September is a busy month for the CBC. There are several new shows to debut and a pile of returning ones to schedule; it can be easy to miss Strays. Returning for its second season, Strays grabbed a lot of headlines last year because it is the companion series to that cancelled-to-soon award-winner Kim’s Convenience.
Unfairly or not, Strays—which follows Shannon Ross as she leaves Toronto and Handy car rental behind for Hamilton and a gig as manager at Hamilton East Animal Shelter—was compared to Kim’s. Though it features Nicole Power in the lead role of Shannon and boasts many Kim’s creative staff, Strays quickly established itself as a project worthy of standing on its own.
Returning Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on CBC, “Friends and Neighbours,” written by co-creators and executive producers Kevin White and Anita Kapila, Shannon deals with an unwanted guest in the parking lot and then struggles to balance her commitment to the community with her desire to impress a new board member, Tonya. Meanwhile, a dance party at the shelter leaves Kristian yearning for his perfect “moment” with Lara.
The strength of Strays will always be Power’s portrayal of Shannon’s adorable kindness and awkwardness, as the centrepiece to an incredibly strong supporting cast and their characters. Standouts continue to be Kevin Vidal’s Liam, Nikki Duval’s Nikki, Tony Nappo’s Paul, Tina Jung’s Joy, Emily Piggoford’s Lara and Frank Cox-O’Connell’s Kristian. Tuesday’s return sees guest gigs by Dennis Andres (Workin’ Moms) as the aforementioned unwanted guest and Varun Sanga (Wynonna Earp) as Lara’s boyfriend, who complement the key cast.
When I first connected with Madison Walsh and Michael Musi, it was to chat about Season 1 of Something Undone.
The CBC Gem series was filmed during the first wave of COVID-19, meaning a stripped-down tale of Jo (Walsh), a foley artist and her partner, Farid (Musi), who are putting the finishing touches on a true-crime podcast about the murder of the Chaffey family. While Farid was in Newfoundland chasing down leads on the case, Jo was sequestered in her late mother’s home in Ontario, sorting through her things while working on the podcast. Season 1 of Something Undone is a psychological scare-fest full of odd sounds and intense feelings of loss and isolation.
Now, in Season 2, we get Farid’s side of the story. With production expanding to include guest cast and on-location filming, Something Undone goes all-in on the new six instalments. In Episode 1, we catch up with Farid, who is in Briddus, Newfoundland, investigating the Chaffey murders. There he uncovers shocking truths about the case, persevering despite threats from townsfolk and Jo’s stresses in Ontario. With an all-star cast consisting of Mary Walsh, Nicole Power, Shaun Majumder, Shawn Doyle and Tom Power, and directed by Hannah Cheesman, Something Undone is simply fabulous.
We spoke to Madison Walsh and Michael Musi about the second season.
Had you planned at telling Farid’s side of the story in Season 2? Michael Musi: No. I know that when we did Season 1, we never thought really much past that while we were in production. But I do remember at some point while shooting, we said, ‘Is this good? Is this special?’ We couldn’t tell if we were onto something and then we started, while shooting, talking about other ideas. And I remember I said something like, ‘It’d be really cool to see what Farid is doing.’
And then CBC said, ‘Have you guys thought about Season 2?’ And said, ‘Of course, we’ve thought about it.’ We never dreamed the show would live on when we were creating the first season, but after winning an award over the summer we started secretly hoping they’d be interested in more.
Madison Walsh: So they came to us and they said, ‘Hey, if we did a Season 2, can you get started now?’ And we just smiled and said, ‘Yeah, for sure.’ And our producers obviously screamed and they got going. Tricky thing was, I was shooting a horror film in Calgary called Dark Nature and Mike was in Toronto but we weren’t going to pass this up so we ended up writing it almost entirely over the phone.
MM: We wrote the first draft of all six episodes of Season 2 over Zoom. And then I flew out to Calgary and we had about four days of eating and of finessing the scripts and interviewing directors.
MW: When we were writing Season 1, it was really important for us to flesh out what was happening to Farid on the other side even though it didn’t really play a huge storyline, it was important that it tracked. So not only were we writing the mystery of what happened in the house, but we also had to design what happened to the Chaffey’s so that was already kind of done, which was really helpful, and then it all came together. Even though we really loved what organically came of Season 1, that it was a psychological horror-thriller, we thought, ‘OK, let’s try not, with this short amount of time, to recreate the same kind of thing.’ Let’s give ourselves the flexible freedom to make this more of a detective mystery, more of noir. That freedom allowed us to work quickly rather than really trying to risk doing something bad that we had gotten right the first time.
And, unlike Season 1, you were juggling location shoots and other actors. MM: Season 2 was really, really tricky. We had a ton of locations. We had a ton of actors. It was so much bigger. And we had the same time and we had a bigger budget, but it was nowhere near as much as we needed to feel really comfy. We really stretched ourselves out thin.
MW: But what really helped in Newfoundland was, miraculously, our second AD in Toronto, Liz, is actually from Petty Harbour, which was the tiny town that we chose, we had gone and scouted and found this amazing little town that was perfect for it. And it just so happened she was like, ‘Oh my god, I’m from there.’ So we flew her out and then we got together a small Newfoundland crew.
And also working with three hours of daylight in Newfoundland at the time. It was freezing. All the locals kept apologizing. They were like, ‘It’s never this cold.’ Yeah, it was wild.
Looking at the cast, Shawn Doyle, Nicole Power, Mary Walsh and Shaun Majumder. How did you land all of this talent? MM: When we went into this, we said, ‘We keep shooting for the stars on so many different levels on this and things have been working out for us, we’re going to get the best Newfoundland actors out there.’ That was our dream list and everyone said yes. Nicole Power had no choice, she’s one of our best friends, but Shaun Majumder, Shawn Doyle, Mary Walsh, Tom Power, everyone said, ‘Absolutely.’ It was cuckoo.
MW: I think they are A), really great actors who I think are doing things not for the money but for the time. But also maybe part of it was because they’re Newfoundlanders who just are, ‘Why not?’ people. They’re so hospitable and so wonderful and so easygoing; they were OK to work on a small set, small budget, for one day. We tried to write each person a character that even though they were on screen for just a short amount of time, was meaningful. They all were ready to play and it was intense. Our days were really fast. It was hard for our director, Hannah Cheesman, to tell Mary Walsh, ‘I’m sorry, you get two takes.’ Which she didn’t need.
She aced it right off the bat. They had to come in and work on these sets where we were getting two giant scenes done in half a day. And it was really stressful. After we finish, every time we finish a shoot, when we’re in it, we’re like, ‘What are we doing? Why are we doing this?’ And then when you’re done and it comes together in some miracle way and you get to work with somebody like Mary Walsh, you say, ‘Oh God, I could do this forever.’
In the first season, the focus is on Jo. It’s different in Season 2. Michael, what was it like doing the heavy lifting when it came to the acting this time? MM: It was really scary stepping into it because I got so comfortable with Maddie having to do it. And I remember a week before I thought, ‘I don’t want to do this.’ I felt like, ‘Yeah, this is a horrible decision. I’m going to let people down.’ Season 1 was so good and I just started feeling really insecure about it. But when you have these incredible actors that you get to act with they just make you feel so comfortable.
Are you working on Season 3? And if so, can you give any details? MM: I don’t think we can give you story details, but what we can say is that we don’t have a third season green-lit, but we definitely want to be prepared if that happens.We can certainly say that it would be a continuation of the story so we’re not going back in time. It would be after all this happened. It would be in a completely different part of Canada and it would be Jo and Farid together.
MW: Our goal from the beginning, we said it as a joke because obviously, we were like, ‘We’re not getting a Season 3,’ just like we thought we weren’t going to get a Season 2. Anything can happen, but we said, ‘We’re setting it in summer and it’s the Sunshine Coast.’ A setting so uniquely Canadian and I think it would be the perfect place for Farid and Jo to go to get better. But meanwhile, things are only going to get worse.
I admit it. I’m going to miss Kim’s Convenience. Certainly the saddest part about its demise is what happened behind the scenes. I won’t go into that here, search on the site for stories about it, but perhaps the best news to come out of that bad situation was Strays.
Bowing Tuesday at 8:30 p.m. on CBC, Strays follows Shannon Ross’ Kim’s Convenience‘s Handy car rental manager as she heads west to become the new executive director of the Hamilton East Animal Shelter. My initial thought surrounding Strays was that it quickly came together as Kim’s Convenience was falling apart. Not so, says star Nicole Power, who reprises Shannon on Strays and serves as consulting producer too.
“At the end of Season 3, I was approached with the opportunity to start developing an idea for a show that would be a companion piece to Kim’s Convenience,” Power says during a conference call. “It would be an expansion of the universe and explore a different side of Shannon and Shannon exploring something new.”
That “something new” is Hamilton, where she is surrounded by new people, clients and fur babies. The new humans in Shannon’s life include her cousin Nikki (Nikki Duval), animal care manager Kristian (Frank Cox-Oâ€™Connell), office manager Joy (Tina Jung), landlord Liam (Kevin Vidal) and maintenance guy Paul (Tony Nappo). Nappo, in particular, is a joy to watch on screen, his trademark gruff exterior buffed by Shannon’s cheery countenance.
When Shannon arrives at Hamilton East Animal Shelter, things are in disarray. Nikki is foisted on Shannon, building budgets have been cut and a birthday party for an elderly cat goes horribly awry. But where most would curl up in a corner, Shannon soldiers on, using her unique word choices to get her and others through trying times.
“Shannon always wants to make the best out of a situation and people-please,” Power says, with a laugh. “She is always trying to manage that everyone else is good, so what you’ll see in Strays is just an extension of Shannon’s desire to have the best of the situation be the reality.”
CBC is announcing initial details for two new original half-hour comedy series featuring Kimâ€™s Convenience stars Andrew Phung and Nicole Power – RUN THE BURBS and STRAYS – with both shows set to launch during the upcoming 2021-22 broadcast season.
Created by comedian, writer and actor Andrew Phung and his best friend and collaborator, filmmaker Scott Townend (The Secret Marathon), RUN THE BURBS is a new original comedy about a young, bold Canadian family taking a different approach to living life to the fullest in the suburbs, featuring Phung as a stay-at-home dad with an entrepreneur wife and two kids. The series has been in development since May 2020 and is produced by Pier 21 Films, with additional details to be announced later this spring.
STRAYS follows the upbeat and enthusiastic Kimâ€™s Convenience character Shannon Ross (Nicole Power) as she embarks on a new career in Hamilton, Ontario alongside an ensemble cast including Frank Cox Oâ€™Connell (Soulpepper Theatre), Tina Jung (Suits, Second Jen), Nikki Duval (Workinâ€™ Moms), Kevin Vidal (Workinâ€™ Moms), Tony Nappo (Pretty Hard Cases), Paula Boudreau (Workinâ€™ Moms) and Emily Piggford (The Sounds, Warigami). Created by Kevin White (Kimâ€™s Convenience, Schittâ€™s Creek) and produced by Thunderbird Entertainment, the series has been in development since July 2018 and is currently in production. More details will be announced later this spring.
â€œAs our comedy slate continues to evolve, we are thrilled to continue working with Andrew and Nicole and offer audiences two new comedies to look forward to starring these incredible talents they have come to know and love,â€ said Sally Catto, General Manager, Entertainment, Factual and Sports, CBC. â€œBoth of these series were planned to join Kimâ€™s Convenience on our comedy lineup this upcoming year, to reflect how many young Canadians are forging new lives outside of urban centres in Canada. We look forward to watching Andrew and Nicole as they explore these new stories.â€
RUN THE BURBS and STRAYS join original comedy SORT OF as new additions to CBCâ€™s award-winning comedy slate this upcoming broadcast season. Created by Bilal Baig (Acha Bacha) and Fab Filippo (Save Me), SORT OF stars Baig as a gender fluid millennial trying to live their most authentic life.
CBC will confirm series renewals and additional new original series for the 2021/22 broadcast season later this spring.