He jumped into Torri’s arms at the end of the episode totally spontaneously.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.


This Life opens Season 2 with hope and conflict

This Life is often compared to Parenthood. It’s an apt association, as both shows blend melancholy and humour in a similarly touching fashion. But it’s also fitting because This Life, which is an adaptation of popular Radio-Canada series Nouvelle adresse, has faced the same uphill battle for ratings that Parenthood and other superb family dramas like Friday Night Nights always seem to face in a crowded TV landscape. It wasn’t a given that CBC would bring the Lawson family back for a second season, but, thankfully, it did.

Hopefully, more viewers will give this gem a chance in Season 2. Based on the first few screeners, we can promise it’s worth your time. Here are a few non-spoilery details about This Life‘s second season premiere, “Stay Positive,” written by showrunner Joseph Kay.

Natalie embraces hope
While the Season 1 premiere began with Natalie receiving devastating news, Season 2 begins in a much more hopeful place as Natalie undergoes a drug trial that could buy her time. But is she receiving the real drug or a placebo?

Can David be trusted?
Natalie’s wayward ex-husband, David, showed up on her doorstep at the end of Season 1, asking to resume his fatherly duties. Expect the tensions between the former couple to immediately escalate as David’s motives remain unclear.

School’s out for the summer
The Lawson kids are on summer break and each of them is dealing with their mother’s illness in very different ways. Look for Caleb to explore his freedom, Emma to ponder her employment options and Romy to make surprising plans for her future.

Matthew and Nicole and Maggie … and Natalie
Maggie told Nicole about Matthew’s affair and son last season, resulting in a broken marriage and a brother-sister blowout. All three parties are still dealing with the fallout as Season 2 begins, and the situation could bleed over into Natalie’s looming custody battle with David.

The ensemble cast is top notch
Beginning with the sublime Torri Higginson and continuing with Rick Roberts, Lauren Lee Smith, Kristopher Turner and throughout, This Life features an immensely likeable cast you look forward to spending time with each week.

This Life airs Sundays at 9 p.m. ET on CBC.


Link: This Life showrunner previews a season of hope

From Bridget Liszewski of The TV Junkies:

Link: This Life showrunner previews a season of hope
“It was really important to us that we framed the season with the idea of hope. There’s a careful balance to be had between Natalie being hopeful and Natalie living in denial, so we have a character like Romy that can point that out to her. We didn’t want it to appear like she was living in denial, but we really wanted her to be in a genuine position where she was allowed to be hopeful.” Continue reading.