While the holidays are tied to traditions, the way we celebrate is malleable. Relocating, work, friendships, romances, children, breakups and the loss of loved ones can all change what we do—and how we feel—each December.
That sense of flux is at the heart of Jann: Alone For The Holidays, a Yuletide special that proves there’s more than one way to enjoy Christmas. It’s a theme series star Jann Arden has experienced in her own life.
“My parents are both gone,” says Arden. “So I think a lot of the traditions that were kind of wrapped around their legs, unfortunately, aren’t here anymore. I mean, I loved having dinner with my family.”
But this Christmas, the singer-songwriter-actor-author-animal rights advocate is packing her favourite vegan turkey cutlets—“Frozen in my suitcase; I’m not kidding you!”—and heading to England to spend time with friends. “I’ll be in Dorset, very close to Swanage, in a 250-year-old stone cottage, near castles,” she says.
The series Jann is also doing things a bit differently this year. It’s been more than a year since the show’s third season ended, and while CTV hasn’t officially pulled the plug on the project, it also hasn’t greenlit another season.
Arden says CTV has “been behind the show the whole way through,” but the broadcaster is “really trying to contemplate a cost-effective way to move forward” with the series in a TV era dominated by streaming networks and binge-watching, so “they gave us this opportunity to do the Christmas show.”
In the special, airing as back-to-back episodes on Saturday, December 9 at 9 p.m. on CTV, CTV.ca and the CTV app, Jann comes home for Christmas to discover her entire family is celebrating out of town. The only one still around is her assistant Trey (Tenaj Williams), who is trying to recharge his batteries with some alone time.
Feeling abandoned, Jann declares it “the worst Christmas ever” until Trey starts pulling out boxes full of old decorations—and memories. This prompts a series of vignettes where Jann reminisces about good, bad and humiliating moments from holidays past featuring her niece Charley (Alexa Rose Steele), on-again, off-again girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor), former manager Todd (Jason Blicker), and mom Nora (Deborah Grover). Her manager Cale (Elena Juatco) also appears in the special’s opening Christmas concert sequence, which showcases both Arden’s cozy-sweater vocals and her laugh-out-loud physical comedy talents.
“I think flashbacks allowed me these fantastic opportunities to shine a light on one cast member at a time and to kind of unveil a little more depth into their relationship,” says Arden. “Like, I think the scene that I have with Cale starts off a little bit acerbic and tongue-in-cheek; Cale is just being Cale and running the business. But then when we have the opportunity to kind of say our goodbyes in the hallway, it’s like, ‘Wow, they’re being nice to each other. Where could that go, and what does that mean?’ So I think it was nice to be able to look at these relationships in a little different light.”
Jann’s flashback with Nora, which plays like a blooper reel from The Great Canadian Baking Show, was another highlight for Arden. “I had the best time,” she says. “Deborah is the heart of our show, and I think we hang so much of the heartfelt emotional payoff of Nora with [her], and she never fails to just really show people what her acting chops are. We all look up to her.”
Fans can also look forward to celebrity guest appearances by Bryan Adams and Michael Bublé, who is still as lovesick for Jann as he was in the Thanksgiving-themed Season 3 finale.
“May I say that this was his story idea?” Arden says of Bublé’s storyline. “We’re like, ‘What do you want to do on the show?’ And this was last season, and he says, ‘I want to be the unrequited love. I want to love Jann, and she doesn’t love me.’ This was all his doing. So when we were doing the Christmas special, he literally phoned Leah [Gauthier], one of our co-creators, and he said, ‘Can I be in this thing? Like, I know I’m on tour right now, but I could do something online.’”
Meanwhile, Adams carved time out of his Canadian tour schedule to drop by the set. “He’s got a new Christmas song out this year called ‘Let’s Get Christmas Going,’” Arden explains. “I’ve heard it on the radio already, and he wrote it for his daughters. He showed up and said, ‘I don’t know the words, so you guys have to write these out for me, so we were scrambling writing them out on the back of wrapping paper, and there’s a lot of f—ing words in that song … but he was absolutely such a pro. He was kind to everybody, and he did the song, and we couldn’t believe it.”
The special isn’t just about music and memories. Modelled after UK Christmas specials that offer holiday cheer while moving plotlines forward between seasons, there are some major storyline resolutions—such as revealing whether Jann chose to stay with Nate or to get back together with Cynthia and help raise her baby. There’s also a life-changing surprise at the end that lifts Jann’s holiday spirits. In short, it’s the sort of show that could serve as a bookend for the series or provide the impetus for a fourth season.
“We were very purposeful about that,” Arden says. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern, and we’re all kind of holding our breaths and crossing our fingers and we’ll see what happens. But, for now, we were able to do some problem-solving and put out a few fires that we left hanging after Season 3.”
Arden is also chuffed CTV will be rebroadcasting the episodes on Christmas Eve at 10 p.m. “That’s pretty damn great to be in people’s homes, whether they’re with their families and sitting down having meals, the excitement of kids running around the house, and Santa’s coming,” she says. “We’re hoping it has legs. Like, year after year, for people to go, ‘Oh, god, that crazy special again.’”
Jann: Alone For The Holidays airs Friday, Dec. 9 at 9 p.m. ET on CTV, CTV.ca and the CTV app. Encore presentation Saturday, Dec. 24 at 10 p.m. ET on CTV.
When Jann Arden met Charlie Kerr at a dinner party in Vancouver last year, she immediately wanted him to play Nate, the younger boyfriend of her fictional self, on the third season of CTV’s Jann. However, the pair almost didn’t cross paths that night.
Arden was staying at a cottage owned by Kerrâ€™s father on Bowen Island, B.C., and Kerrâ€”who fronts alt-rock band Hotel Mira and has appeared on TV shows such as iZombie, The Magicians and Supernaturalâ€”says he was worried the iconic singer-songwriter would think he was just â€œanother actor-musician … with ulterior motives to collaborate with herâ€ if he turned up at a dinner they had both been invited to. So he initially declined to go. In the end, a friend convinced him to attend the gathering, but he â€œpurposely wore ratty clothingâ€ so it wouldn’t look like he was trying to impress anybody.
Little did Kerr know, Arden was already impressed with him.Â
â€œI sat down and [Jann] already knew who I was and started talking about music,â€ Kerr says. â€œI had a song that was doing well on the radio at the time and we were kind of relating to each other on that. And then the subject of her TV show came up, and she started talking about this character Nate, and I think she even said [he was] â€˜kind of somebody a bit like you,â€™ and I was like, â€˜Well, Iâ€™m an actor; Iâ€™d love to audition.â€™â€
Soon after their encounter, Arden began championing Kerr to play Nate. In response, the Vancouver native started an intense workout regimen to change his appearance because, as he explains, the character is â€œa star in an action TV show, and I have the body of a 13-year old girl.â€
Following a lengthy audition and network approval process, Kerr finally landed the part. â€œBetween going to that dinner and filming, I think it was like seven months,â€ he says.
Last week, Nate made his debut on the show. Matched with Jann through a celebrity dating app, the TV starâ€”who plays a fantasy action hero called Dark Cupidâ€”at first, appears to have little in common with her. For one thing, heâ€™s a younger manâ€”to the horror of Nora (Deborah Grover), who protests both his age and gender. For another, heâ€™s grounded and isn’t into relationship drama, which makes him wary of Jannâ€™s over-the-top antics when they run into Cynthia (Sharon Taylor) on their first date. But despite this rough start, the episode ends with Nate making pancakes in Jannâ€™s kitchen after spending the night, indicating there might be hope for this odd couple after all.
We spoke to Kerr, who is currently recording new music with Hotel Mira, about what viewers can expect from Nate in coming episodes.
When I read that Jann would be dating an action star that she meets on a celebrity dating app, I thought the character would be somewhat silly or over-the-top. But Nate is serious and no-nonsense. How did you approach playing him? CK: I know quite a lot of people kind of like him, who have been on and off sets and want to be treated like theyâ€™re normal and kind of want a break from all the glitz and glamour and stuff. That was the main thing that I was thinking about, that Nate is so well known for this part that is nothing like him, and he just wants people to love him for him and show that heâ€™s not just one thing, and I think a lot of people can relate to that. I think thatâ€™s a pretty human quality. One of my other favourite things about Nate is he means really well, and sometimes heâ€™s being insulting and doesnâ€™t know it. Being a movie star, being pampered on set, whatever it is, leads to kind of a lack of awareness. Those are the main things about Nate that I wanted to portray: He means well, heâ€™s very loving, but he has a very strange life thatâ€™s led to a bit of lack of awareness.
When we spoke to co-creators Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier, they mentioned that they had to age you because Nate is supposed to be 38 and youâ€™re several years younger than that. What did that involve? CK: I think my body transforming was a big part of it. I also grew out a beard, and my hairâ€™s super long. I look pretty different than I usually look. And trying to have that maturity wherever I could as well in the performance. One thing Iâ€™ve noticed about people growing up and getting to a certain age, is they donâ€™t sweat the small stuff as much. If youâ€™re playing someone younger, everythingâ€™s the end of the world. Youâ€™re incredibly dramatic at every single moment of conflict, and I think a way to kind of play maturity is to understand that some things arenâ€™t that important and roll with the punches a bit, so I tried to do that as well.Â
Itâ€™s common to see relationships between older men and younger women in movies and on TV shows, but itâ€™s still rare to see the reverse. Did it excite you to be a part of an onscreen pairing that bucks that trend? CK: Itâ€™s one of my absolute favourite things about it because itâ€™s an age gap that no one would blink an eye at if the genders were reversed. If Larry David had a girlfriend on his show that was a similar age gap, it wouldnâ€™t even be a plot point, and to be a part of something going the other direction and making people think and pointing out the hypocrisy of that was really appealing. Itâ€™s really exciting to me to be a part of anything that makes people think or challenges something.
When Nate goes on his first date with Jann, he sees some red flags that initially make him think he doesnâ€™t want to see her again, but then he stays the night. What made him change his mind? CK: [Jannâ€™s] honesty, authenticity. He mentions how sick of anything vapid he is at this point. So when Jann gets real with him about what sheâ€™s going through, I think thatâ€™s what really hooks him, and I can relate to that. I think weâ€™ve all fallen in love with or become more interested in somebody once theyâ€™re vulnerable with us.Â
What was it like to work with Jann Arden? CK: I think the entire thing was just a dream come true. I never thought Iâ€™d get to be a part of an ensemble comedy, especially one this strong. Jann championed me from the beginning. I owe her a lot. But the entire cast and crew is just remarkably fun to work with. I couldnâ€™t believe my job was going to work to make people laugh. Thatâ€™s so absurdly cool. And sheâ€™s so talented and sheâ€™s such an awesome leader, and she has kind of hand-picked and curated who she works with in a way where you always feel safe, you always feel taken care of, and honestly, I just loved being a fly on the wall on that set because everyone was so goddamn funny.
Speaking of funny, Nate stars in a fantasy TV series called Dark Cupid, and there were several campy scenes from the show included in last weekâ€™s episode. Were those as fun to film as they were to watch? CK: That was an absolute joy, and it was something I was pretty nervous about because I had the whole body language and voice kind of picked out, and I didnâ€™t know if other people would find it as funny as I did. And the first thing we did was a big table read on Zoom and my first lines are as Dark Cupid, so I started doing the voice and the breathing and stuff and everybody was cracking up, and it was the first time I was able to breathe and be like, â€˜OK, Iâ€™m probably not gonna get fired.â€™ So doing that and people digging it, it was such a joy. It was kind of like getting to be in a Marvel thing or a superhero thing.Â
From talking to Jennica and Leah, I know that Nate plays a major role in the rest of the season. What can you preview about his journey in upcoming episodes? CK: He really integrates with the rest of the cast, and I think we get to see just more and more of how human he is and how he enjoys the simple things. I got to work with Patrick [Gilmore] for an entire episode and that dynamicâ€™s really, really fun. I think just as time goes on, you get to see how much of a goofball he is, you get to see the best parts of Jann that appeal to him, why theyâ€™re an unlikely match.Â
Do you have a favourite episode coming up? CK: This weekâ€™s episode, 305, is a lot of fun. It has a lot of rad, funny moments. And the finale is really cool. Getting to be a part of something with Tegan and Sara wasâ€”I never got to meet themâ€”but being involved with them whatsoever was incredibly exciting because The Con was one of my favourite records growing up, so that was a bit of a starstruck moment for me, and an honour.Â
Jann airs Mondays at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, CTV.ca and CTV app.
In Jannâ€™s world, COVID doesnâ€™t exist. During the third season of the hit CTV comedy series, serially self-absorbed Jann (Jann Arden) and her family are dealing with 99 problemsâ€”including Jannâ€™s lack of funding for a new album, Maxâ€™s (Zoie Palmer) new relationship with her biological father Marty (Ron Lea), and Noraâ€™s (Deborah Grover) continuing battle with Alzheimerâ€™sâ€”but a worldwide pandemic isnâ€™t one of them.
â€œWe want our show to be, first and foremost, entertaining, and it didnâ€™t seem like the right kind of show to be actually addressing a serious worldwide pandemic,â€ says Jennica Harper, series co-creator, co-executive producer, and showrunner. â€œSo we donâ€™t do that. You can escape for a hot 19 to 20 minutes in our world.â€
While viewers likely appreciate a weekly break from the pandemic, Harper and co-creator and co-executive producer Leah Gauthier couldnâ€™t escape the realities of COVID while creating the new season. Social distancing forced the showâ€™s writing staff, including new addition and â€œinstant fitâ€ JP Larocque, to plan and pen all eight of the seasonâ€™s episodes over Zoom; and once filming began in Calgary, safety regulations dictated everything from the number of people who were allowed on set to the ways cast and crew could interact with each other.
â€œNo one was allowed to sit in a car with each other, and you have to eat a snack outside, so youâ€™re on a snowbank by yourself,â€ says Gauthier, adding that the conditions led to â€œa weird kind of tired that Iâ€™m sure people can relate to now that weâ€™ve been doing it for so long.â€
Luckily, everyoneâ€™s dedication to the rules meant no one got sick during production, and the cast and crew were able to gather together for the showâ€™s premiere party in Toronto a few weeks ago, allowing Harper and Gauthier to see Larocque in person for the first time.
â€œIt was just so nice to see their face in real life,â€ says Gauthier. â€œWe formed a connection over Zoom, but itâ€™s so much better when you finally get to meet the people youâ€™ve been working with.â€
We chatted with Harper and Gauthier about their approach to writing Season 3, their newfound love of spoilers, and what we can expect from Jannâ€™s new love interest, Nate (Charlie Kerr), who makes his debut in Mondayâ€™s episode.
Youâ€™ve talked about the way COVID impacted your writing process and production. Did it change any of the storylines you wanted to include this season? Jennica Harper: I feel we were incredibly fortunate because Season 2, as you know, ends with a huge event, the Tunies. Last season, we just threw everything out there, huge galas, just all kinds of events, episodes that had tons of people. Even our school episode in Season 2 was pretty huge by COVID standards, there were so many extras, all the kids. So I felt really fortunate that our conversation about what we wanted to do with Season 3 was, pre-COVID, already a more down-to-earth, character-based season, with intimate stuff between the characters we already care about, family stuff. That was already our goal, so thank God for that because to do something like a Season 2, we would have been really rethinking.
In Season 3, we tried not to do any huge events that had a lot of extras. So, for example, a big event would be going to a big mountain resort. We go to Kananaskis Lodge in Episode 5, which is big in scale and scope and beauty, but we never have 200 people in a room. Itâ€™s not necessary. We did scale in different ways this season. Another big factor was looking at stories between the characters. We have a lot more stories happening at Jannâ€™s cottage, weâ€™re bringing people to her, rather than her always at Max and Daveâ€™s [Patrick Gilmore] and elsewhere. Noraâ€™s back with her, sheâ€™s hired Trey [Tenaj Williams], Treyâ€™s now around all the time. Cale [Elena Juatco], of course, is in her breakdown mode, so sheâ€™s great fun to have around without having to be at big events, sheâ€™s in our domestic world now. So it was already storywise what we had been talking about, but it was also a very conscious choice to spend more time at Jannâ€™s cottage, which is a wonderful set that we own, that we control, and doesnâ€™t mean you have to have 20 people walking by in the background.
A lot of things changed in Jannâ€™s life at the end of last season, such as her firing Cale, breaking up with Cynthia, and asking Nora to live with her. What were your goals for her character in Season 3? JH: The theme of the season was kind of starting over and new beginnings, and so thatâ€™s what we were looking for in bringing Trey in, and then as we get into the season, we get into Jann considering dating again and dating a man. So really it was about Jann being a woman who is kind of going back to basics. In terms of romance, realizing she deserves to be happy and maybe she should be looking for love, and in terms of her career, realizing she should really pursue the album that she wants to write thatâ€™s from the heart, that is more her than any of the stuff she did with Cale. So sheâ€™s got to figure out new ways to take control of her own life in this season.
Leah Gauthier: Jann still has so much to say. I mean maybe the world thinks sheâ€™s aged out of relevance, but sheâ€™s like, â€˜Iâ€™m actually going to do a bunch of stuff for myself going forward.â€™
This is a serialized show, but it also depends on the comedy of Jann always being a little self-absorbed and making bad choices. How do you decide where her character should grow and where she should stay stuck? LG: Thatâ€™s a good question because it sort of is just this collaborative experience when we write that Jann will absolutely shut something down almost immediately if sheâ€™s not willing to go there. Sheâ€™s not going to waste anyoneâ€™s time. But there is a collective feeling or understanding when we hit the nail on the head in terms of her self-absorbed nature. Mostly, if it reads like itâ€™s in her best interest, and no one else really gets hurt, but sheâ€™s gonna do what sheâ€™s gonna do for herself, thatâ€™s kind of a comfortable zone for us. And itâ€™s always pretty funny especially if we throw in a physical comedy aspect to that as wellâ€”which is why we definitely put her upside down in a dumpster later this season. So thereâ€™s that coming, get ready. We want to keep her not completely self-actualized because that is the person that she is. Like weâ€™re not going to make her completely whole at this point because then we run out of story.
JH: I agree. The way I have started to think about it, so many episodes in, is that she can be as selfish as we want if she doesnâ€™t really realize the harm sheâ€™s doing to other people. And I think thatâ€™s it. There is a sort of innocence and naivete to her narcissism. We have sometimes been compared to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Obviously, weâ€™re not going to complain about that comparison, but I do feel that Larry David is kind of more of an asshole.
LG: So lovable.
JH: Larry David?
LG: I love him, I love him.
JH: Well, I love him, too, but I think the thing is, heâ€™s righteous, he has to be right. If something is ridiculous to him, he has to prove that. Itâ€™s more of an intellectual thing or something. But with Jann, she is from the heart, man. For me, when she gets up from that support group [in Episode 302], where sheâ€™s supposed to be listening to advice about her mother, and sheâ€™s just like, â€˜Oh, my God, thank you so much for helping me solve my problem.â€™
LG: â€˜This is very helpful!â€™
JH: â€˜This is so helpful!â€™ She is truly in her own head and just an innocent, right? Sheâ€™s just like, â€˜Iâ€™ve got a great idea, and Iâ€™m gonna go now.â€™ And I donâ€™t think that she is really aware of her selfishness. Thatâ€™s how I read her.
You introduce two new characters this season: Trey, who debuted in the premiere, and Nate, who first appears in Episode 304. Why did you decide to expand the cast? JH: I would say Iâ€™m not sure we should be adding a lot of characters to the cast in one sense because we have a lot of people that are great performers, and as it is, some of them donâ€™t get a lot of time, and weâ€™re constantly trying to juggle making sure we see enough of the people we already love. However, we did really feel like Jann needs help in her life, so we needed somebody coming in. And we talked about different forms of what kind of person that could be, but we ultimately landed on some kind of personal assistant. She doesnâ€™t want management, but she clearly needs somebody to help keep her life together, and so thatâ€™s where Trey came in. And I think the main thing we wanted with Trey was somebody who was obviously a rational, mature person to do two things: to offset Jannâ€™s instinctively bad choices and then also somebody who had a warmth and sort of a caring nature because we wanted to establish somebody who could be a friend and maybe even long-term a bit of a help to Nora along the way. So those are the two dynamics we really cared about with that character.
LG: We knew early on that Jann was probably going to attempt to get back out in the dating world, and then weâ€™d decided that she might dabble with men. And then Jann and I were actually away, we were on Bowen Island here in Vancouver, and we went to a property, and the owner of it had a son who was around who was an actor, and Jann immediately took a liking to Charlie Kerr, and she said to me, â€˜This guy could potentially be my boyfriend on the show.â€™ I said, â€˜OK, weâ€™ll have to field a bunch of comments about this age gap, but I see how this could actually be quite hilarious, and I like the little reversal with the older lady vibe.â€™ So there was a bunch of auditioning with Charlie, and he was a perfect fit. He kind of plays it a bit serious, which is perfect for Jannâ€™s out-of-control energy. Heâ€™s sort of stoic. So thatâ€™s how we found him, we found Charlie Kerr on an island.
JH: [His character Nate] doesnâ€™t put up with bullshit and games. Heâ€™s just not interested. Heâ€™s super mature for his age.
LG: Yeah, heâ€™s sober and celibate. He comes in saying, â€˜Im sober and celibate, and Iâ€™m not putting up with your craziness.â€™
JH: We also played the character a bit older than the actor. Iâ€™ll just say that right up front. We actually took pains to flag his age in the episode where we meet him because we kind of felt it was pushing it a little bit.
LG: Weâ€™re like, â€˜Grow a beard! Thatâ€™ll do it.â€™
So we have Nate coming up in the next episode. What can you tease about the rest of the season? JH: Well, you should know that Leah and I have become huge spoiler proponents.
LG: Yes. Love the spoilers.
JH: In this world, thereâ€™s so much great TV to watch that we actually sort of feel like anything that we can do that is going to pique somebodyâ€™s interest into taking a look, weâ€™re open to. Thereâ€™s a couple of things the network has asked us not to spoil, but for the most part, weâ€™re open books at this point.
Oh, wow, spoil away! JH: OK, well one thing I think is exciting is a coupleâ€™s weekend away with Jann and her new boyfriend Nate and Max and Dave, who are very excited to be away from the kids and have no responsibilities for a while. And Cale is going to have a storyline where she tries to confront her fear of failure by purposely failing.
LG: And Elena gets to sing, sheâ€™s an incredible singer.
JH: Yep, Cale sings. We finally got Elena Juatco singing on our show. We have I think a really fun story about questioning the idea of gender reveal parties. Jann and Nate go to basically a rich couple who run a gender reveal business and are kind of put on the spot, and Jann has to kind of take a stand against gender reveal parties. And Leah, do you want to [talk about Episode 307]?
LG: It involves some aggressive bird watching that ends up in some dumpster diving, and thereâ€™s a mystery to unfold. They also have to attend a funeral. Somebody dies.
JH: Thatâ€™s right. Somebody who weâ€™ve already met this season dies. Woo, look at us! Weâ€™re getting good at this.
Do you already have ideas for Season 4? JH: There has not been an official pick-up, but Jann, Leah, and I have done our early talk-through of story ideas for what we would want to do in Season 4. We have a kind of proposal to CTV for what we would like to do, and weâ€™re ready to hit the ground running.
LG: Thereâ€™s an aggressive cliff-hanger at the end of this season
JH: Yes, thereâ€™s a real question hanging in the air, so we really want to answer that.
Jann airs Mondays at 7 p.m. ET/PT on CTV, CTV.ca and CTV app.
CTV’s sitcom Jann is an undeniable critical and ratings success. Its first season garnered rave reviews, millions of viewers, and a 2020 WGC Screenwriting Award for Best Comedy Series.
However, there was a time when the show’s co-creators and executive producers, Jennica Harper and Leah Gauthier,Â were unsure if the seriesâ€”which stars singer-songwriter Jann Arden as a highly fictionalized version of herselfâ€”would work.
“It was a real act of faith at first,” says Harper, explaining that Arden “was very funny and very talented” but unproven as a comedic lead. There were also some concerns about the show’s unique blend of tones: part entertainment industry satire, part slapstick comedy, part family dramedy.
“Itâ€™s not a comedy in the conventional way, itâ€™s a little bit more cable, I think,” says Harper, who also acts as the series showrunner. “Thereâ€™s a bit more of a blend of very silly comedy right up to, hopefully, poignant, dramatic moments. Weâ€™re trying to kind of have our cake and eat it, too.”Â
Harper and Gauthier got their cake and more when CTV quickly greenlit the series for Seasons 2 and 3. But having a hit show creates new worries.
“You immediately put pressure on yourself,” Gauthier says. “Like, ‘Can we do it again in the second season?'”
The answer to that is a resounding yes. The first four episodes of Season 2 have provided some of the series’ funniest moments as chronically narcissistic Jann works to win back her family after ditching them to go on tour last season. Her hilarious quest has featured a wrestling match with Sarah McLachlan (who guest-starred in the first episode of the season), some bizarrely unconventional couple’s therapy with girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor), and a disastrous camping adventure with sister Max (Zoie Palmer) and mom Nora (Deborah Grover).
On Monday’s new episode, “Drop the Single,” Jann is in for more uncomfortable situations when Cale (Elena Juatco) pushes her to record an electronic dance track and she shares a talk show couch with a very unimpressed k.d. lang. The instalment also features some of the show’s patented family drama as Dave (Patrick Gilmore) brings the baby to visit his mom.
We recently chatted with Harper and Gauthier about their approach to writing the new season and what to expect in the show’s second half.
Season 2 has been excellent so far. Did you find it easier or harder to write than the first season?Â Jennica Harper: Easier. When we were breaking the stories for Season 2, I was just so excited because it became clear who the characters are and we had the casting. When we wrote those [Season 1] scripts, we hadnâ€™t cast anybody yet, other than Jann, of course, and now that we know those actors and those characters, it was a lot more playful.Â
Leah Gauthier: For sure. And as we watched [the actors] as we were making Season 1, we were like, ‘What are these characters naturally great at that we can pick up on in seasons following? Is this character really good at panicky situations? Has this person come up against Jann as a buddy or as an enemy? Where can we expand on what organically happened on its own and lean into it?’ Because the Charley character, she becomes sort of a social influencer in Season 2, and that was because we were watching Alexa [Rose Steele] in real life, and were thinking, ‘This woman is very interesting and her social media following is huge’. Thatâ€™s the kind of thing that we sort of lean into and pull from real life, thatâ€™s kind of what weâ€™re doing in these later seasons, and I feel itâ€™s more fun to write.Â
JH: Another example was with Nora, Jannâ€™s mom, whoâ€™s played by Deb Grover. There are these moments where sheâ€™s kind of sassy, not just this sort of sad person going through her early stages of memory loss, and we loved that.
How does an episode of Jann begin in your writersâ€™ room?Â JH:Â We essentially develop a story arcs document for the season, and thatâ€™s something that Jann, Leah, and I do together. Traditionally, that would be the three of us going to Jannâ€™s house in Calgary for a few days and just talking about the shape of the season, because it’s serialized, and what the theme is before we figure out what some individual funny story would be within that. For example, in Season 2 it was about whether Jann could make things up to the people she pissed off and also Cynthia and Jann giving it a go and her relationship with Cale, with Cale being someone who has a lot of ideas that Jann is uncomfortable with.
The three of us developed a road map for the season and some story ideas that could go with that and had them fleshed out. So when we get together with the rest of our writers, weâ€™re presenting our thoughts for the whole season, ‘What do you think?’ Then we ask them to respond and help us refine that and start talking individual stories. Thatâ€™s not necessarily typical on other shows. Sometimes you just show up and thereâ€™s a blank page and you kind of have to figure out one by one what the episodes are going to be. But we kind of come in with some of that work done, so that we can really be running when we have the writers together.
Where do you come up with some of the crazier situations that Jann gets herself into?Â JH: We pull from Jannâ€™s personal stories for sure, anytime weâ€™re chatting about something that kind of works. For some of the family storylines, we have more relatable stories [from our own lives] that apply. But thereâ€™s also a lot of what-ifs. You know, ‘What if Jann and Cynthia went to coupleâ€™s therapy and maybe this person isnâ€™t even a therapist?’ There’s a lot of just pitching jokes and story ideas in the writersâ€™ room.Â
LG: Our writersâ€™ room is a really comfortable space. Everyone feels really comfortable to pitch any idea, even if itâ€™s crazy. Sometimes people will start with, ‘OK, this is a bad pitch, but what if Jann is hanging from her crotch on a barbed wire fence?’
And Jann is game for doing whatever. She understands that the physical comedy lands really well. Sheâ€™s really helpful because no one is scared to say, ‘I was thinking weâ€™d put you in boxer shorts and you drag garbage cans out the front’ because sheâ€™s not ever gonna shut it down.Â
JH: She actually pitches it sometimes. Sheâ€™s the one in the camping episode that really ran with the idea of having an emergency situation in the woods. She went all the way. She went, ‘What if I use a sock?’ That was in the script for a little while, and then we thought this is bizarre for even us. But I think the show works because she is fully committed to looking ridiculous.Â
LG: And sheâ€™s such a good sport. In the last episode, when sheâ€™s on that inflatable pink couch, she was flipping around upside down and sideways on that thing, and sheâ€™d just had her gallbladder removed about 15 days before. Thatâ€™s how committed she is to doing whatever it takes to make people laugh. Sheâ€™s a true hero.Â
Speaking of the inflatable pink couch, how much of the physical comedy is specifically scripted and how much of it is just finding funny situations that allow Jann Arden to be Jann Arden? LG: For the pink inflatable chair thing, it was scripted that she was stuck in it and she couldnâ€™t reach her pop and she knocks the pop over and says, ‘What a waste.’ But then she kept going, like flipping up and back. That was just her going for it.Â
JH: We try to create the space, like you said, for her to run with it. And sometimes we realize later and add it. Like in Episode 3 with the fall out of the rickshaw, Charley pulls up outside the school and Jann is texting and she gets out and she falls, and itâ€™s very funny.Â
LG: That was her own stunt. We put a pillow underneath the black mulch, and then we [told her], ‘Youâ€™re good.’Â
JH: Yeah, ‘Just fall like you mean it!’
LG: And she did.Â
I love Jann’s relationship with Cynthia. I’m a woman of a certain age, gay, and in a relationship, and it’s rare to see characters and humour representing my demographic. JH: When we were recently talking about Season 3, Leah said how important it is that we feel we are writing a woman in her 50s and living her best life. I mean, obviously, Jann is not actually living her best life yet, but thereâ€™s sort of an aspirational quality to it. You know, we want to see women in relationships, we want to see women in sexuality. Thatâ€™s really important to us and we feel itâ€™s really underrepresented. I think people who havenâ€™t watched the show maybe donâ€™t know how progressive it is.
LG: Weâ€™re writing Season 3 now, and in one of our Zoom writing rooms, I said to everyone, ‘As weâ€™re wrapping up our first drafts, can we look back at them with an eye for the moments where Jann can be very proud of herself. ‘ Sheâ€™s a woman in her 50s that is not done. Sheâ€™s not over, we havenâ€™t forgotten about her, sheâ€™s still excited about stuff, she still gets to do really cool shit, the gameâ€™s not over. I want people to watch this and go, ‘I can still do lots of stuff. I have so many days ahead of me that I can do some great things.’Â
And Jann is so helpful in those rooms, too, because sheâ€™ll just tell us a story from her real life and weâ€™ll just be like, ‘Got it. Hot flash, girlfriend, laying on the bathroom floor. Cool, itâ€™s in the show!’Â
You’ve had great guest stars this season, including Sarah McLachlan, and in the next episode, k.d. lang. How was it to work with them? JH: Intimidating. I was very excited, but there were definitely moments where I couldnâ€™t believe this was happening.
LG: Jennica was freaking out.Â
JH: I was, in my calm way, freaking out. No, it was very cool, and they were so different. Sarah was really like, ‘Let me do the silly stuff, Iâ€™m totally excited about this,’ and k.d. was more reserved, but I thought it was hysterical how she, just with her facial expressions, absolutely nailed the ‘I canâ€™t, this woman is ridiculous,’ vibe.Â
LG: Sheâ€™s very cool and calm, that k.d. lang. She drove herself there and dressed herself, nailed it, and then drove home.Â
What can you preview about the second half of the season? JH: A big thing thatâ€™s ramping up is Jann and Caleâ€™s adversarial business relationship. Itâ€™s going to really come to a head.
LH: I’m excited about [an episode where] the sisters go on a road trip. I really like the sister dynamic, so putting them in a car together and sending them off was really fun. Thatâ€™s Episode 207, and Iâ€™m really looking forward to that.Â
Can you tell me anything about Season 3? JH: We plan to shoot after the new year, so a little later than normal. Weâ€™d normally be shooting now. Weâ€™ve already scripted the whole season, we’ve got drafts of the whole thing. Weâ€™re revising and punching them up a bit, but we have a story to tell, so weâ€™re pretty excited.Â
During the same week that Daniel and Eugene Levy broke our hearts by announcing the end of their genius mega-hit comedy Schitt’s Creek, another stellar, and very Canadian, comedy debuted.
CTV’s Jann stars iconic singer-songwriter Jann Arden as a mostly fictionalized version of herself. In this alternate universe, Jann is a self-absorbed, down-on-her-luck musician who is desperate to claw her way back into the spotlightâ€”and to get the best of her musical nemesis, Sarah McLachlan. Meanwhile, she’s also dealing (quite badly) with her recent split from long-time girlfriend Cynthia (Sharon Taylor) and her mom’s (Deborah Grover) increasing forgetfulness, a situation that echoes Arden’s real-life experiences with her mother, who passed away from Alzheimer’s in December.Â The show is sharp, genuinely funny, and at times, deeply moving. It’s also a show fans of Schitt’s Creek might want to check out to help ease their anticipatory grief.
During a visit to Jann‘s Calgary-based set in October, we spoke with series co-creator Leah Gauthier (Motive) and showrunner Jennica Harper (Cardinal, Motive) about developing the comedyâ€”which airs its second episode, “Go With the Flowga,” on Wednesdayâ€”pitting Jann against Canada’s sweetheart McLachlan, and Arden’s immense star quality.
Leah, you co-created the series with Jann Arden. How did that come about? Leah Gauthier: Iâ€™ve worked in television for 10 years, on the factual and reality side of TV, and between two shows, I went on the road with Jann as part of her production team. So we met through work but became fast friends. I did three tours with her, and weâ€™ve always talked about one day when we were both ready, we would pitch a show. Itâ€™s changed a lot over the years, and sheâ€™s been approached a lot to do television, but it was never the right format. Everyone always wanted her to be like a version of Ellen [DeGeneres] and do a daytime talk show. But we knew we wanted something scripted.
So about three years ago, we sat down in her kitchen and we just wrote it out. It started weird. She was very different versions of herselfâ€”she lived in a trailer park or she ran a strip mallâ€”and we kind of pared it down to what it is now. We wrote it together on her kitchen island, and then we flew to Toronto and pitched it, and here we are. Itâ€™s almost insane. It took a long time, but now it feels like it happened overnight. It took three years.
What were some of the biggest roadblocks you experienced over that three-year period? LG: I knew I had obviously something super special with Jann because the country really loves her, so I had a foot in the door because of her. Iâ€™m aware that this opportunity would have never have happened for me if not for her being my champion. So my biggest roadblocks were all of the things. Jann busted the roadblocks down, and now I get to do this, and Iâ€™m eternally grateful.
You and Jann chose Jennica as your showrunner. What was it about her that really stood out to you? LG: We interviewed a bunch of different people for the position of showrunner and talking to her on the phone, it was just immediately apparent that she had all of the things that we were lacking. You know, together we made just a perfect, complete human. And she also came into the interview pitching great ideas, like thereâ€™s a whole rivalry with Sarah McLachlan that was Jennicaâ€™s idea. When she came up with that, we were like, â€˜This woman gets us.â€™ She has the right sense of humour for us, sheâ€™s clearly talented and very smart and professional, ‘Youâ€™re hired.’
Jennica, you have worked on dramas like Cardinal and also have a background in kids comedy. How has it been working on a primetime comedy aimed at adults? Jennica Harper: I was very grateful to be working in kids comedy for many years and then I had been developing a number of comedy shows, but itâ€™s hard to get one going here. So I sort of interviewed and pitched my take on the show idea and sort of helped flesh it out. I know very well how lucky I am to be one of the people getting run an adult comedy, a primetime comedy in this country. Thereâ€™s been very few. So I have no illusions about why Iâ€™m here. Iâ€™m here because I have the experience and because Jann got us a greenlight. Like, I know how our show got greenlit. I did my best with the scripts, I did my best with the story, but weâ€™re here because we have a star and everyone was like, ‘This is a no-brainer. Letâ€™s put this on TV.’ So I got to sort of ride the train, and now Iâ€™m sort of steering the train, but the train belongs to Jann.
I think Jann’s rivalry with Sarah McLachlan on the show is hilarious. Why does fictional Jann hate Sarah?Â JH: Right from the beginning, when I understood that the proposal was to do a fictionalized version of Jann and that she is super flawed and jealous and imperfect and a blurter who thinks about herself first, that immediately came to me. I was like, â€˜This is going to be so much fun.â€™ Because thatâ€™s where the comedy is going to come from, itâ€™s going to come from the conflict of her against the world. And sometimes thatâ€™s her versus her work, and sometimes itâ€™s her versus her family. So I thought she needed a nemesis, and who is a better Canadian nemesis than, honestly, one of the most hard-to-criticize human beings in the world? Someone who is beautiful with an incredible songwriting ability and a beautiful voice and works for charities and creates music schools for children, that that would be somebody whoâ€”if youâ€™re really having fun with a flawed personâ€”youâ€™re like, â€˜I hate that perfect person. Sheâ€™s terrible. How does she get everything and I get nothing?â€™ That kind of vibe.
The series is very funny, but it also has a serious side, particularly in its treatment of Nora’s dementia. Was it at all difficult to strike a tonal balance between those two elements? JH: I know itâ€™s going to be a big part of the conversation, so Iâ€™ve tried to think really hard about all of the aspects that go into finding that tone, but I think partly whatâ€™s helped us has been not to worry too much about it, to accept that weâ€™re going to allow for some more serious moments and to not fight it, to embrace them.
We did know that we were kind of starting in a more comedic place and the seasonâ€™s going to grow and build into more serious moments, and that was really helpful because we felt we were really earning some of them later, as opposed to trying in the pilot to start with really serious things. Weâ€™re not really doing that. Weâ€™re keeping it light up front and then hoping weâ€™re bringing the audience along for a journey and that theyâ€™re going to come with us to a point where they really love these characters, theyâ€™re invested in their lives and they want to see whatâ€™s going to happen to them thatâ€™s not so perfect. And I also think that, even with the more serious moments in the show, we do allow for those responses that are imperfect and flawed and sometimes even funny. Life takes you to those places and youâ€™re still yourself, you still respond the way you respond.
What has it been like working with Jann? JH: On Day 1, we were kind of bracing ourselves: Is this going to be good? Is it going to work? Itâ€™s such a hard job. Can Jann do the job? And then there was a moment on Day 1 where I was watching and I almost cried because realized that it was so far beyond that. I looked at Leah and said, â€˜Oh, my god. I think it might be really good. Sheâ€™s really good.â€™ It was really exciting in that moment to realize that you were going to be a part of something special. It is an amazingly collaborative group, and we happen to have top-notch people, and Iâ€™m really proud of the scripts. I think that all of our writers have done a great job, theyâ€™re really strong scripts. But it would live or die with Jannâ€”and itâ€™s going to shine. Sheâ€™s a star.